Documents considered by the Committee on 26 January 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

5   Interoperability for European public



COM(10) 744 + ADDs 1-2

Commission Communication: "Towards interoperability for European public services"

Legal base
Document originated16 December 2010
Deposited in Parliament22 December 2010
DepartmentCabinet Office
Basis of considerationEM of 18 January 2011
Previous Committee ReportNone; but see (31368) 9981/10: HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 28 (8 September 2010)
To be discussed in Council27 May 2011 Telecoms Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot 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.[24] 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. [25] 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; and
  • applying information and communications technologies to address challenges facing society like climate change and the ageing population.

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.[26]

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.


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 services; and
  • 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 legislation.

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.


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 necessary;
  • 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 to:

  • 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 level;
  • 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 other stakeholders;
  • 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,[27] 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 under scrutiny.

24   See for details. Back

25   See for full background. Back

26   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).


27   Which we consider in chapter 4 of this Report. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 10 February 2011