2 Interoperability for Pan-European
eGovernment Services |
|Commission Communication: Evaluation of the implementation of the IDABC programme
|Legal base||Article 156(1) EC, followed by Decision 2004/387/EC
|Basis of consideration||Minister's letter of 20 February 2007
|Previous Committee Report||HC 41-iv (2006-07), para 1 (14 December 2006)
|To be discussed in Council||To be determined
|Committee's assessment||Politically important
|Committee's decision||Not 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.
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
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;
- 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
- 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".
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
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
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"
"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
"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.
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"
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: 
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
2.26 In the meantime, we shall continue to keep
the document under scrutiny.
6 Whose report is available at http//ec.europa.eu/idaabc/en/document/5707/3
COM (06) 611, page 5 Back
see headnote. Back
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