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EU aims to increase public sector interoperability



New measures for the Digital Single Market include an e-government action plan

Plans to join up public sector business registers across the EU, ensure national systems can work with each other and for people to provide their information only once for public services in member states have been announced by the European Commission.

The efforts are part of an e-government action plan to increase the digital interoperability of EU member states' public services, and are among the Commission's new set of initiatives for the Digital Single Market - its long term strategy to harmonise digital services and technologies.

The plans also include related measures around the free flow of data across Europe and wider priorities for standards and interoperability. They are all coming under the wing of a project team that is aiming to fulfil the aims by the end of 2016.

The e-government plan takes over from its 2011 initiative of the same name that has now been concluded. It includes the connection of business registers - holidng information on companies registered across Europe - through a central platform.

An EU spokesperson told UKAuthority that this would make it possible for the public in member states to access the information through an e-justice portal, with the aim of increasing confidence in the Digital Single Market.

"The next two years will be critical for making the interconnection of business registers a success," the spokesperson said. "The Commission and the member states will have to work closely together to set up the different parts of the system, so that by early 2017 the interconnection of business registers becomes a reality."

Only once

This will be accompanied by the 'only once' initiative, which will involve interested member states running pilots in 2016. The focus of the work will be on defining an interoperable solution to connect national administrations that also works for European businesses, especially small and medium sized companies.

In a speech to launch the new plans, Andrus Ansip, vice president for the Digital Single Market, said: "Today it is only in 48% of cases that public administrations re-use the information that they already have about people or companies without asking for it again. For me, coming from Estonia, this is simply inefficient.

"Full use of the 'once only' principle across the EU could save a net €5 billion a year by 2017 for people and businesses."
Among the other measures are a speeding up of the implementation of interoperable e-signatures and e-procurement, and a plan to revise the European Interoperability Framework and make it mandatory rather than voluntary.

The document claims that "a better connection of e-government services will cut red tape not only for public administration but also for citizens and businesses".

Another element of the plans is the creation of a Single Digital Gateway as an online access point to all information, assistance and advice on cross-border activities. It would link up relevant EU and national content and services.

Economic aim

Some of the other initiatives are relevant to public services despite being focused more on boosting economic growth. The plan for a European free flow of data is aimed at removing unnecessary restrictions on taking data from national systems in an effort to support research and innovation. This would extend into activities often pursued by public authorities such as gathering climate information and satellite imagery.

The document says the Commission will assess the legal and technical obstacles to the free flow then define measures to deal with them.

Related to this is the plan to provide credible certification of cloud computing services, and the document suggests that a similar initiative could be launched for the internet of things.

Three pillars

On a broad front, the plans are built on three "pillars": better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe; creating the right conditions and a level playing field for digital networks and innovative services to flourish; and maximising the growth potential of the digital economy.

It involves 16 actions including rules to make cross-border e-commerce easier, an end to unjustified "geo-blocking" of purchases from a website in a different country, new copyright laws, an overhaul of EU telecom rules, an analysis of the role of online platforms, and a partnership with industry for cyber security.

G√ľnther H Oettinger, the commissioner for the digital economy and society, said: "Europe has strengths to build on, but also homework to do, in particular to make sure its industries adapt, and its citizens make full use of the potential of new digital services and goods. We have to prepare for a modern society and will table proposals balancing the interests of consumers and industry."

This article was amended on 11 May to incorporate further information provided by the European Commission.

Image: EU, public domain through Wikimedia

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