5 Interoperability for European public
COM(10) 744 + ADDs 1-2
|Commission Communication: "Towards interoperability for European public services"
|Document originated||16 December 2010
|Deposited in Parliament||22 December 2010
|Basis of consideration||EM of 18 January 2011
|Previous Committee Report||None; but see (31368) 9981/10: HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 28 (8 September 2010)
|To be discussed in Council||27 May 2011 Telecoms Council
|Committee's assessment||Politically important
|Committee's decision||Not cleared; further information requested
5.1 Commission Communication 9981/10 (COM(10) 245) sets out
the Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe (which replaces the
earlier i2010 Strategy). It is the first of seven flagship initiatives
under the "Europe 2020" strategy.
In unveiling it on 19 May 2010, the Commission said that implementing
its ambitious agenda would contribute significantly to the EU's
economic growth and spread the benefits of the digital era to
all sections of society. 
At that time, Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda
Neelie Kroes said:
"We must put the interests of Europe's citizens and businesses
at the forefront of the digital revolution and so maximise the
potential of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs)
to advance job creation, sustainability and social inclusion.
The ambitious strategy set out today shows clearly where we need
to focus our efforts in the years to come. To fully realise the
potential of Europe's digital future we need the full commitment
of Member States, the ICT sector and other vital economic players."
5.2 The Digital Agenda focuses on seven priority areas, and
foresees some 100 follow-up actions, of which 31 would be legislative.
The seven areas are:
- creating a digital Single Market;
- greater interoperability;
- boosting internet trust and security;
- much faster internet access;
- more investment in research and development;
- enhancing digital literacy skills and inclusion;
- applying information and communications technologies
to address challenges facing society like climate change and the
5.3 The Digital Agenda stresses the need for
Member States to provide efficient and effective cross-border
ICT-enabled government "eGovernment" services, which
is judged to have a higher chance of succeeding through close
collaboration, streamlined processes and trusted information exchange
based on interoperable ICT infrastructure and systems.
The Commission Communication
5.4 This Communication explains the Commission's
intended actions to ensure the interoperability of ICT-based government
services across Europe. The Communication is directed at Commission
services and also acts as a call to all Member States to increase
their awareness of the importance of interoperability in delivering
national and cross-border solutions.
5.5 In order to achieve a common environment
in which to deliver interoperability across Europe, the Communication
introduces the European Interoperability Strategy and the European
Interoperability Framework (which are at Annex 1 and 2 respectively
of the Communication). These complementary documents set out the
general terms of delivery for the Commission and Member States
when they are required to deliver ICT-based services.
5.6 The Commission notes that, without ICT-supported
European public services and collaboration among public administrations,
citizens are obliged to contact, or even to travel to, public
administrations abroad to deliver or collect information or documents
they need to work, study or travel within the EU; and that the
same applies to businesses that want to establish themselves in
more than one Member State. What is described as "the disparate
legal landscape across Member States" is seen as often preventing
cross-border exchanges of information between Member State administrations;
and even when such exchanges are allowed, the Commission notes
that the legal validity of information must be maintained across
borders, and data protection legislation in both originating and
receiving countries must be respected.
5.7 Cross-border interoperability currently also
lacks common infrastructures, architectures and technical guidelines
that could foster the development of European public services
by providing a solid technical basis and avoiding duplication
of efforts. That is why enhanced interoperability at legal, organisational,
semantic and technical level should progressively lead to the
creation of "a sustainable ecosystem", which would facilitate
the effective and efficient creation of new European public services.
The Commission notes that many public administrations in the Member
States are already taking steps to improve interoperability at
national, regional and local levels, but concludes that unless
Member States and the Commission act together, interoperability
at EU level will lag behind.
