7 Interoperability for European public
COM(10) 744 + ADDs 1-2
|Commission Communication: Towards interoperability for European public services
|Basis of consideration||Minister's letter of 24 March 2011
|Previous Committee Report||HC 428-xiv (2010-11), chapter 5 (26 January 2011)
|To be discussed in Council||27 May 2011 Telecoms Council
|Committee's assessment||Politically important
7.1 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."
7.2 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.
7.3 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
7.4 The Communication explains the Commission's intended actions
to ensure the interoperability of ICT-based government services
across Europe. It 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
7.5 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.
7.6 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
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
7.7 Based on extensive consultation with Member States and
other stakeholders, the Framework (EIF) 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.
7.8 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 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.
7.9 The Commission wishes to lead by example, aligning its
own internal ICT strategy to the European Interoperability Strategy
and using 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
7.10 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 18 January 2011, the
Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr Francis Maude) noted that,
as eGovernment is a devolved matter, the devolved administrations
had been consulted in the preparation of this Explanatory Memorandum.
7.11 He noted that the challenges outlined in the Communication
and annexes were 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 also noted that through the soon-to-be-published Government
ICT Strategy and its associated work-streams, such as the Standards
and Architecture Framework, the Government was working to deliver
a comprehensive approach to tackling the national interoperability
challenge. He said that the Government would 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. The Government
believed the resolution of common interoperability issues would
be better solved by working with Europe than in national or regional
silos and therefore it would assist the Commission in achieving
the goals set out in the Communication.
7.12 As with the related Commission Communication on the EU
eGovernment Action Plan,
two of the devolved administrations raised points, which the Minister
set out as follows:
"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
"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."
7.13 We considered the Communication on 26 January 2011.
7.14 As with the related Commission Communication on the
European eGovernment Action Plan, we noted that the Minister again
referred to questions raised by the devolved administrations in
Scotland and Northern Ireland, but failed to comment further.
7.15 He also noted one or two other areas in which he was
not entirely at one with the Commission's approach, e.g., on the
specific terminology used within the Communication with regard
to "open specifications", "formalised specifications"
and "standards and open platforms".
7.16 With four months between then and when Council Conclusions
were due to be adopted we asked the Minister to write to us before
the Council meeting to outline how the questions raised by the
devolved administrations and his own concerns had been addressed
in the prospective Conclusions.
7.17 In the meantime, we retained the document under scrutiny.
The Minister's letter of 24 March 2011
7.18 In his letter of 26 March 2011, the Minister responds
"The Government is committed to publishing a national interoperability
framework and the devolved administrations have been invited to
collaborate in its development so that their own frameworks can
be taken into consideration from the outset. Given the administrations'
involvement to this date, it is expected compatibility between
the respective frameworks will be ensured.
"Post the publication of a forthcoming national interoperability
framework and the Government ICT Strategy, new structures will
be put in place that will facilitate the continued open dialogue
with the devolved administrations. Subject matter experts will
be called on to focus efforts on the European agenda to ensure
all interested parties are involved and kept up to date. Until
then, the Government will use existing channels to inform the
devolved administrations in delivering immediate actions.
DATA PROTECTION PRINCIPLES AND PRIVACY
"The Government has strengthened and clarified references
to data protection principles and privacy within the Council Conclusions.
The latest round of negotiations has seen the successful inclusion
of text reinforcing the rule that any use of personal data is
to be carried out in accordance with Member States' national legal
frameworks. The Government will continue to prioritise the importance
of data protection principles and privacy when taking forward
any future actions in this area.
INVOLVEMENT OF STAKEHOLDERS
"The latest iteration of the Council Conclusions includes
a specific recognition of the involvement of stakeholders when
developing user-driven eGovernment services. The Government has
a range of experience here and will work with Member States, as
per the Action Plan, to disseminate best practice in the coming
"During the latest negotiations for the Council Conclusions,
the Government sought clarification as to the terminology 'formalised
specifications', 'open specifications' and 'standards and open
platforms'. The Commission has admitted the terms are confusing
but that they had to publish the European Interoperability Framework
using definitions embedded within existing EU sectors. The Commission
conceded that 'open specifications' and 'open standards' were
defined differently in different documents but they hoped that
through time, Member States will converge on one agreed term
which term that was would not be for the Commission to state."
7.19 Finally, the Minister says that the Government has successfully
negotiated the removal of "these confusing terms" in
the Council Conclusions, which he says now refer "to just
'open specifications' throughout", does not see any further
changes in this area and is therefore content that this issue
has now been resolved.
7.20 We are grateful to the Minister for this further
information, which makes clear that the devolved administrations
will be properly involved in the creation of the national interoperability
framework and its implementation, and that the Council Conclusions
will embrace UK interests.
7.21 We now clear the document.
37 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
See http://ec.europa.eu/unitedkingdom/press/press_releases/2010/pr1045_en.htm. Back
Full details of the Digital Agenda Communication and the Government's
views are set out in our Report of 8 September 2010; see (31638)
9981/10: HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 28 (8 September 2010).
See (32377) 18135/10 + ADD 1 at chapter 6 of this Report. Back