Semantic interoperability ensures that the precise format and meaning of exchanged data and information is preserved and understood throughout exchanges between parties, in other words ‘what is sent is what is understood’. In the EIF, semantic interoperability covers both semantic and syntactic aspects:

  • The semantic aspect refers to the meaning of data elements and the relationship between them. It includes developing vocabularies and schemata to describe data exchanges, and ensures that data elements are understood in the same way by all communicating parties;
  • The syntactic aspect refers to describing the exact format of the information to be exchanged in terms of grammar and format.

A starting point for improving semantic interoperability is to perceive data and information as a valuable public asset.

An information management strategy should be drafted and coordinated at the highest possible level (corporate or enterprise) to avoid fragmentation and set priorities.

For example, agreements on reference data, in the form of taxonomies, controlled vocabularies, thesauri, code lists1 and reusable data structures/models2 are key prerequisites for achieving semantic interoperability. Approaches like data-driven-design, coupled with linked data technologies, are innovative ways of substantially improving semantic interoperability.

Similarly to the way technical standards have fostered technical interoperability (e.g. network connectivity) for decades now, robust, coherent and universally applicable information standards and specifications are needed to enable meaningful information exchange among European public organisations.3

Given the different linguistic, cultural, legal, and administrative environments in the Member States, this interoperability layer poses significant challenges. However, unless standardisation efforts mature in the semantic interoperability layer, it is difficult to ensure seamless information exchange, free movement of data, and data portability among Member States to support a digital single market in the EU.

These are recommendations regarding semantic interoperability:

Source: European Interoperability Framework - Promoting seamless services and data flows for European public administrations, COM(2017)134, 23 March 2017, url (Available in the languages of the EU Member States)

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