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EU Pushes Open eGovernment Services Concept

EU commissioner Neelie Kroes has urged the creation of eGovernments and borderless public services

On by Tom Jowitt 0

European digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes has warned that the ongoing economic crisis underlines the need for a radical reform of government structures and the creation of so called “eGovernments”.

Kroes used a speech this week to call for the wide spread adoption of national eGovernments that can offer citizens easy online access to public sector services.

“These days, for too many people, dealing with government services can be trying or time-consuming,” she said, “First and foremost, governments can and should put these users in control, and in the centre. I want citizens to benefit from services they really want to use, services targeted to their needs, services that are smooth and seamless.”

Isolated Projects

Kroes explained that up until now, “National eGovernment systems have developed in isolation, creating new digital borders where physical ones have long since disappeared,” said Kroes, “Fragmenting the EU rather than unifying it.”

She wants public sector online programmes that work across all borders in order to encourage more international business.

“We should not be scared of, but embrace the possibilities of open data and joined-up service delivery,” she said, before stating that technology can “unlock the potential of these freedoms.”

She cited the example of European students, who have the legal right to enrol at any university across the EU. She said that often they cannot do this online, because national electronic ID systems are not recognised abroad, eventhough paper-based ID systems such as passports are.

Barriers To Business

“Isn’t that crazy?” she asked, before pointing out that there are similar obstacles for businesses looking to operate cross-border.

“They must respond to calls for tender launched miles away in other languages, and very few of them bother,” she said, “They must reclaim VAT from foreign administrations, using procedures which are unfamiliar, lengthy or cumbersome. None of this makes sense in the digital age.”

Kroes warned that European governments are imposing extra frustrating obligations on citizens, as well as extra barriers on businesses who want to expand within the single market. She also said this was imposing extra costs on public authorities.

“Remember that electronic procurement can bring significant savings for governments, while online forms can be processed at a fraction of the cost,” she said, “Going online saves public money.”

Kroes said that there were three words that national governments needed to adopt as a slogan, “build, connect, grow.”

“These actions are the three key milestones on the road towards borderless eGovernment,” said Kroes, “We have already done the hard part of building systems. Member states have invested considerably in doing so, and it is starting to pay off. Now we need to take the next step, of connecting those systems. Then we can grow them: into other areas, into other countries.”

“If we do that, our governments can make the most out of their investment; our people can connect to more opportunity, our economies can benefit,” she said, “We can tear down digital barriers and deliver services seamlessly across borders.”

This is not the first time the EU has called for more openness. In December last year the EC released the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), intended to give governments across Europe guidelines for making public services interoperable. It also released an action plan aimed at improving e-government services, with the aim of seeing 80 percent of businesses using these services by 2015.

British G-Cloud

Meanwhile in the UK, the government here proposed the so-called G-Cloud. This concept of a nationalised government cloud was introduced by the Labour government in December 2009, but there have been concerns this concept has been abandoned by the coalition government.

But this August it was revived when a Cabinet Office document proposed  a “cloud based Enterprise Resource Platform” for government departments to buy into, as a way to save money.

Meanwhile the British government also made its first attempt to bring all online government services under one roof back in May with the creation of the Alpha.gov.uk pilot project. This came after in Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude announced in November 2010 that public services transactions would increasingly be provided as online-only services.

But at the same time the government is conducting a massive cull of so-called “vanity” websites.

As of the 1 July 2011, 444 websites are still open, down from 820, according to the Cabinet Office, and Whitehall has committed to closing another 243, adding up to 80 percent of the government’s websites.

Tom Jowitt

Author: Tom Jowitt

Freelance TechWeek Reporter
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