The implementation of the INSPIRE Directive across the European Union (EU) has reached the halfway stage with generally positive outcomes. This mid‑term evaluation report looks at the implementation of the directive and its relevance, and discusses any fine-tuning necessary to fully meet its initial objective of creating an infrastructure to share spatial data and services in Europe supporting environmental policies and policies that have an impact on the environment.
INSPIRE was founded on the basis of five issues that were identified as presenting obstacles to this objective: missing or incomplete spatial data, incomplete descriptions of spatial data, difficulty to combine different spatial data sets, inaccessibility of spatial data and various barriers to data sharing.
The first important conclusion of the mid‑term evaluation is that a satisfactory evolution of these issues has taken place until now. But overall, at the halfway stage of the directive, the five initial problems that led to the creation of INSPIRE still exist to varying degrees and the overall goal of INSPIRE is still valid.
The five INSPIRE objectives were developed to tackle the issues detailed above, thus they aim to: document spatial data and services, establish more internet based services, facilitate access to spatial data by improving interoperability, arrange for public authorities to have better access to spatial data and services, and improve the structures and mechanisms for the coordination of spatial information. A recent public consultation carried out by the European Commission found that some 92.5 % of responders still consider these objectives relevant.
This mid‑term evaluation found that three of these objectives have undergone a positive evolution. Documentation has improved considerably through the increased availability of metadata, although accessing and reusing data remains a barrier. Considerable progress has been made on establishing internet based services but implementation is still insufficient. In addition, interoperability is improving despite the fact that the majority of spatial data under Annexes II and III of INSPIRE are yet to be provided in conformity with the Implementing Rules until 2020.
Progress on the remaining two objectives has been less marked. The data and services policy objective, where barriers to sharing continue to exist, and the coordination objective, which is not well balanced, would benefit from a review.
The INSPIRE actions address the five main problems and the overall conclusion of the mid‑term evaluation is that they are still very appropriate to the overall goal of INSPIRE. The actions aim to: create metadata, establish network services, ensure interoperability of spatial data sets and services, facilitate data and service sharing, and establish organisational structures and coordinate implementation. Only two of the actions are on track: the creation of metadata and the establishment of network services. The interoperability of spatial data sets also shows progress within the deadlines set by the Implementing Rules.
Elsewhere, it is clear that adjustments are needed. Most of the measures to ensure interoperability have yet to be implemented and the outcome of the public consultation indicates that this strand of INSPIRE is considered to be highly technically complex and requires more support. Additionally, some steps have been taken to overcome policy, organisational, legal and cultural barriers amongst participating countries, though much still needs to be done. Finally, the coordination action requires strengthening at EU, national and local level and across borders.
Overall, it can be concluded that there has been a generally positive evolution in the problems addressed by INSPIRE and the objectives and actions designed to solve them. This evolution has been facilitated by broader social and technical developments, including the wider availability of high-resolution imagery (in particular with the Copernicus EU Earth Observation programme entering into full operation and the Group on Earth Observation/Global Earth Observation System of Systems initiative) and the adoption of open data policies across Europe. Encouragingly, this mid‑term evaluation found that the INSPIRE Directive played a major role in contributing to this positive evolution, although it is not the only player.
The timing of this evaluation precludes an in-depth cost-benefit analysis. INSPIRE implementation is at the mid-point and many costs have not been incurred, for example those due to the interoperability of spatial data. The evaluation, therefore, only refers to costs incurred for the creation of metadata, the establishment of network services and some initial work on interoperability, all of which are generally in line with expectations.
These costs are offset by benefits from data discovery, documentation and availability, and it is expected that such benefits will outweigh the costs in the long run. Moreover, the INSPIRE objective of supporting environmental policies is addressed in a step-wise manner through an increasing integration into the environmental acquis. However, any investigation into costs should consider that, in many European countries, INSPIRE implementation has taken place in the context of the most testing financial circumstances.
With regards to the implementation of INSPIRE across the EU, evidence presented in the evaluation shows that, for many measures, it is inconsistent. For example, the transposition of INSPIRE into national law is not uniform across countries, nor is the work on establishing network services, and coordination and data sharing. However, the processes put in place by INSPIRE are delivering organisational change, so future efforts need to focus on how best to support those countries that are lagging behind with their implementation of the directive.
The main obstacles to the implementation of INSPIRE that emerge from the evaluation are the general technical complexity and the communication and coordination of the implementation of the directive. Possible measures suggested to adjust the objectives and actions in view of these issues could include a reduction in the administrative burden through simplified data sharing, awareness raising, capacity building and training for those public sector officials involved and ongoing improvements in coordination and communication amongst and between different countries. In addition, the private sector should be encouraged to participate more. These follow-up actions are addressed in the report.