Policy context – the European E-government landscape

According to the United Nations E-government Survey 2012 (8), “Europe as a region has been in the vanguard of information technology and setting the pace for others to follow. Building on the existing strength of high levels of human capital and infrastructure, the transformative role of ICT has been recognized and adopted to further streamline E-government services.” The average E-government Development Index (EGDI) in Europe is almost 0.25 above the world average (Figure 3) demonstrating Europe’s clear leadership in this domain.

Figure 3: Average E-government development (United Nations E-government Survey 2012)

Graph of E-government development

E-government services are seen as a cost-effective route to better service for every citizen and business, and to a participatory, open and transparent government. E-government services can reduce costs and save time for public administrations, citizens and businesses. They can also help to mitigate risks due to climate change, natural and manmade hazards by promoting the opening and sharing of environmental data and environment-related information.

1. E-government barriers and drivers

Today, despite a high level of availability of E-government services in Europe, differences still exist amongst Member States and the take-up of E-government services by citizens is low. In 2009, only 38% of EU citizens had ever used the Internet for accessing E-government services, compared to 72% of businesses. General Internet take-up will be raised if the usage, quality, and accessibility of public online services is improved.

Public administrations in Europe must be committed to making user-centric, personalised, multi-platform E-government services a widespread reality by 2015. “To that end, governments should take steps to avoid any unnecessary technical requirements, for example applications that only work in specific technical environments or with specific devices. [] These services will support streamlined administrative processes, facilitate information sharing and simplify interaction [], thereby empowering users and improving the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency [].”

To the detriment of the mobility of businesses and citizens, most public online services do not work across borders. Public authorities have so far focused on national needs and have not sufficiently taken into account the single market dimension of E-government. Yet, several single market initiatives and legal instruments (such as the Services Directive (9) or the E-procurement Action Plan (10)) rely on the possibility for businesses to interact and do business with public administrations by electronic means and across borders.

Therefore, Europe needs better administrative cooperation to develop and deploy cross-border public online services. This includes the implementation of seamless E-procurement as well as practical E-identification and E-authentication cross-border services. In line with these needs, the European Council and Parliament Decision proposed, in 2012, an action to ensure mutual recognition of E-identification and E-authentication across EU-based online 'authentication services' to be offered in all Member States. At the same time, actions were deployed to support seamless cross-border E-government services in the single market through the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP) and Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations (ISA) Programme.

With a common E-government framework and regulatory landscape (see Annexe 10 for a list of EU directives) being specified and set up, EU countries are encouraged to deploy advanced technologies and provide expanded services in the pursuit of greater transparency, efficiency, and inclusion. The key principles of E-government defined in this framework are as follows:

  1. The needs of citizens and businesses are at the centre of E-government.
  2. Public services should be delivered through the most appropriate channels.
  3. E-government should reduce the administrative burden for citizens and businesses.
  4. E-government projects should reflect Business Process Improvements, delivering demonstrable efficiency, effectiveness and Value for Money gains.
  5. Public Bodies should work to ensure that the online channel is the most attractive option for customers.

To comply with these principles, in their efforts to increase E-government usage and citizen satisfaction, policymakers are faced with multi-faceted policy challenges, issues, and opportunities underlying E-government usage. Notwithstanding the many efforts made at all levels in Europe, there is still a generalised lack of clear strategies to facilitate E-government service usage as well as evaluation methodologies to assess citizens’ needs and expectations.

In spite of all these efforts and developments, several barriers still need to be overcome (see Table 5) in order to successfully implement advanced E-government services in Europe. These barriers are related to

  • a lack of harmonised legislation across Europe in spite of European directives (e.g. E-invoicing is still not accepted in all member states, and national requirements differ between countries),
  • a lack of resources for the implementation of the E-government projects by local or national authorities,
  • a lack of the needed infrastructure, competencies and skills (either for service provision or for service use, e.g. basic IT skills needed by the citizens to use the services), and barriers associated with the digital divide.
Table 5: Barriers to successful E-government implementation
Barrier Description
Legislative and regulatory EU directives, national implementation of EU directives, privacy and protection
Budgetary Lack of own resources, lack of long-term budgeting horizons, lack of special funds for E-government initiatives
Infrastructure Broadband infrastructure and broadband access for the public sector, price of Internet access, electronic infrastructure for the public sector and E-government backbone
Digital Divide Access and use of ICT, public Internet access points, lack of interest in online opportunities
Competencies and skills Basic skills, advanced IT skills

For example, the legal and regulatory barriers create several difficulties for European businesses when offering their services in other European countries. The existing ‘digital markets’ at the national level, tailored by commercial and cultural content and services need to flow across borders; this can only be achieved by eliminating legal and regulatory barriers, and hence by facilitating electronic payments and invoicing, dispute resolution and customer trust, etc.

