Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twelfth Report

2 Interoperability for Pan-European eGovernment Services



COM(06) 611

Commission Communication: Evaluation of the implementation of the IDABC programme

Legal baseArticle 156(1) EC, followed by Decision 2004/387/EC
DepartmentCabinet Office
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 20 February 2007
Previous Committee ReportHC 41-iv (2006-07), para 1 (14 December 2006)
To be discussed in CouncilTo be determined
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested


2.1 The IDABC Programme continues on from the work done under the IDA (Interchange of Data between Administrations) and IDA II programmes, which have established a number of data exchange networks between Member States, as required by European legislation, in areas such as employment, health, agriculture, fisheries, statistics and competition. The IDABC Programme is divided into two areas — Projects of Common Interest and Horizontal Measures. Projects of Common Interest aim to help implement Community legislation and improve inter-institutional cooperation and Horizontal Measures aim to establish pan-European eGovernment and infrastructure services, particularly those promoting interoperability.

Commission Communication

2.2 The Communication details the mid-term Evaluation of the programme and sets out recommendations on how the programme should be taken forward. The evaluation was carried out by the Commission with the assistance of a consultancy company[6] and in cooperation with various stakeholders including officials from Member States. It focused on five main issues:

  • Relevance: the extent to which the objectives and aims of the programme are pertinent to the evolving needs and priorities at both national and EU level, first and foremost in relation to the i2010 programme and more generally to those established by the Lisbon objectives;
  • Efficiency: how economically the inputs and action were converted into outputs and results;
  • Effectiveness: whether the results and outputs of the programme achieved their objectives;
  • Utility: whether the results of the programmes compared with the needs of the target population, and what improvements might be made; and
  • Coherence: the extent to which the actions formed part of a "holistic" approach within the programme and how well synergies were achieved between IDABC action and other Community activities in the area of pan-European eGovernment and infrastructure services.

2.3 Three cross-cutting issues were also raised during the Evaluation, relating to:

  • the state of progress of actions funded by the programme;
  • the coordination and involvement of Member States; and
  • the extent to which the recommendations from the evaluation of the IDA II programme had been met in the implementation of the IDABC programme.

2.4 The Evaluation's recommendations are:

  • Greater attention must be paid to the timing of the evaluations;
  • The Commission must ensure that all stakeholders know their part in the implementation process;
  • Efforts should be made at the strategic level of the programme to gather and disseminate specific and up-to-date information about users' needs;
  • The extent to which IDABC actions are able to comply with agreed milestones should be closely monitored during the implementation of the programme in particular to Horizontal Measures; and
  • A strategic appraisal of the links between the various EU programmes with which the EC develops interoperable eGovernment initiatives should be carried out.

2.5 All in all, the Commission said that "while highlighting a few shortcomings", the report was "largely positive" at a time when detailed appraisal was "rather premature", and said that it would "pay the utmost attention" to the recommendations.

2.6 We considered the Communication on 14 December 2006, together with an Explanatory Memorandum from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Cabinet Office (Mr Pat McFadden), whose brief comments were largely restricted to saying how well the UK was doing, and without suggesting that this had much to do with the IDABC.

2.7 As the Commission and the Minister rightly said, the IDABC is at an early stage. Nevertheless, it seemed to us that this evaluation had identified more than "a few shortcomings". It was unable to evaluate efficiency or effectiveness at all. As regards utility, there seemed to be no agreement on who the target, or targets, should be: whether European public administrations at all levels, or "whether efforts to satisfy needs of businesses and citizens should be increased".[7] The Commission expressed no view. Nor did the Minister. We felt that we should have had at least his views on what seemed to be a fundamental consideration.

2.8 In the section on coherence, the Commission talked of "a global level of dissatisfaction as regards the ability to coordinate opinions between Member States' representatives in the PEGSCO and in the sectoral Committees". Given that the IDABC is all about Member State cooperation with the Commission and among themselves, this did not sound encouraging. We therefore asked for the Minister's comments, and for an explanation of what PEGSCO is and how it operates.

2.9 The Recommendations strengthened the sense that, while the IDABC may be working well internally, its external aspects — which would seem to be central to its purpose — were not. In particular, we wondered:

  • why the IDABC Decision was not amended accordingly, since an evaluation carried out now would clearly be half-baked (Recommendation 1)?
  • why those involved in the IDABC still needed to become "fully aware [of] their roles" and to be "aware of their roles and responsibilities in the implementation process" (Recommendations 1 and 2)?
  • on what basis IDABC had been operating if strategic level information still needed to be gathered and disseminated about users' needs (Recommendation 3)?
  • if a better balance was required between Horizontal Measures and staff resources, why the Commission thought it preferable to move the goalposts — the milestones and deadlines — rather than the staff resources (Recommendation 4)?
  • what action the Commission proposed to take and over what time scale to improve the coherence of IDABC with other Community pan-European eGovernment programmes and infrastructure services (Recommendation 4)?
  • And if so, how this is related to the strategic appraisal "of the links between the various EU programmes within which the EC develops interoperable eGovernment initiatives" (Recommendation 5, which was drafted in such a way that its purpose and scope was incomprehensible to the lay reader)?
  • above all, how it was possible to evaluate a programme without at any stage saying what its budget is, how much has been disbursed and upon what activities?

