eEurope 2005 To harness the full potential of eGovernment, it is necessary to identify the obstacles which are slowing down the rate at which on-line public services are being made available in the Member States and to propose action to speed up the deployment of eGovernment. This is the objective of the Commission Communication described below.
Communication of 26 September 2003 from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions "The Role of eGovernment for Europe's future" [COM(2003) 567 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
"eGovernment" means the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in public administrations combined with organisational changes and new skills. The objective is to improve public services, democratic processes and public policies.
STATE OF PLAY
Progress has been made in every Member State in bringing public services online, with average online availability growing from 45% to 65% between October 2001 and October 2002.
In terms of services to citizens, eGovernment has already shown the advantages which it can bring in citizens' everyday lives. It not only makes it easier to obtain information from public administrations but also greatly facilitates formalities for members of the public and cuts waiting times. Beyond that, eGovernment fosters direct communication between citizens and policy-makers. Through online forums, virtual discussion rooms and electronic voting, citizens can directly question decision-makers and express their views on public policy. Today public internet access points * are gradually becoming the norm for services to citizens.
As regards services to businesses, provision of higher quality electronic services by public administrations leads to increased productivity and competitiveness, by reducing the cost of the public service itself as well as transaction costs to businesses (time and effort). For example, electronic customs and VAT handling and electronic tax declarations offer the advantage of speeding up procedures at the same time as improving quality of service. The sophistication of online services, in terms of supporting interactivity and transactions, has advanced more in the business sector than in services to citizens.
In the case of services between administrations, eGovernment can provide ways to strengthen cooperation between national, regional and local government and Community institutions. Regional and local administrations are often at the forefront of the delivery of on-line public services. Development of eGovernment at regional and local level has also become a priority of the Structural Funds, representing about 30% of Information Society expenditure in Objective 1 regions and 20% in Objective 2 regions.
OBSTACLES TO GENERAL AVAILABILITY OF eGOVERNMENT: PRIORITY ISSUES
The Commission has identified a number of priority issues which have to be addressed in order to remove the obstacles to general availability of eGovernment.
Access for all to online public services is a sine qua non for wide use of eGovernment. This point is all the more important considering the very real risk of a "digital divide" - due to unequal access to information and computer technologies. In this context, education and training are essential to acquire the digital literacy necessary in order to reap the full benefit of the services offered by eGovernment. Digital literacy is one of the priorities of the eLearning programme. Greater access to services also implies stepping up the multi-platform approach (allowing access to services through a range of devices, from PCs and digital TV to mobile terminals or public internet access points).
Public services can be offered on line only in an environment guaranteeing fully secure access for citizens. With this in view, maximum protection of personal data and security of digital transactions and communications are primary issues. To this end, the use of privacy enhancing technologies in eGovernment should be promoted, inter alia through the relevant Community programmes. More generally, network and information security, the fight against cybercrime and dependability are prerequisites for a properly-functioning Information Society and, consequently, are core policy issues within the European Union.
Public procurement is one area where use of ICT can be particularly advantageous. Traditional public procurement operations are complex, time-consuming and resource-intensive. Use of ICT in public procurement can therefore improve efficiency, quality and value for money in public purchases. Until now the absence of clear Community rules has been an obstacle to the take-up of electronic public procurement in Europe. The adoption of the new package of legislation on public procurement, which includes specific rules on electronic public procurement, should be a turning point for the spread of electronic public procurement in Europe.
Pan-European services are important means of supporting mobility in the internal market and European citizenship. Various types of pan-European service are already in place. Examples include EURES, the European employment services portal, and PLOTEUS the portal on learning opportunities in Europe. However, the provision of common pan-European services can be a sensitive issue. For example, when services have been developed from the Member State's national perspective and tradition (e.g. language) alone, access to them for citizens and enterprises from other Member States may be difficult. It is therefore important to make sure that pan-European services take account of the needs of citizens from other Member States and also to establish true cooperation between Member States' administrations and interoperable infrastructure.
Interoperability means the capacity to inter-link systems, information and ways of working. This kind of interoperability of information systems allows integrated provision of services in a one-stop portal, no matter how many different administrative systems or bodies are involved. But interoperability is not just a question of linking up computer networks: it also concerns organisational issues, such as interworking with partner organisations which may well have different internal organisation and operating methods. Introduction of pan-European eGovernment services will also inevitably require agreements on common standards and specifications. Most Member States are already addressing this challenge by adopting national "eGovernment interoperability frameworks", which are being complemented at European level by the development of the European interoperability framework.
The Commission regards the priorities set out above as the roadmap for eGovernment. However, these measures must be backed up by more horizontal action.
Reinforcing exchanges of good practice
Best practices encompass technological, organisational and training components. They require a long-term commitment on the part of all key players involved. Exchanges of experience and replication of best practices can bring significant cost-savings in moving to broad take-up. They also prepare the ground for future interoperability and interworking between administrations.
A range of Community initiatives and programmes are addressing eGovernment. In particular, these include parts of the Sixth Framework RTD Programme, the eTEN and IDA programmes and investment in regional priorities through the Structural Funds. The Commission reports that investment is low compared to the total investment that should be made at European Union level.
Annual spending on ICT in public administration is about EUR 30 billion, of which a growing proportion, currently some EUR 5 billion, is related to eGovernment. The Commission adds that this spending should be accompanied by much larger investment in organisation and human resources. As a result, the total investment needed is likely to run into tens of billions of euros each year. Community support should therefore aim at achieving maximum leverage for the much larger investment at Member State level.
Communication from the Commission, of 25 April 2006, "i2010 eGovernment Action Plan: Accelerating eGovernment in Europe for the Benefit of All" [COM(2006) 173 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
This Action Plan, adopted in 2006, is designed to make public services more modern and efficient and to target the needs of the population more precisely. It proposes a series of priorities and a roadmap to speed up the deployment of eGovernment in Europe. Five priority areas are identified:
- Access for all;
- Increased efficiency;
- High-impact eGovernment services;
- Putting key enablers in place;
- Increased participation in democratic decision-making.
Independent Report of 27 June 2005: "eGovernment in the Member States of the European Union" (GOPA-Cartermill).
The report is a compilation of the factsheets produced by the eGovernment Observatory. These factsheets provide a picture of the situation and progress of eGovernment in each Member State.
Fifth annual study of e-Government
According to a 2005 survey carried out for the Commission, more than 90% of public service providers now have a website, and 40% of basic public services are totally interactive. The survey highlights the considerable progress made in developing and providing on-line public services throughout the EU. The gap between the new Member States and the EU-15 States in terms of service provision has narrowed significantly, and could close very quickly. The challenge now is to ensure that on-line public services are used as widely and as often as possible so as to simplify the administrative procedures for businesses and citizens alike.
Fourth annual study of e-Government
According to the results of an extensive survey published in January 2004 [PDF], public administrations which combine the use of ICT to deliver new services with reorganisation of the way they work obtain higher approval ratings from businesses and citizens.
This large-scale survey, funded as part of the evaluation of the eEurope action plan, was conducted in every EU Member State, looking at a common list of 20 basic public services which should be available on line under the action plan. The survey included 29 in-depth case studies of "best practice", for example substantial savings in enrolment in higher education in Finland and the United Kingdom.
The Commission concluded that the better results are due to the fact that reorganisation plus use of ICT in public administrations reduces costs, increases productivity and provides flexibility and simpler organisational structures. The practical results for the public and for businesses are fewer visits to administrations, together with faster, cheaper, more accessible and more efficient services, but also fewer errors, easier to use systems and greater user control.