Citizen participation and engagement is also undermined by the digital divide, not only in terms of  access and use of ICT, but there is also a high degree of dispersion and fragmentation at the European level because definitions, systems and tools differ widely between Member States and institutions. The coordination of policies and approaches across institutions at EU level, as well as directly exchanging experiences and Good Practices between them is highly recommended.

The following sections present the most relevant European initiatives that address these barriers.

2. Digital Agenda for Europe

Launched in March 2010 by the European Commission, the Europe 2020 Strategy is seen as the instrument to exit the crisis and to prepare the EU economy for the challenges of the next decade. Europe 2020 sets out a vision to achieve high levels of employment, a low-carbon economy, productivity, and social cohesion, to be implemented through concrete actions at EU and national levels.

The Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) is one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, and defines the key-enabling role that the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) will have to play if Europe wants to succeed in its ambitions for 2020. The overarching aim of the DAE is to deliver sustainable economic and social benefits from a digital single market based on fast and ultra-fast Internet and interoperable applications. Faced with demographic ageing and global competition, Europe will have to work harder, work longer and work smarter.

DAE makes proposals for actions to get Europe on track for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth; it is not just about ticking-off items from a long list, it is about using technologies to make a real difference. One of these 13 specific goals contained in the DAE is directly related to the adoption of E-government: it states that “50 % of citizens [are] to use E-government by 2015, with more than half [of them] returning completed forms”. This means that 50% of citizens will use E-government Services, and half of these users will not only have accessed information, but also submitted information to these services (through electronic forms).

In December 2012, following a DAE regular assessment, the European Commission adopted seven new priorities for the digital economy and society, set out in a Digital ‘to-do’ list, which follow a comprehensive policy review and place new emphasis on the most transformative elements of the original 2010 Digital Agenda for Europe. One of these new priorities is, once again, centred in E-government – New public digital service infrastructures through Connecting Europe Facility – and will be implemented by the ‘Connecting Europe Facility’, one of the instruments currently included in the EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MMF) for 2014-2020. To support this priority, the Commission will fast track the rollout of digital services (especially their cross-border interoperability) in E-IDs and E-signatures, business mobility, E-justice, electronic health records and cultural platforms such as Europeana.

3. The European E-government Action Plan

The “DAE sets E-government within a comprehensive set of measures aimed at exploiting the benefits of ICT across Europe. At a time of highly constrained public resources, ICT can help the public sector develop innovative ways of delivering its services to citizens while unleashing efficiencies and driving down costs.”

As part of the European-wide effort to promote a smart, sustainable, and inclusive economy for the European Union, the European E-government Action Plan contributes towards fulfilling two key objectives of the Digital Agenda for Europe, in particular:

  • By 2015, a number of key cross-border services will be available online – enabling entrepreneurs to set up and run a business anywhere in Europe independently of their original location, and allowing citizens to study, work, reside and retire anywhere in the European Union.
  • By 2015, 50% of EU citizens will have used E-government services.

Since E-government services are also of great importance for businesses, the European E-government Action Plan also has the goal that, by 2015, 80% of enterprises will have used E-government.

During the implementation of the first European E-government Action Plan, governments across Europe exchanged Good Practices and pursued the implementation of a number of large-scale pilot projects with a view to developing practical solutions for rolling out cross-border E-government services (see Annexe 6 of the report for further details on these projects). At the same time, an online community of practitioners, established in 2002, has provided a focus for debate among 80 000 participants on the potential of providing innovative solutions in areas such as E-government, (E-)health services, and inclusion. Progress has also been made in the re-use of public sector information, and an electronic public procurement platform has been developed to allow companies from across Europe to offer their services to governments outside their home country (PEPPOL Large Scale Pilot, cf. Annexe 6). EU-wide electronic identity systems are coming into existence, which will enable people to access public services electronically across the EU (STORK Large Scale Pilot, cf. Annexe 6).

Based on these promising results, the European Commission proposed a second European E-government Action Plan aimed at realising the ambitious vision contained in the declaration made at the 5th Ministerial E-government Conference (the ‘Malmö Declaration’), also supported by industry and by a citizens’ panel.

According to this ambitious vision, by 2015 European public administrations will be:

"recognised for being open, flexible and collaborative in their relations with citizens and businesses. They use E-government to increase their efficiency and effectiveness and to constantly improve public services in a way that caters for users’ different needs and maximises public value, thus supporting the transition of Europe to a leading knowledge based economy."

To achieve this vision, the Malmö Declaration sets out four political priorities for all European public administrations over the next 5 years. The main challenges faced by all European public administrations is the need to provide better public services with fewer resources, as well as providing new and better ways to engage with citizens. Each of the political priorities listed in Table 6 works towards facing these challenges.