2.10 In the meantime, we kept the document under scrutiny.[8]

The Minister's letter

2.11 In his letter of 20 February 2007, the Minister describes the IDABC Programme as "complex", attempting to coordinate the demands and priorities of 27 Member States on highly complicated IT infrastructure systems and studies covering a wide range of areas from agriculture to statistics — an environment whose scope is "ever changing", with the IDABC programme needing "to adapt quickly and pragmatically within the boundaries of the Decision which often results in delays to projects".

2.12 Further to this, he answers the "specific points raised by the Committee" as follows:

"It is the view of HM Government that the uneven distribution of projects under the IDABC programme between administrations, businesses and citizens is a reflection of the difficult balance between the two types of activities under the programme; Projects of Common Interest and Horizontal Measures. The majority of the Programme focuses on Horizontal Measures which by their very nature are weighted to the needs of administrations.

"HM Government believes that this is a reflection of the current state of affairs of eGovernment in Europe. My officials in the Cabinet Office and their counterparts in Member States regularly debate what pan-European eGovernment service to Citizens and Businesses are. Current direct pan-European eGovernment services to citizens and businesses are information-based websites rather than a service transaction between governments and citizens.

"The Committee is kindly asked to consider that the IDABC programme is still in an early stage of development and therefore definite examples of benefits to all customers cannot yet be measured.

"In conclusion, HM Government believes that although the majority of the projects do not directly provide a service or benefit to citizens or businesses, the projects indirectly benefit the taxpayer by providing efficient and effective administrative procedures across European borders. My officials continue to work with the European Commission and Member States to identify real-life scenarios where citizens and businesses will require such services".

2.13 The Minister goes on to explain that PEGSCO is the Pan-eGovernment Services Committee: a Member State committee designed to assist the European Commission with the management of the IDABC Programme (following the Decision of the European Parliament on 28 April 2004), which meets approximately three times a year and primarily gives opinion on funding and relevance of the IDABC programme. He feels that work in the PEGSCO is "positive" and that:

"on the whole, Member States are extremely cooperative in the negotiation process with the European Commission. The Committee is asked to bear in mind the complex issues surrounding differing environments of ICT application across Member States. Technical architectures, semantics and processes vary from administration to administration. This is part of the challenge faced when agreeing on unilateral understanding of ICT projects, indeed a challenge the UK faces internally as well".

2.14 He says that the Cabinet Office has "begun the task of improving the network of UK stakeholders in the IDABC programme, albeit with limited recourses", and that "the examples of upstream team organisation (page 47 of the Evaluation) in both Italy and Sweden have been noted and officials will work towards a similar model in the UK".

2.15 The Minister then turns to questions concerning the Conclusions from the Evaluation:

"The Committee rightly points out that the timing of the Evaluation should have been amended within the Decision. It is HM Government's opinion that amending the legal base of the programme would have taken too long and had no real impact on a process that was already underway. The Evaluation has recommended that the legal base should allow more flexibility with regard to this timing and the Government will support measures undertaken by the Commission to make this happen.

"Member States, including the UK have in the past asked the Commission for increasing clarification of relationships between differing work programmes and projects under the eGovernment banner. Following a request from the UK PEGSCO representative a representative from Directorate General (DG) Information Society and Media (the DG responsible for the i2010 eGovernment Action Plan) has been present at meetings to ensure coordinated efforts between the DGs of the European Commission. This has given confidence to Member States that the different bodies of the Commission are aware of their ongoing eGovernment work.

"It is hoped recent organisational changes within the Commission will improve the relationships between DGs, thereby improving the implementation of eGovernment programmes and projects and clarifying the roles and responsibilities between the Commission and Member States. The Evaluation has called for the Commission to provide the machinery to disseminate this information. HM Government will continue to press the Commission to further this work.

"It is acknowledged by the UK Government that the needs and wants of the customer are dynamic and this must be reflected in the IDABC programme. The programme is in its early stages and has already undergone three revisions to incorporate latest developments in the area of eGovernment. The Commission has acknowledged that there needs to be an ongoing commitment to this aspect of the programme through studies. HM Government will continue to support the Commission through this process.

"The issue of staffing within the Commission is an internal administrative matter for the Commission to rectify as noted in the Evaluation's conclusions.

"Despite this, HM Government believes that as the Horizontal Measures are larger projects with great benefit to Member States' administrations, it would be reluctant to ask for these projects to be altered in case there was a danger of compromising progress.

