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New interoperability framework for EU – and UK?

28/03/17

Analysis: Adoption of new EU framework for digital in public services raises the question of where the UK will stand post-Brexit

The EU has adopted a new European Interoperability Framework for governments to coordinate their digitisation of public services, raising another question about the prospects for the UK’s relationship with the community after it quits.

EU flagThe European Commission announced its adoption of the framework last week, saying it will help member states follow a common approach when making public services available online, and across countries and policy areas.

It flagged up the potential to reduce bureaucracy for people and businesses when they are carrying out transactions across borders, such as requesting certificates, enrolling for services or handing in tax declarations.

The commission’s vice president for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, made clear that its adoption is in line with the overall drive to make transactions across member states smoother.

“Its application by European public administrations will ensure seamless services and information flows locally, nationally and across the European Union,” he said. “It will make it easier for people and businesses to communicate with their administration and those of other member states, to declare a change of address for example.”

More recommendations

The changes in the framework, which was developed under the commission’s ISA2 programme, have involved increasing the number of recommendations for interoperability from 25 under the old version (from 2010) to 47. The commission said these increase the focus on openness, data portability, interoperability governance and integrated service delivery.

They also take into account EU policies such as the revised directive on the re-use of public sector information, the eIDAS for identity assurance and the eGovernment Action Plan.

Next steps involve member states making sure their own plans align with the framework, with the commission using key performance indicators to evaluate implementation by the end of 2019. By which time – if things go as currently planned – the UK will no longer be a member of the EU.

So far there have been no indications on whether the Government wants its digital services to be interoperable with those on the continent over the long term. It remains a full member for the next two years and is going to follow the EU line on such issues at least until then, with whatever happens next up for negotiation.

Opposing forces

There could be opposing forces at work. One of the underlying purposes of the EU framework is to make it easier for people to obtain public services when they move between member states. Given the Brexit camp’s hostility to the whole idea of free movement, this could fade away as a driver for any meaningful effort on the UK side.

But the framework also plays a part in reducing red tape around trade and provision of services for business. Even hardline Brexiteers are ready to acknowledge this as a virtue.

There is also the fact that the recommendations in the framework are generally in line with the priorities in the UK. It makes a virtue of issues such as re-using and sharing data, providing a level playing field for open source software, providing a single point of contact to hide administrative complexity, and when possible asking users to provide information only once.

This is not a high profile issue, but it contributes to the nuts and bolts that make a difference in business decisions, and a couple of years down the line any perceived impediment to business is likely to stir up a lot more discontent. This creates the case for the UK continuing to make the effort to stay within the interoperability framework.

Overall there is not much to be gained by stepping outside, and probably plenty to lose in the long term. Nothing is certain, but the odds would be in favour of the UK continuing along the same path as the EU beyond the institutional parting of ways.

Image modified from MPD01605, CC BY-SA 2.0 through flickr

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