The Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE), one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, was launched in May 2010, in order to reboot Europe's economy and help European citizens and businesses to get the most out of digital technologies. Among its 101 actions, action 24 of the DAE aims to promote interoperability by adopting in 2010 a European Interoperability Strategy (EIS) and European Interoperability Framework (EIF).
In this context, the European Commission adopted on 16 December 2010, the Communication 'Towards interoperability for European public services', which introduces the EIS, to address the need for improving interoperability (IOP) of European public services.
Through this Communication, the Commission invited Member States to align their National Interoperability Strategies (NISs) and initiatives to the priorities set in the EIS - the EIS being a plan of actions aimed at providing direction and setting priorities to achieve cross-boundary IOP (i.e. multilingualism, cross-border and cross-sector IOP) among European Public Administrations (PAs) and to support the implementation of EU policies and initiatives, at national level.
There are changes in the European public services delivery environment, which could disrupt IOP.
Moreover, the Council stressed in its Conclusions of 19 October 2012 that achieving a fully functioning digital single market by 2015 could generate additional growth of 4% over the period up to 2020. And, IOP for European public services is key to the development of a digital single market.
The Commission should therefore ensure that the EIS is maintained over time and is still aligned with the EU political agenda and with the priorities and initiatives at national level. The EIS implementation is reviewed every two years by the Commission, and KURT SALMON was mandated to conduct this review in 2012.
During the ISA Coordination Group meeting of the 23 October 2012, Alessandro Zamboni, Sébastien Gallezot and Céline Monteiro from KURT SALMON presented their first findings regarding the IOP implementation at national level, covering important elements such as political willingness, status of the NISs, legislations supporting IOP, and priorities across EU countries.
In the scope of the analysis, EU countries are assimilated as the countries having participated to the data collection phase, namely : Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Spain, the Netherlands and United Kingdom.
1. Political willingness: Interoperability as a high political priority
The political willingness of high-level policy makers to promote and support IOP at national level was the first aspect tackled by this review, as it is essential to achieve IOP among European PAs.
Based on a sample of 19 EU countries, we observed that 14 countries consider IOP as a high political priority, meaning that IOP is either promoted at political level (e.g. through the approval of legislation on IOP or the creation of an expert group on IOP), or stated as one of the main priorities of a national strategy, such as the national ICT strategy.
The remaining five countries consider IOP to be a medium political priority, meaning that IOP itself is not stated as one of the main priorities, but specific measures on IOP are still part of a national strategy.
Overall, IOP is considered as an important political matter across EU countries.
2. Status of the NISs: most countries having established a NIS.
During this review, we gave an overall picture of the status of elaboration of the NISs across EU countries, including drivers and barriers to its establishment. Ways to remove those barriers have also been analysed.
In this regard, 15 countries have either or are currently establishing a NIS and three foresee establishing one.
The need for a common vision, common goals and guidelines for European PAs in the implementation of IOP at national and EU levels, as well as the need for improved internal operational performance among PAs are the two main drivers to establish an interoperability strategy at national level, i.e. a NIS.
However, there are still some barriers preventing the establishment of NISs. These barriers are mainly organisational: either at a strategic level (e.g. bureaucratic procedures, lack of cooperation among stakeholders including EU institutions and other European countries) or at an operational level (limited number of resources, lack of expertise in the fields of IOP). Political and legal barriers are to be included too, although to a lesser extent.
In order to overcome these barriers, several measures can be taken: firstly, enhancing the cooperation among PAs but also between PAs and private sector and standardisation organisations could stimulate the exchange of views and experiences and foster the reuse of best practices and lessons learnt.
For example, in Iceland, the National Interoperability Framework (NIF) is currently being drafted, not only based on the acquired knowledge from the EIS, EIF and identified interoperability issues, but also on the cooperation between the public and private sectors, researchers and consumer organisations. This NIF will focus on the technical and semantic layers of IOP, by providing references for IOP (e.g. open standards and specifications); it aims to set a common NIF for eServices as well as an increased awareness of the importance of interoperability for advancement of eServices.
Croatia is another example of country promoting cooperation among stakeholders, as it is currently establishing working groups, involving both public and private sectors, on basic registries and electronic exchange of data. Indeed, these working groups aim to implement a central list of basic registries (central registry system) having data necessary to control establishment, operation, data processing and use methods; to prepare the legal framework for data access and termination of each registry; and to define a central system of electronic exchange of data with respect to personal data protection rules.
Secondly, involving PAs in the elaboration of the strategy could help them share the same vision on IOP and foster their cooperation.
Case in point, the Slovak Republic is currently drafting the eGovernment Act that should be adopted by July 2013. This Act aims to establish the basic principles, upon which electronic public administrations will operate. This draft will be given to PAs, at local, regional and state level, for comments, prior to be sent to the government and National Council in order to involve them in this legislative intent.
Finally, overcoming organisational issues also implies recognising that citizens and businesses expect public services to be delivered faster, better and more efficiently than in the past. Based on this assumption, Ireland launched a Public Service Reform Plan in November 2011, mainly oriented around the five following pillars: customer service, innovative service delivery channels, cost reduction, delivery and new conducts of work.
Another way to respond to those citizens’ expectations can be through the promotion of electronic administrative transactions. In this regard, the Spanish Government, through its Public Certification Authority (CERES - CERtificación Española), offers a range of services that are essential to the proper functioning of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and for the implementation of the electronic signature. One example is the National eID card (DNIe), which makes it possible to digitally sign electronic documents and contracts, identify and authenticate citizens in a secure digital environment and provide them with easy, straightforward, fast and convenient access to eServices, for a period of 10 years.
3. Legislations supporting IOP: interoperability strongly promoted and supported across EU countries
The Commission highlighted in the Communication “Towards interoperability for European public services” that the lack of a cross-border and cross-sector legal basis for IOP at national level can lead to a complex cooperation among European public administrations. Therefore, this review aimed at verifying the weight of legislations supporting IOP at national level. In fact, 14 countries have adopted legislations, which are applicable across sectors and to all levels of public administration, i.e. national, regional and local.
For example, in Estonia the Digital Signatures Act (consolidated text December 2008), which was adopted on 15 November 2010, aims to provide the necessary conditions for using digital signatures and digital seals, and the procedure for exercising supervision over the provision of certification services and time-stamping services.
In Finland, the Act on Information Management Governance in Public Administration (634/2011) aims to improve the efficiency of activities in PAs as well as public services and their availability; and on the other hand, to promote and ensure the IOP of information systems.
4. Priorities across EU countries: partial alignment between national priorities and the EIS priorities
EIS priorities were first established during a workshop held on 1 April 2009, with EU countries’ experts, in the context of the elaboration of the EIS. Indeed, the top-three priorities of the EIS are related to Semantic interoperability, Interoperability Architecture, building blocks and Assessment of ICT implications of EU legislations.
In this context, the EIS Implementation Review team has compared these EIS priorities with the priorities tackled by the NISs, the legislations supporting IOP at national level and the actions on IOP led at national level. It has thus been observed that priorities at national level are partially aligned with the main priorities of the EIS, since they all tackle the two-top priorities of the EIS.
There is however less focus on Assessment of ICT implications of EU legislations, which is not yet considered as a top-priority for the EU countries.
The conclusions of the EIS Implementation Review were completed in February 2013. These not only include the findings regarding the IOP implementation at national level but also those related to the data collection led at Commission level. In addition, KURT SALMON analysed the influence that external factors, such as political, legal, economic, social and technological factors, can have on the EIS.
To know more, please check below the presentation done by KURT SALMON during the ISA Coordination group meeting of 23 October 2012.