"It is hoped the reorganisation of the management of IDABC programme under the Commission will ultimately show benefits especially in the area of staffing.

"The European Commission is already undertaking a number of activities set out in the Evaluation's conclusions towards improving the coherence between the various programmes.

"The funding arrangements and management structures have since been renewed for other programmes and this will mean IDABC has a greater sense of direction and purpose. For example, there is now a closer alignment of the work under IDABC and the i2010 eGovernment Action Plan.

"DG Informatics (DIGIT) has replaced DG Enterprise and Industry as the managing entity for the IDABC Programme. DIGIT is the Directorate responsible for Commission's Information Technology strategy and it is therefore appropriate for the IDABC programme to lie under this DG where there are experts in programme management of other, similar large ICT projects. The Commission confirmed in a Telecoms Council Working Group (12 January 2007) that this will not affect the programme nor Member States workings with the Commission but will allow for better opportunities to implement the Programme through other parts of the Commission.

"It is envisaged that the Strategic Appraisal will involve all high-level players in eGovernment in the European Commission. Details have not yet been presented to Member States and therefore HM Government is unable to give a detailed answer to this point raised".

2.16 The Minister concludes by noting that detailed information on the budget for the IDABC programme is found in the full Evaluation and referring us to the IDABC website.[9]


2.17 The Minister's comments are now more extensive, but not any more reassuring. In the first instance, we expect him to provide us with financial information about the programme, not refer us to a report that we do not have and a website where we may find it.

2.18 Secondly, we expect an Explanatory Memorandum on an evaluation of the implementation of this (or any) programme to contain an assessment of whether the programme at least looks as though it is on course to deliver its objectives and in a way that provides value for money.

2.19 Instead, we are asked to "consider that the programme is in its early stages", is "complex" and is in an environment that is both "ever-changing" and, he seems to suggest, predisposed to lead to delay. We are told that "definite examples of benefits to all customers cannot yet be measured" — but there are no examples of any benefits to any customers. Indeed, the Minister seems to suggest that his and other Member State officials cannot even agree on "what pan-European eGovernment services to Citizens and Businesses are". Even though he does not believe that the majority of projects directly provide a service to citizens or businesses, he asserts that they do provide the indirect benefit to the taxpayer of efficient and effective procedures across European borders — but gives no examples. Nor does he make it at all clear what services he has in mind when he says that Member States and the Commission continue to work on "real life scenarios where citizens and businesses will require such services". He says that "the needs of the customer are dynamic", which must be reflected in the IDABC programme — which, though in its early stages, has already undergone three revisions.

2.20 He notes that the "technical architectures, semantics and processes vary from administration to administration [which is] part of the challenge faced when agreeing on unilateral understanding of ICT projects [and] indeed [is] a challenge the UK faces internally as well".

2.21 We assume that this is all meant to be reassuring: instead, it serves only to call to mind an ill-starred domestic track record of Government ICT projects over many years.

2.22 Nor are his remarks about the Commission's response thus far at all reassuring. Member States now have "confidence" that the different bodies of the Commission are "aware of their ongoing eGovernment work". If so, what was the situation hitherto — they were unaware, and instead operated in unconnected "silos"? Other changes by the Commission inspire nothing more than "hope" that they will "ultimately" show benefit.

2.23 The IDABC is said now to have "a closer alignment" to the i2010 Action Plan. According to the Commission, that action plan embodies a commitment by the Commission "to delivering tangible benefits to all Europeans, in cooperation with the Member States" and addresses five priority areas for action by 2010: [10]

—  no citizen left behind ("eGovernment will only really make a difference if everyone can use it");

—  raising efficiency (all Member States to use ICTs to achieve "considerable gains in efficiency" and "significant reductions in administrative burdens");

—  implementing e-Procurement (Member States to achieve 100% online availability and at least 50% take-up of €1.500 billion a year of public procurement);

—  access to services EU wide (e.g., secure systems for mutual recognition of national electronic identities for public administration web-sites and services); and

—  strengthening participation and democratic decision-making (e.g., experiments in the use of ICT for more effective public participation in policy making).

Is it unreasonable to expect the IDABC to be fully aligned with this flagship Commission initiative?

2.24 We also note that there is still no information about what the Strategic Appraisal will seek to do, when it will take place and what timescale it will have.

2.25 We thus continue to be left with a strong impression of drift and wishful thinking, and of a general lack of a firm grip by Member States or the Commission; to have no clear idea, beyond generalities, of what the programme is supposed to achieve, or what it may have achieved so far; and to have no idea of what resources have been devoted to it. We hope to be corrected, and again ask the Minister to provide the sort of information, assessment and clear forward vision that would set our minds at rest.

2.26 In the meantime, we shall continue to keep the document under scrutiny.

6   Whose report is available at http//  Back

7   COM (06) 611, page 5 Back

8   see headnote. Back

9  Back

10   For full information, see:


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