The European Commission has today announced plans for an open data strategy that will require all EU countries to make public data available in digital formats. 

Led by digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes, this includes everything that public bodies produce, collect or pay for, such as geographical data, statistics, meteorological data or anything derived from publicly-funded research projects.

If passed, this will be rolled out in early 2013 and EU members will have 18 months to provide all data in machine-readable format. 

Public bodies will also have to create ways to manage applications for data reuse within a set time, and will only be allowed to charge minimal costs.

The Commission says that this startegy could be worth €40bn each year – funding for research on data-handling technologies alone is around €100 million. Money will also be made available for creating data portal websites through the EU’s Competitiveness and Innovation Program, and the Commission will also back research into data infrastructures.

Kroes said that the Commission was sending a strong signal to administrations that their data is worth more if they give it away.

Taxpayers have already paid for this information, the least we can do is give it back to those who want to use it in new ways that help people and create jobs and growth.”

PCWorld reports that start-ups could benefit most from the new rules by turning raw data into smartphone apps, including maps, real-time traffic or weather information, price comparison tools and such.

The Commission will set an example by making its own data available through a single-access online portal for all country members, due to be launched in the spring.