Table 6: Political priorities for European public administrations (Malmö Declaration)

Political priorities

Citizens and businesses are empowered by E-government services that have been designed around users’ needs and developed in collaboration with third parties, as well as by an increased access to public information, strengthened transparency and the effective means for involvement of stakeholders in the policy process,

Mobility in the Single Market is reinforced by seamless E-government services for the setting up and running of a business and for studying, working, residing and retiring anywhere in the European Union,

Efficiency and effectiveness is enabled by a constant effort to use E-government to reduce the administrative burden, improve organisational processes and promote a sustainable low-carbon economy,

The implementation of the policy priorities is made possible by creating the appropriate key enablers and by establishing the necessary legal and technical preconditions.

The current European E-government Action Plan aims at maximising the complementary nature of national and European policy instruments, by supporting the transition from current E-government to a new generation of open, flexible, collaborative and seamless E-government services at local, regional, national and European levels that will empower citizens and businesses. The main priorities and actions set out in this action plan are presented in.

Table 7: E-government action plan priorities and actions
Priority Actions
User EmpowermentServices designed around user needs and Inclusive Services
Collaborative Production of Services
RE-use of Public Sector Information
Improvement of Transparency
Involvement of citizens and businesses in policy-making processes
Internal MarketSeamless Services for Businesses
Personal Mobility
EU-wide implementation of cross-border services
Efficiency and Effectiveness of Governments and AdministrationsImproving Organisational Processes
Reduction of Administrative Burdens
Green Government
Pre-conditions for developing E-governmentOpen Specifications and Interoperability
Key Enablers
Innovative E-government

The emergence of innovative technologies such as ‘service-oriented architectures’ (SOA), or ‘clouds’ of services, together with more open specifications which allow for greater sharing, re-use and interoperability reinforce the ability of ICT to play a key role in this quest for efficiency in the public sector.

4. Other EU initiatives

Member States across Europe are modernising their public services through ICT. We run the risk, however, of having online national public services that are incompatible with one another. The online delivery of basic services, like company registration and tax filing, has seen successful growth in availability between 2000 and 2009 (from 21% to 71%), but the take-up of the services by the public does not follow the same trend20: only 42% of the EU population used online public services in 2011 (21).

4.1 E-government research projects

To achieve the E-government goals agreed by the EU, research in the field is needed. The EU Framework Programmes (FP’s) are the main research programmes to provide answers and workable solutions. Several European research projects, funded by the 7th Framework Programme (and also by previous programmes) have addressed the issue of E-government and E-government Services. Since 1998, the EU has funded more than 80 E-government-related research projects under several Research Framework Programmes:

  • FP5 (1998-2002): research in the E-government field was designed to support research in new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) which could make government services more user-friendly for citizens and easier to access, especially for marginalized groups in society.
  • FP6 (2002-2006): the E-government research strategy focused on the core challenges to modernise public agencies by creating new and improved E-government services (services could be used by business and citizens, to save time and money in dealings with government) .The second was to facilitate organisational transformation in the public sector.
  • FP7 (2007-2013): research activities are designed to strengthen Europe’s scientific and technology base, help drive and stimulate innovation and creativity through ICT use and ensure that ICT progress is rapidly transformed into benefits for Europe’s citizens, businesses, industry and governments.

A state of the art analysis focusing on some of these projects funded by EU research programmes provides an overview of the state of the art in ICT use for Governance and Policy Modelling in terms of research, practice / application, market and policy. Future directions for research include several themes that can be organised into five main research strands (22):

  • Research Thrust RT.1: Open Government Information & Intelligence for Transparency; Integrate the next generation of light-weight semantic technologies into the Governance and Policy Modelling context; Promote principles of open data and PSI reuse, as well as linked data and visual analytics.
  • Research Thrust RT.2: Social Networks, Citizen Engagement and Inclusion; Infuse a social dimension of the web into Governance and Policy Modelling; Exploit engagement and E-participation tools and techniques; Explore collective wisdom to facilitate decision-making in the public sector.
  • Research Thrust RT.3: Policy Making, initially analyses the economic, social and environmental context as a preparatory stage for policy; Policy Simulation testing out the various models in an effort to pre-evaluate the application of a specific policy; Policy Evaluation provides the necessary qualitative and quantitative assessment mechanisms for monitoring the actual policy application.
  • Research Thrust RT.4: Identity Management and Trust in Governance; Need to safeguard citizens’ and public authorities’ digital presence; Identity management with federated identities, access control and authentication mechanisms in ubiquitous environments; Privacy and data protection.
  • Research Thrust RT.5: Future Internet for Collaborative Governance; Transparent and multichannel service provision via the Internet of Services; Low cost cloud infrastructures emerging from Cloud Computing advancements; Better human-computer interfaces and seamless interaction with non-conventional web devices that communicate in the ‘Internet of Things’.

