Cross-border electronic signature (CrossBorderDS)

Published on: 02/01/2009

Establishing a company in a foreign country usually proves to be a very difficult and cumbersome process (especially for SMEs). In order to overcome at least some of the obstacles on the way – Portugal and Estonia started an innovative co-operation process in order to allow online cross-border establishment of companies in either Portugal or Estonia by using electronic signatures of both countries. Both countries have established electronic company registration – ‘Portal da Empresa‘ and ‘Ettevõtjaportaal’ are equally recognised as best-practice all over Europe. Also secure authentication using electronic (digital) signature has been established in Estonia as well as in Portugal. Today, we have come to the point that it is now possible for the holders of Estonian electronic signature to start a business in Portugal and vice versa without leaving their homes – i.e. one does not need to travel to the other country any more. All one needs is a computer, ID-card and valid PIN passwords that come with the ID-card to sign the petitions digitally. The whole project has been carried out in very business friendly solution. Now a company can be founded in the Estonian Company Registration Portal of the Commercial Register on the Internet also with a Finnish, Lithuanian (Mobile-ID) and Belgian ID-card.

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Policy Context

EU legislation requires, on more and more occasions, that the Member States enable electronic submission of documents in administrative and court proceedings and public services (e-filing). Data submitted by electronic means need not be entered manually. Operations carried out with the data can be automated more than in the case of submission on paper. In the case of e-filing, the use of automated filters makes it possible to prevent the submission of documents containing errors. Due to the above, e-filing enables more expedient and cost-effective conduct of administrative and court proceedings and provision of public services. It significantly improves the competitive ability of the Members States as well as the European Union as a whole. In cases where the proceedings and services enabling e-filing are used for documenting more important decisions and acts (for example, the filing of court documents, foundation of enterprises, immovable property transactions, access to the internal market of regulated services etc), the identity of the person must be established in a reliable manner. Pursuant to directive 1999/93/EC on a community framework for electronic signatures, the advanced electronic signature is such universal and reliable means for identification. Directive 2006/123/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 on services in the internal market. Article 8 - Procedures by electronic means: Member States shall ensure that all procedures and formalities relating to access to a service activity and to the exercise thereof may be easily completed, at a distance and by electronic means, through the relevant point of single contact and with the relevant competent authorities.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

During the 4th Ministerial eGovernment Conference, it was decided by the Estonian Minister of Justice Mr Rein Lang and Portuguese Minister of Justice Mr Alberto Costa that two countries should learn from each other’s experience and try to develop some added value to the existing solutions. Consequently the project on mutual recognition of digital signatures within the process of online company registration took off. The Estonian company registration and management portal can be accessed at The Portuguese company registration portal can be accessed at

Technology solution

In Estonia the documents are signed with special software called Digidoc ( The outcome of the signing process is file *.ddoc, similar to zip container. With Digidoc software any file(s) or document(s) can be signed and encrypted. Therefore, when someone sends digitally signed application to other country the receiver does not know how to read it, as it requires special software. Within Estonian users this is not a problem because everyone knows where and how to get this free software. In case of foreign digital signature the Estonian reader does not know if the digital signature is equal to Estonian digital signature or not. To solve this problem the system lets applicants to sign documents inside our Internet portal ( This way the system can control the signing process with trusted digital signature creation application and this way the output format is also controlled (.ddoc). Signing process also includes time stamping (in OCSP response). In technical view, in the signing process the web application contacts Estonian CA (certification authority) OCSP service that in turn contacts foreign CA to receive the signature validation confirmation. PKI:

Technology choice: Standards-based technology

Main results, benefits and impacts

As this is a pilot project in one portal the usability in not very remarkable. But this same model can be used in all the portals where you need digital authentication or qualified digital signature. Possible users: - In Estonia there are 1 025 730 active national ID-cards. - In Portugal there are 140 000 ID-cards issued. - In Finland there are about 200 000 ID-cards issued. - In Belgium there are about 7 500 000 ID-cards issued. As this project became operational in November 2008, we have not made any impact yet. But the obstacles that did not let us to do this before are solved. That is a great achievement! We solved legal problems and technical problems.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

This is a pilot project and if this works we can use it in any Internet portal in Estonia or EU to identify persons and sign contracts digitally.

After this pilot a nation wide project was initiated and second generation Cross-border solution developed. This is usable under EUPL licence.

Lessons learnt

Lesson 1 - It is possible to accept digital signatures from other EU member state! Most challanging problems where technical!

Lesson 2 - We believe this project to be an excellent example of cooperation and willingness to improve business environment in the European Union. Also – no doubt that this will be the first step to start larger wave of cross-border business start-ups.

Scope: Cross-border, International, National, Pan-European