EUROPEAN INTEROPERABILITY STRATEGY
5.8 Facilitated by the Commission, the Strategy
(EIS) is based on an agreed vision by Member States and sets out
a common and coherent approach to interoperability in order to
support the Digital Agenda for Europe. The EIS provides the direction
and sets priorities for actions needed to improve interaction,
exchange and cooperation among Member States across borders and
across sectors when establishing public services. It clusters
future interoperability activities around the following:
- Trusted Information Exchange:
Member States are invited to join existing and new pilots to gain
experience in cross-border interactions, and for the Commission
to ensure its infrastructure is interoperable with the pilots;
- Interoperability Architecture:
Member States and the Commission will work towards a common vision
for European interoperability architecture, and if necessary support
the architecture by setting up common infrastructures and common
- Assessment of ICT implications of new EU legislation:
The Commission will develop a method to be used in preparing legislative
acts with a view to achieving a better understanding of how ICT
can support the effective and efficient implementation of such
These clusters will be supported by accompanying
measures on awareness-raising and best practice sharing. The Communication
goes on to detail how it intends to deliver these clusters with
the assistance of Member States.
EUROPEAN INTEROPERABILITY FRAMEWORK
5.9 Based on extensive consultation with Member
States and other stakeholders, the Framework is a common set of
guidelines on interoperability for use by the Commission, Member
States and other organisations who wish to collaborate jointly
to provide ICT-enabled public services. The Framework specifies
the need for common elements such as vocabulary, concepts, principles,
policies, guidelines, recommendations, standards, specifications
and practices. It provides guidance for Member States regarding
the design and implementation of public services, such as:
- 12 underlying principles summarising
the expectations of administrations, businesses and citizens regarding
the delivery of public services;
- a conceptual model for public services, structuring
the design and highlighting why and where interoperability is
- the introduction of four levels of interoperability
(legal, organisational, semantic and technical);
- the concept of interoperability agreements, based
on standards and open platforms.
- the importance of interoperability governance
and the need for coordination across all levels of administration
in Member States.
5.10 The Framework's conceptual model for developing
services uses a building-block approach, allowing components of
developed services to be interconnected and also promotes the
re-use of information, concepts, patterns, solutions and specifications
at a national and European level.
5.11 With the Strategy and Framework as a basis
for future activities within Europe intended to improve interoperability
within public services, the Communication encourages active participation
by all Member States and other organisations to ensure success.
The Commission will ensure the Communication's action is linked
to the other Digital Agenda for Europe actions relating to ICT
standards, intellectual property rights and public procurement.
5.12 The Commission encourages Member States
- align their national interoperability
strategies with the European Interoperability Strategy and other
national initiatives with corresponding initiatives and actions
at EU level;
- work alongside each other and the Commission
on implementing the European Interoperability Strategy, while
monitoring progress and impact of related actions at national
- align their national interoperability frameworks
with the European Interoperability Framework;
- take into account the European dimension at an
early stage in the development of any public service that might
become part of a cross-border service in future; and
- contribute to the governance of the European
Interoperability Strategy and related interoperability activities.
5.13 The Commission wishes to lead by example,
using the Communication to announce that it will align its own
internal ICT strategy to the European Interoperability Strategy
and use the Framework as guidance whenever systems are developed
to support European Union legislation. Furthermore, the Commission
promises to ensure:
- implementing the Strategy through
existing instruments with the cooperation of Member States and
- the Framework is applied when implementing new
legislation and establishing new European public services; and
- governance of the Strategy and related activities
is in cooperation with Member States.
The Government's view
5.14 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 18 January
2011, the Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr Francis Maude) notes
that eGovernment is a devolved matter under the UK's devolution
settlements and the devolved administrations have been consulted
in the preparation of this Explanatory Memorandum. He then says:
"The Northern Ireland Executive have indicated
that the importance of the successful delivery of the national
framework in order to test compatibility between their own framework
as well as that of Europe's.
"The Scottish Executive have specifically expressed
an interest in the delivery mechanisms the UK Government will
put in place to address the Communication's actions, the importance
of data protection and privacy and involvement of all stakeholders.
Lastly the Scottish Executive asks they be kept up to date on
this agenda as it progresses."
5.15 The Minister then notes that the challenges
outlined in the Communication and annexes are mirrored domestically,
such as those pertaining to the different terminology used across
the UK for exchanging information/data and lack of harmonised
business processes across sectors. He says that through the soon
to be published Government ICT Strategy and its associated workstreams,
such as the Standards and Architecture Framework, the Government
is working to deliver a comprehensive approach to tackling the
national interoperability challenge. He also says that the Government
will look to integrate elements of the European Interoperability
Strategy into the Government's own ICT Strategy and consider the
European Interoperability Framework in the finalisation of its
own national framework. All in all, he says:
"The Government believes the resolution of common
interoperability issues will be better solved by working with
Europe than in national or regional silos and therefore we will
assist the Commission in achieving the goals set out in the Communication."
