1. Introduction


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 2. Underlying principles of European public services

As stipulated in the Treaties of the European Union (EU), the EU’s internal market guarantees four ‘freedoms’ - the free movement of goods, capital, services and people between the 28 Member States. These freedoms are assured by common policies supported by interconnected, interoperable networks and systems. People are free to work and relocate and businesses are free to trade and operate in all EU Member States. In doing so, they inevitably have to interact electronically with Member State public administrations.

To make these interactions efficient, effective, timely and of high quality, and to help cut red-tape and reduce the cost and effort involved, Member States are modernising their public administrations by introducing digital public services. However, in doing so, they risk creating isolated digital environments and consequently electronic barriers that may prevent public administrations from connecting with each other, and citizens and businesses from identifying and using available digital public services in countries other than their own. For this reason, efforts to digitise the public sector should  be well coordinated at European and national levels to avoid digital fragmentation of services and data,  and help the EU’s digital single market to work smoothly.

At the same time, the challenges facing the Union require common policy responses from the Member States and the Commission, through EU legislation that requires interaction across borders  and  policy  sectors.  This  also  involves setting up and running interoperable systems. Such systems, as set out in the digital single market strategy [1], are intended to ensure effective communication between digital components such as devices, networks and data repositories. They also provide more efficient connections across borders, between communities and between public services and authorities.

The EIF gives guidance, through a set of recommendations,  to public administrations on how to improve governance of their interoperability activities, establish cross-organisational relationships, streamline processes supporting end-to-end digital services, and ensure that existing and new legislation do not compromise interoperability efforts.

1.1 Definitions

1.1.1 Interoperability

For the purpose of the EIF, interoperability is the ability of organisations [2] to interact towards mutually beneficial goals, involving the sharing of information and knowledge between these organisations, through the business processes they support, by means of the exchange of data between their ICT systems.

1.1.2 European public service

A European public service comprises any public sector service exposed to a cross-border dimension and supplied by public administrations, either to one another or to businesses and citizens in the Union.

1.1.3 European interoperability framework

The European interoperability framework is a commonly agreed approach to the delivery of European public services in an interoperable manner. It defines basic interoperability guidelines in the form of common principles, models and recommendations.

1.2 The EIF's purpose and legal framework

The purpose of the EIF is to:

  • inspire European public administrations in their efforts to design and deliver seamless European public services to other public administrations, citizens and businesses which are to the degree possible, digital-by-default (i.e. providing services and data preferably via digital channels), cross-border- by-default (i.e. accessible for all citizens in the EU) and open-by-default (i.e. enabling reuse, participation/access and transparency);
  • provide guidance to public administrations  on  the  design  and  update of national interoperability frameworks (NIFs), or national policies, strategies and guidelines promoting interoperability;
  • contribute to the establishment of the digital single market by fostering cross-border and cross-sectoral interoperability for the delivery of European public services.

The lack of interoperability is a major obstacle to progress on the digital single market. Using the EIF to steer European interoperability initiatives contributes to a coherent European interoperable environment, and facilitates the delivery of services that work together, within and across organisations or domains.

The EIF is principally promoted and maintained by the ISA² programme [3] in close cooperation between the Member States and the Commission in the spirit of Articles 26, 170 and 171 of the Treaty on the Functioning   of the European Union [4] calling for the establishment of interoperable trans-European networks that will enable citizens to derive full benefit from a European internal market.

1.3 Scope, readership and usage of the EIF

The EIF is meant to be a generic framework applicable to all public administrations in the EU. It lays out the basic conditions for achieving interoperability, acting as the common denominator for relevant initiatives at all levels including European, national, regional and local, embracing public administrations, citizens and businesses. This document is  addressed  to all those involved in defining, designing, developing and delivering European public services.

As Member States have different administrative and political systems, national specificities have to be taken into account when transposing the EIF into the national context. EU and national policies (e.g. NIFs)  are expected to build  upon the EIF, by adding new or fine-tuning existing elements. In a similar way, domain-specific interoperability frameworks (DIFs)[5] should remain compatible with, and where necessary extend, the scope of the EIF to capture the specific interoperability requirements of the domain in question. This means that some of the EIF elements can be directly copied into a NIF or DIF, while others might need to be contextualised and further tailored to cover the particular needs.

The relationship among EIF, NIFs and DIFs is described in figure 1. The EIF provides a common core  of  interoperability  elements  to  European NIFs and DIFs. Compliance with the EIF guarantees that NIFs and DIFs are developed in a coordinated and aligned way while providing the necessary flexibility to address specific requirements coming from national or domain- specific requirements.

Relationship between EIF, NIFs and DIFs

In general, the EIF provides value in two directions:

  • bottom-up: when a NIF aligned with the EIF is used for the implementation of public services at all levels of national administrations, it creates the interoperability conditions for extending the scope of these services across borders;
  • top-down: when the EIF is considered in EU legislation and policy domains, either through ad hoc references or more structurally using DIFs, it increases the interoperability potential of the follow-up national actions resulting from transposition.

In both cases, the end result is the development of a  European  public services ecosystem in which owners and designers of systems and public services become aware of interoperability requirements, public administrations are ready to collaborate with each other and with businesses and citizens, and information flows seamlessly across borders to support a digital single market  in Europe.

1.3.1 Interoperability areas

The EIF’s scope covers three types of interactions:

  • A2A (administration to administration), which refers to interactions between public administrations (e.g. Member State or EU Institutions);
  • A2B (administration to business), which refers to interactions between public administrations (in a Member State or an EU Institution) and businesses;
  • A2C (administration to citizen), which refers to interactions between public administrations (in a Member State or an EU institution) and citizens.

1.3.2 Content and structure

The EIF content and structure is presented below:

  • Chapter 2 presents a set of principles intended to establish general behaviours on interoperability;
  • Chapter 3 presents a layered interoperability model which organises in layers the different interoperability aspects to be addressed when designing European public services;
  • Chapter 4 outlines a conceptual model for interoperable public services. The model is aligned with the interoperability principles and promotes the idea of ‘interoperability by design’ as a standard approach for the design and operation of European public services;
  • Chapter 5 concludes the document by providing an overview and tying together the major elements of the EIF;
  • A set of 47 recommendations, as actionable items to be implemented by public administrations, is discussed across the different chapters.
EIF Content and Structure