The Austrian E-LAW Project (E-LAW)

Published on: 15/02/2006
The E-LAW PROJECT aims at a reform of legal text production, creating one continuous electronic production channel with a uniform layout prepared on the same electronic text basis from draft to publication (promulgation) on the Internet. The workflow system includes government bills, committee reports, legal enactments of the Nationalrat and decisions of the Bundesrat. Parliament returns consolidated electronic texts of legal enctments to the Federal Chancellery, ready for publication. The authentic electronic publication on the Internet (since 01 01 2004) is available for everybody free of charge. The public and the MPs will can obtain the parliamentary business including the explanatory remarks within 24 to 72 hours on the Internet. Savings potential in the Parliamentary Administration per year is more than ?1.000.000.- (60 tons of paper).

Main results, benefits and impacts

The impact and benefits of the electronic support of law-making can be seen within the scope of fastness and transparency of the legislative process. Both goods may, of course, be contrasted: a quicker legislative process may reduce feedback opportunities, whereas more transparency will enhance them. The increase of transparency (and in particular immediate transparency) however seems to outweigh a possible reduction of feedback opportunities by "motorizing" the legislative process; never before the general public as well as NGOs or bodies representing interests had such immediate access to all documents of the pre-parliamentary and the parliamentary stages of the legislative process and at the same time quick feedback opportunities. One result statistically detectable is a prolongation of negotiations on important bills until the eve of the final plenary meeting of the Nationalrat; the portion of government bills amended even in the plenary has been significantly increasing in the course of the last years. ImpacT and benefits: - Electronic transfer of the content of all bills - Possible through intense co-operation between the executive (Chancellery)and legislature (Parliament) including all ministries - Every modification on a bill is done with one single layout (~ 90 formats) - Only laws that are published on the internet ( are legally binding - Enormous time savings (days or even hours instead of weeks) especially regarding the publication - Bills can generally be passed quicker - Net-savings of about 1,13 Million Euro (no more state printery & reduction in the number of copies) - Download of laws, law proposals, etc. for citizens and all internet user at the same time and free of charge - Full-text-search possible over all parliamentary materials - Internal & external applications come together

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Lessons learnt

- Practical experience: formatting problems, danger: digital mimicry of paper process - Organizational challenge: shift of paradigm towards digital authenticity - Technical challenge: production and storage media ensuring digital authenticity and integrity in long-time storage XML (Extended Markup Language) is used for ensuring correctly formatted and safely signable documents and their long-range retrievability. The Parliamentary Administration has to use the E-Law layout for all modifications of the text of the bill (amendments at the committee as well as the plenary stage). There are 90 different E-Law layouts. As a result of the Implementing process, a 'Competence Center' was established in Parliament: The centre has successfully taken up - co-operation with the Federal Chancellery - know-how transfer from the State Printing Office - support in the Parliament (especially for the secretaries of the committees) and - controlling. Whereas the technical approach seems transferable and the organisational approach may be a guideline for similar projects, the legal framework is, of course, a specific one. - The reform of legal text production has progressed to the point where 100% of government bills are submitted to Parliament as 'E-LAW' documents and in 100% of the cases Parliament returns consolidated electronic versions of the legal enactments adopted by the Nationalrat once parliamentary procedures have been completed. We can say that, all things considered, the E-LAW project and the 'Competence Center' (E-Legislation) have developed positively so far. - The legal authenticity of electronic promulgation made an amendment of the Austrian Federal Constitution necessary, which required a two-third majority in the Nationalrat and the Bundesrat. In October 2003 the Nationalrat adopted this bill (amendment of article 49 of the Federal Constitution and amendment of the Federal Law on the Federal Law Gazette). From 1 January 2004 on, the Federal Law Gazettes digitally published on the Internet have been the only authentic versions. - However, we still have a long way to go until we have fully switched from paper to electronics so as to eventually arrive at 'E-Parliament'. - On the one hand, the secure transfer of data outside the internal workflow from one office to the other will in the future require electronic signatures. These in particular will be needed for authentically submitting motions and other items of business in an electronic way. - On the other hand, the legal basis has to be created to lend legal authenticity to the electronic transfer of government bills and legal enactments of the Nationalrat as well as the electronic reproduction and distribution of parliamentary business.