4.2 European Large Scale Pilot Projects

Member States across the EU looking to modernise their public services through the use of ICT should avoid establishing online national public services that are incompatible with one another. Falling to ensure compatibility would create additional electronic barriers at a time when the cross-border delivery of Egovernment services, one of the main political recommendations from the 2009 E-government conference in Malmö, is already lagging behind.

EU-funded projects already have a successful track record in terms of generating impact, visibility and achieving sustainable solutions that work beyond national borders. Under the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme23, a series of initiatives, including Large Scale Pilot Projects (LSPs) were launched to engage stakeholders (public authorities, industry and business representative centres across the EU) in the implementation of common solutions aimed at delivering online public services and making them cross-border. In order to support interoperability of services and the mobility of citizens and businesses, five such LSPs were promoted: E-CODEX, epSOS, SPOCS, STORK, and PEPPOL. Further in-formation on these pilot projects can be found in annexe 6 (European Large Scale Pilots).

5. Added value of the interregional cooperation on E-government

The Interregional Cooperation Programme INTERREG IVC enables cooperation between regional and local authorities from different countries in the EU27, Norway, and Switzerland. This takes the form of projects in which authorities exchange and transfer their experiences and jointly develop approaches and instruments aimed at improving the effectiveness of regional development policies and contributing to economic modernisation. In line with the Community Strategic Guidelines for Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, the programme aims to contribute to the Union's strategy for growth and jobs.

The INTERREG IVC Programme, part of the European Territorial Cooperation Objective of the Structural Fund policies for the period 2007-2013, is the only truly interregional programme that covers the whole territory of the European Union plus Norway and Switzerland and that co-finances the participation of public authorities and bodies governed by public law from these countries. As such, INTERREG IVC is an important instrument for the implementation of the EU initiative Regions for Economic Change24 (RFEC). RFEC is designed to highlight good practice in urban and regional development, with a particular focus on innovation, and to speed up the transfer of Good Practices designed to enhance the quality and impact of the EU’s regional development programmes and their implementation by the EU’s Member States and regions, with a view to supporting the EU policy objectives of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, as outlined in the EU’s 2020 strategy.

Interregional cooperation aims to improve the effectiveness of regional development policies and contribute to economic modernisation and the increased competitiveness of Europe by enabling local and regional players across the EU to exchange their experiences and knowledge and by matching regions less experienced in a certain policy field with more advanced regions.

INTERREG IVC in its first priority ‘Innovation and the Knowledge Economy’, addresses several sub-themes like innovation, research and technology development; entrepreneurship and SMEs; the information society; employment, human capital and education. The Information Society sub-theme focuses on the exchange of experiences and knowledge, the transfer and further development of policies dedicated to:

  • Developing ICT-based public services so as to increase the effectiveness and competition of businesses and entrepreneurs.
  • Promoting the development and use of ICT-based services and products (for example in public services E-government and E-health, bringing E-government to regions and businesses).
  • Enhancing the participation of the public in the information society, e.g. programmes for improving computer skills.
  • Establishing better ICT connections between regions.

It is clear from these objectives that the INTERREG IVC Programme can play a fundamental role in addressing challenges and overcoming barriers, thus helping to make the objectives of the European Egovernment Action Plan achievable, and contribute decisively to the objectives of the EU’s 2020 strategy. The inter-regional approach of the INTERREG IVC Programme is obviously an added value when compared with other European and National programmes: by promoting connections and experience sharing between different European regions, a positive feedback mechanism can be created in these initiatives. Moreover, looking at the information society sub-theme, it is clear that this programme addresses the main barriers to the successful implementation of E-government Services (Table 5).

The ‘Free Italia Wi-Fi’ good practice (from project I-SPEED) is a very good example of the added value of the INTERREG IVC Programme. Through this good practice, which was a spin-off of the I-SPEED project,it was possible to overcome geographical restrictions to the offer of free public Wi-Fi by local administrations by developing an approach to provide free wireless access within areas covered by individual partner administrations. This good practice will be analysed in detail in chapter 3.

Projects like DLA, eCitizen II, OSEPA, I-SPEED, PIKE, IMMODI, RTF, CASA, DC, E-Create, EuroPROC, DAA, DANTE are just a few examples of the projects co-financed by INTERREG IVC that are supporting the transition from current E-government to a new generation of open, flexible, collaborative and seamless E-government services at local, regional, national and European levels. Further information on these projects can be found in Annexes 2 and 3.

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