Good news for open data lovers in the European Union and beyond: the European Commission on Christmas Eve quietly pushed live the public beta version of its all-new open data portal.

For the record: open data is general information that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone. In this case, it concerns all the information that public bodies in the European Union produce, collect or pay for (it’s similar to the United States government’s Data.gov).

This could include geographical data, statistics, meteorological data, data from publicly funded research projects, and digitised books from libraries.

Home Open Data Portal 104030 EU Commission unwraps public beta of open data portal with 5800+ datasets, ahead of Jan 2013 launch

According to EPSIplatform, the Commission actually doesn’t want too many people to know about the public beta hub ahead of a more visible launch in January 2013, but we figure there are enough open data fans among our readers to provide valuable feedback before that.

From the newly launched website:

This portal is about transparency, open government and innovation. The European Commission Data Portal provides access to open public data from the European Commission. It also provides access to data of other Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies at their request.

The published data can be downloaded by everyone interested to facilitate reuse, linking and the creation of innovative services. Moreover, this Data Portal promotes and builds literacy around Europe’s data.

Already, some individual EU member states have undertaken initiatives to open as much data to the public as possible: see Data.gov.uk, Data.gov.be and Data.gouv.fr as examples. The European Commissions wants to work with member states to build a larger data repository on top of this.

It’s also worth noting the existence of open culture data portal Europeana, which enables people to explore the digital resources of Europe’s museums, libraries, archives and audio-visual collections. This year there was even a pan-European hackathon aimed to raise awareness for Europeana and it’s safe to assume that similar initiatives will be launched after the launch of the new EU open data portal.

The portal is the result of the Commission’s ‘Open Data Strategy for Europe’, which was announced in December last year and is expected to deliver a 40 billion euro boost to the EU’s economy annually.

It said at the time:

“The strategy to lift performance EU-wide is three-fold: firstly the Commission will lead by example, opening its vaults of information to the public for free through a new data portal. Secondly, a level playing field for open data across the EU will be established.

Finally, these new measures are backed by the €100 million which will be granted in 2011-2013 to fund research into improved data-handling technologies.”

At launch, the portal boasts 5,811 datasets, the lion share (5,634) of which understandably comes from Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU.

The beta portal has a SPARQL endpoint to provide linked data, and will also point to applications that use the data made available.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you should also definitely check out the Open Data Institute, a non-profit company that was founded by father-of-the-Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt.

(Hat tip to Jose L. Marin)

Also read:

EU Commission updates its “digital to-do list” with 7 new key priorities; emphasis on high-speed broadband

Hacking your city: Community activism 2.0

Top image credit: ROBERT ATANASOVSKI for AFP / Getty Images