Europe signs up to e-government vision

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan October 8, 2017
Europe's digital ministers have made the right noises and posed for the photo opp, Now they face the challenge of implementing a five year e-government vision.

All 28 countries in the European Union (EU) plus the members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) zone have taken a major step forwards towards a unified vision of e-government on the continent with the signing of the Tallinn Declaration.

Fifteen years after its predecessor, the Malmö Declaration, was signed, there has been progress made in a number of e-government areas, but not enough of a co-ordinated push, according to a gathering of the EU Digital Ministers in Tallinn, Estonia on Friday.

The Declaration states:

Development of eGovernment has a central role to play to meet these challenges and make use of the emerging digital opportunities. Amongst others, the digital transformation can strengthen the trust in governments that is necessary for policies to have effect: by increasing the transparency, responsiveness, reliability, and integrity of public governance…It is time to start laying the foundation for further digital evolution and joint actions beyond 2020, while ensuring the sustainability of current achievements and initiatives.

The digital transformation of the public administration is our collective endeavour at national, regional and local levels within our countries as well as by the EU institutions, respecting the division of competences. Our efforts can be greatly facilitated by collaboration, interoperable solutions and sharing of good practices throughout public administrations and across borders…Development of eGovernment has to respect, support and enhance the fundamental freedoms of people such as freedom of expression, privacy and right to the protection of personal data, and comply with relevant EU laws, especially the General Data Protection Regulation.

Estonia sets the pace

Estonia is currently in the revolving chair of the EU Presidency and missed no opportunity to claim e-government leadership of the rest of the EU, telling his fellow ministers that they need to play catch-up. Urve Palo, Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology, declared:

For Estonians, e-government has become quite commonplace, and we are used to doing things online. However, in Europe as a whole, e-governance is not as prevalent as it is for us. The Tallinn Declaration does not translate into innovation for Estonia, as we have already complied with the guidelines agreed upon today with other European countries.

For other European countries, however, the Tallinn Declaration will bring about significant changes. We came to a common understanding that all European countries need to create opportunities for their citizens and enterprises to use state services digitally and without the need to leave their homes.

There may have been some misplaced confidence on display here however when Palo argued that one of her ambitions is the introduction of pan-national ID cards, an idea that is unlikely to find universal favor across the EU. She argued:

The deployment of ID cards across Europe is another aim, in order for digital signatures to be provided internationally — me with my Estonian card and my neighbor with their state document. Think about how much time this would save.

First and foremost, we do not want countries to ask citizens and businesses the same data any times over. If I have already registered my car in Estonia, it would be wise if I did not have to redo it, for example, when moving to Belgium. Governments could exchange this data automatically.

Palo pitched the argument that in the fifteen years since the Malmö Declaration, ideas of security and personal data have changed:

Looking back, the previous e-government declaration was signed in Malmö in 2009. It is clear that the world has changed significantly in the meantime. People's security issues are no longer solely a matter of physical safety, as cybersecurity has become at least as important. With the Tallinn Declaration, we collectively agreed that the principles of security and privacy must be in line with the highest standards when developing state e-services.

The UK was among the signatories to the Declaration, although if Brexit proceeds as planned and the country leaves the EU in May 2019, there will be presumably be a need to sign up to a new agreement. EFTA nations Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland signed up to the Tallinn Declaration on Friday.

What’s in the Tallinn Declaration?

As well as a long list of policy actions and committments - see here - there are a shorter number of key principles underpinning these:

Principles of digital-by-default, inclusiveness and accessibility

  • ensure that European citizens and businesses may interact digitally with public administration, if they choose to do so and whenever feasible and appropriate from a costbenefit and user-centricity perspective.
  • work to ensure the consistent quality of user experience in digital public services as set out in the Annex “User-centricity principles for design and delivery of digital public services” of this declaration.
    work to increase the readiness of European citizens and businesses to interact digitally with the public administrations.

Principle of once only

  • Work to implement it for key public services, at least as an option for citizens and businesses.

Principle of trustworthiness and security

  • ensure that information security and privacy needs are taken into consideration when designing public services and public administration information and communication technology (ICT) solutions, following a risk-based approach and using state-of-the-art solutions.
  • work to increase the uptake of national eID schemes, including to make them more userfriendly and especially more suitable for mobile platforms, while ensuring their appropriate security levels.

Principle of openness and transparency.

Make it possible for citizens and businesses to better manage (e.g. access, check and inquire about the use of, submit corrections to, authorise (re)use of) their personal data held by public administrations, at least in base registries and/or similar databases where feasible.

Principle of interoperability by default

Work on national interoperability frameworks based on the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), while respecting also the relevant national standards, and adhere to EIF for cross-border digital public services.

My take

A hugely ambitious five-year agenda. It's an important step towards a working e-government vision for a digital generation. On the downside, getting the EU to agree something as wide-ranging as this is akin to herding cats. The easy bit is the soundbites and the theoretical principles; the hard bit starts now.