Policy Frameworks

Open Research Europe

The key takeaways from this article are


The main player in the policy area of open access in Europe is the European Commission; in Germany, the main players are the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the state governments.


Through various policy measures, these players promote and expect open access to knowledge.


At the level of the German federal states, different trends in the areas of open access and open science are emerging.

Practical tip

The practical tip Supporting Open Access - State Governments provides state governments with concrete tips on how to support Open Access.

Object of Governance, Subject of Policy Discussion

The topic of open access, and the formulation and implementation of open access policies, are the subject of policy discussions and negotiation processes. Who are the driving forces, and what are their positions?

Open access policies are driven both from the top down – especially from the European level to the level of the national states and federal states – and from the bottom up, by network initiatives, committed scholars and scientists, univer­sity libraries, and professional associations, but also by private sector players.

Important milestones in the debate on open access to information are:

Many national and supranational institutions, such as the European Union (EU), the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), German fe­deral state ministries, the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungs­gemeinschaft, DFG), and to some extent also universities, play a dual role in this regard. As policymakers, they participate through different interventions and measures in processes of negotiation about open access; at the same time, they are also research funders, and in this capacity, they directly set standards and framework conditions.

In what follows, we provide an overview of the main players in the policy area of open access. In each case, we briefly explain how open access to scholarly knowledge in the respective contexts is enabled or promoted by policy regulations.

Supranational Level

At the supranational level, the European Commission (EC) and the European Research Council (ERC) provide important stimuli for the implementation of open access and open science. Within UNESCO, a Recommendation on Open Science is to be adopted by Member States in 2021.

As early as 2012, the European Commission issued a Recommendation on access to and preservation of scientific information, in which it called on Member States to implement clear and binding open access policies. According to the recommendation, it should be mandatory to provide open access to publications resulting from publicly funded research, preferably immediately but no later than 6 months after the date of publication in the case of the natural sciences and 12 months in the case of the humanities and social sciences. Although European Commission recommendations are not binding, 14 of the (then) 28 EU Member States and three non-member States (Norway, Serbia, Switzerland) have since adopted open access and open science policies (Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 2017; National Open Research Forum, 2019; France’s National Plan for Open Science, 2018; Mayer et al., 2020; Ministry of Higher Education and Science Denmark, 2018; Open Science Coordination in Finland & Federation of Finnish Learned Societies, 2019). These policies are aimed mostly at creating binding framework conditions for publicly funded research. In its capacity as a research funder, the European Commission also mandates open access to scientific publications (see also Horizon Europe).

Open Access in Germany

In Germany, unlike in many other European countries, there is no uniform na­tional Open Access policy. In its coalition agreement for the legislative period 2021-2025, the Federal Government has set itself the goal of strengthening Open Access and Open Science and establishing Open Access as a common scientific standard. In addition, access to research data for public and private research is to be comprehensively simplified and improved with a Research Data Act. Furthermore, the government wants to advocate for a more science-friendly copyright law and to integrate citizen science and citizen science more strongly into research.

At federal level in Germany, the amendment of the Copyright Act (UrhG) in 2013 created the legal framework for green open access by implemen­ting an inalienable right of self-archiving (Pflüger, 2016, p. 14). In 2016, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) published a strategy for open access in Germany with the aim of further establishing open access as the standard for scholarly publishing, and closing the gap between the desire of the scientific community for more open access publications and the current publishing practice (BMBF, 2016, p. 7). According to the strategy, diverse ways of providing open access should be allowed in principle, and scientific freedom should not be restricted. Moreover, publications resulting from publicly funded research should be openly accessible, and established quality assurance procedures should be ensured.

Whereas the transposition into concrete policies is the responsibility of the individual federal states, the BMBF, in its capacity as a funding agency, sets guidelines: scientific and scholarly projects funded by the ministry are expected to publish their results and their research data open access. Besides scientific and scholarly institutions and libraries, funding recipients also include private sector players such as publishers and other service providers that are establishing themselves in the open access landscape.

Because of the sovereignty of the federal states in the area of education and higher education policy, the adoption and implementation of open access and open science policies in Germany takes place mainly at federal state level (Bruch et al., 2017). These federal state policies are thus central elements of the transition to open access in the Federal Republic of Germany (Kindling et al., 2021). 

Some states, for example Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, and Schleswig-Holstein, have state strategies, which in some cases define concrete objectives. These objectives include, for example, an open access quota for journal articles, as well as open access officers and open access policies at all institutions (Berlin); the monitoring of open access publication figures (Thuringia); the adoption of a clear position on open access by university managers (Brandenburg); and a uniform technical infrastructure (Hamburg).

Some state governments promote open access through other instruments of higher education governance. For example, support for open access is mentioned in the science plans (Bremen), in the higher education development plans (Saxony), or in the digital strategies of the federal states (e.g., Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony-Anhalt, Hesse). 

Other federal states support the scholarly institutions of their states through targeted measures, such as openaccess.nrw in North Rhine-Westphalia; open access publication funds (Schleswig-Holstein, Thuringia, and planned in Lower-Saxony); open access network units (Berlin, Brandenburg); or the financing of "openness" as a cross-sectional topic (Bremen). 

Although other federal states have not yet adopted an explicit science policy position, many institutions already have well-established open access service offerings (e.g., Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Bavaria, Hesse, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Rhineland-Palatinate) (Kindling et al., 2021​​​​​​​). An overview of current and retrospective open access and open science activities of the German federal states will soon be provided by the Atlas of Federal States (Bundesländer-Atlas) (Kindling et al., 2021).