5.16 The Minister professes himself "particularly
pleased" with the Communication's focus on the re-use of
solutions and using concrete examples that benefit citizens and
businesses in the development of services or solutions, which
he describes as "ways of working that we encouraged the Commission
to adopt in the formation of the Strategy." He wishes to
ensure that any future actions stemming from pilots or discussions
surrounding standards or commonly agreed architectures or protocols
are built on evidence-based requirements, and will ensure any
consideration to participate in pilots or projects will be heavily
scrutinised, particularly in regards to running and capital costs,
prior to a decision being taken.
5.17 The Minister then notes that the proposed
actions on "Trusted Information Exchange" are complementary
to work currently taking place through the UK Chief Technology
Officers' Council and says that he will look to consider working
with the Commission and Member States should the right opportunity
arise to test scenarios within the parameters of a pilot.
5.18 He continues thus:
"We also support the proposed actions intrinsic
in the Communication towards a greater focus on semantics and
information rather than high-level technology issues. It is imperative
that as Europe moves to facilitate the free movement of goods
and people, governments are able to communicate with one another
across borders with systems and processes interoperating seamlessly
based on commonly agreed standards and processes. The
Government intends to work with the Commission to devise a common
vision for a European interoperability architecture that is complementary
to that of our own.
"The Government is encouraged to see emphasis
placed on the necessity for an assessment tool for ICT implications
for new EU legislation. It is important that the full spectrum
of the implications for delivery is brought to the table prior
to committing to new policies. The cost of ICT is a major factor
in the delivery of modern public services whether domestic or
cross-border and the UK welcomes this move to better understand
how to manage the process.
"The Government is planning to query the Commission
on the specific terminology used within the Communication in regards
to 'open specifications', 'formalised specifications' and 'standards
and open platforms' terms that could be interpreted differently
but used side by side within the European Interoperability Framework.
The UK has raised concerns relating to the terminology used in
previous consultations of the Framework, with the UK, alongside
a number of like-minded Members States, advocating stronger emphasis
on the use of open standards and open specifications. Despite
this ambiguity in the Communication, there is sufficient provision
in the recommendations to allow Member States to favour a more
open approach if they choose to do so. The Government's ICT Strategy
will have a clear approach to the use of open standards and open
source, and will be able to accommodate the recommendation set
out in the Framework.
"The Government will continue to be involved
in the governance arrangements of the outcomes relating to the
Communication. We see the European Interoperability Strategy and
Framework as opportunities to widen the support in overcoming
common interoperability challenges domestically and across borders.
Further collaboration in the fields of the Strategy will be taken
forward as much as possible given constrained resources, however
we hope to further align our domestic work to that of Europe in
this area in order to achieve greater interoperability and efficiencies
in Government ICT for the UK and Europe."
5.19 Finally, the Minister notes that the Communication
will form part of the Conclusions to be considered at the 27 May
2011 Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council.
5.20 As with the related Commission Communication
on the European eGovernment Action Plan,
the Minister again notes questions by the devolved administrations
in Scotland and Northern Ireland (c.f. paragraph 5.14 above),
but fails to comment further.
5.21 He also notes one or two other areas
in which he is not entirely at one with the Commission's approach,
e.g., on the specific terminology used within the Communication
in regards to "open specifications", "formalised
specifications" and "standards and open platforms".
5.22 There are four months between now and
when Council Conclusions are due to be adopted. We would like
the Minister to write to us before the Council meeting to outline
how the questions raised by the devolved administrations and his
own concerns have been addressed in the prospective Conclusions.
5.23 In the meantime we shall retain the document
24 See http://ec.europa.eu/eu2020/pdf/COMPLET%20EN%20BARROSO%20%20%20007%20-%20Europe%202020%20-%20EN%20version.pdf
for details. Back
for full background. Back
Full details of the Digital Agenda Communication and the Government's
views are set out in our Report of 8 September 2010; see (31368)
9981/10: HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 28 (8 September 2010).
Which we consider in chapter 4 of this Report. Back