The mission of the Unit is to address the sustainability and competitiveness challenges by developing and promoting wide access to the reference data and systems needed for robust policy making, and by unlocking the potential of world class information infrastructures for innovation and growth in Europe.
The Unit coordinates the scientific and technical development of the European Directive INSPIRE, supports its implementation, and leads research towards the next generation environmental information infrastructures at European and Global level.
Being one of the key pieces of legislation in European environmental policies, INSPIRE delivers integrated spatial information services to its users. These services should allow the users to identify and access spatial information from a wide range of sources, from the local to the global level, in an inter-operable way and for a variety of uses. The target users of INSPIRE include policy-makers at European, national and local level and the citizen.
In order to make INSPIRE a reality, the Unit acts as overall scientific-technical coordinator of INSPIRE, guaranteeing the exchange of information between INSPIRE drafting teams, thematic working groups and the Initial Operating Capability Task Force. The Unit facilitates the involvement of Spatial Data Interest Communities in the INSPIRE development; ensures cross-thematic harmonisation for the preparation of INSPIRE implementing rules; and develops and upgrades prototype services for European components (e.g. European Geoportal, Registries, Guidelines, ...).
The Unit also liaises with international initiatives and organisations to ensure that INSPIRE is well connected with similar infrastructures developed in different regions of the world and that it can make best use of satellite-based data collection (as foreseen by Copernicus) and applications in the field of environmental monitoring. It also involves close cooperation with the European and international standardisation bodies and with industrial consortia developing technical specifications.
One example is the participation in the Global Earth Observation (GEO), with staff of the Digital Earth and Refernce Data unit co-chairing the Architecture and Data Committee (ADC) and User Interface Committee (UIC).
The basis for Unit research is the JRC multi-annual work programme 2007 to 2013 (www.jrc.cec.eu.int/download/mawp3007-2013.pdf), which supports the Commission's Seventh Framework Programme (http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp7/home-en.html) for Research and Technological Development and Demonstration activities.
 Directive 2007/2/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 March 2007 establishing an Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp7/home-en.html .