Documents considered by the Committee on 21 July 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


8 Interoperability as a means for modernising the public sector: the ISA2 programme

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; further information requested
Document detailsProposal for a Council Decision establishing a programme on interoperability solutions for European public administrations, businesses and citizens (ISA2)
Legal baseArticle 172 TFEU; ordinary legislative procedure; QMV
DepartmentCabinet Office
Document Numbers(36197), 11580/14, COM(14) 367

Summary and Committee's conclusions

8.1 ISA2 is a proposal for the continuation of the ISA programme, which funds projects on interoperability for public services across the EU. In this context, "interoperability" means enabling different national systems to communicate with each other, reducing friction and improving efficiency in cross-border and cross-sector transactions. As such, "interoperability" underpins the aims of the European Commission's Digital Single Market strategy, particularly in relation to work on e-government and "the cloud".

8.2 When the ISA2 Council Decision was presented for scrutiny in October 2014, the then Minister (Mr Francis Maude) illustrated a number of concerns, and noted that the Commission had yet to produce a full evaluation of the earlier ISA programme. Our predecessors said that the Commission was thus pushing ahead without any objective evaluation of how effective the predecessor programme had been, or any assessment of the impact of its proposed successor. When responding to its observations, in February, the Minister was only able to add that he was still trying to obtain definitive responses from the Commission to some of the questions raised; its view, meanwhile, was that the need for an EU interoperability programme had been previously agreed and, because ISA2 was a continuation of an existing programme, there was no requirement for a full impact assessment; he and other like-minded would continue to press the Commission to properly justify the proposals for ISA2 before further discussions of the detail, especially as ISA2 was now to be a Latvian Presidency priority; and a full update would be provided when progress on these issues had been made.

8.3 The new Minister for the Cabinet Office, and Paymaster General (Matthew Hancock) has now written, on 10 June 2015, stating that, after a "lot of work … in Council working groups on this file over the last two months", the Commission has proposed that Member States vote to agree a General Approach on the ISA2 text at the 12 June 2015 Telecommunications Council. He illustrates a number of ways in which he says that the text has been improved. But the Commission continues to maintain that no impact assessment was required because ISA2 is the continuation of an existing programme which is believed to be of value; whereas the Minister continues to believe that the ISA2 proposal would have been stronger if a proper impact assessment had been prepared when the proposal was being drafted. Whilst stating that the Council draft is significantly better than the Commission's original proposal, the Minister says that more could and should also be done during trilogue to improve the text to ensure that ISA2 is effective.

8.4 The Government continues to support the overall aim of improving interoperability to reduce the friction involved in online transactions across borders and across sectors within the EU. However, given that it has not yet been possible to properly scrutinise the text and given the areas where he believes further improvements to the text could have been made, the Minister says that he will abstain from voting on the general approach on 12 June. Beyond that, he will continue to work to support further improvements:

"with the hope that the proposal will be something that we can support when it comes to a future Telecoms Council for final agreement. The European Parliament has voiced some similar concerns on the proposal to those set out by the UK, so we do not anticipate any significant risk of the work to date being reversed during the trialogue process."

8.5 The Minister notes that the interim evaluation of the predecessor ISA programme raised concerns with regards to the important areas of effectiveness, coherence and coordination; and that the Commission's proposal for ISA2 did little to address those concerns. But the Commission remains obdurate: full evaluation will not be produced until the latest date possible, in December 2105; work will nonetheless continue on ISA2 without the benefit of this evaluation; and no impact assessment is required because ISA2 is the continuation of an existing programme which is believed to be of value. This is an entirely circular argument. How can a programme be deemed of value if it has not been fully evaluated? And how can any successor be deemed not to need an impact assessment because it is a continuation of something that has not been fully evaluated? The Minister refers to an annex to his letter, on the Commission's reasoning, which he did not in fact enclose. We should therefore be grateful if he would send it to us, along with a letter summarising its key points and setting out his views.

8.6 The other like-minded Member States of February have presumably been won over during the working group discussions. Nonetheless, in these circumstances, it was plainly right for the Minister to have abstained. We now look forward to his keeping us regularly updated on the trilogue process, since it may be appropriate for this Council Decision to be debated before a final position is adopted, and we do not wish to be presented with a fait accompli; on this occasion, the dissolution and then the absence of a Committee in mid-June has meant that the lack of any update until the last minute was immaterial, but it would not be acceptable in future.

8.7 In the meantime, the draft Council Decision remains under scrutiny.

Full details of the documents: Draft Council Decision establishing a programme on interoperability solutions for European public administrations, businesses and citizens (ISA2): (36197) 11580/14: COM(14) 367.

8.8 The ISA programme was launched on 1 January 2010 and runs for five years. It has a budget of €160 million (£114 million). Its main objective is to support cooperation between European public administrations by facilitating efficient and effective electronic cross-border and cross-sectoral interaction, with a view to enabling the delivery of electronic public services supporting the implementation of EU policies and activities (see our predecessor's Report of last October for full details[ 95]).

8.9 A January 2013 interim evaluation was largely positive. But it was too early to arrive at any firm conclusions on the programme's utility or effectiveness. The need to identify possible means to ensure the long term sustainability of an increasing number of solutions developed by the ISA programme was highlighted. Although the evaluation found that ISA was generally working well internally and with other EU initiatives, the majority of stakeholders interviewed suggested that there were overlaps that could be better managed; and whilst Member States were involved in the oversight of the ISA programme, it was not yet sufficiently effective in meeting the needs and priorities of individual Member States.[ 96]

8.10 The proposed Council Decision is for a successor programme, ISA2, to run from 2016-20, with a budget of €146.6 million (£104.2 million), and is intended to "consolidate, promote and expand its activities". In particular, the new programme will:

·  "help to identify, create and operate interoperability solutions, which will then be provided for unlimited use to other Union institutions and bodies, and national, regional and local public administrations, thus facilitating cross-border or cross-sector interaction between them;

·  "develop interoperability solutions autonomously or complement and support other Union initiatives by piloting interoperability solutions as a 'solution incubator' or ensuring their sustainability as a 'solution bridge'; and

·  "assess the ICT implications of existing and proposed EU legislation."[ 97]

8.11 The then Minister (Mr Francis Maude) noted that there were a number of interrelated programmes across many policy areas including Health, Taxation, Business and Competition, Justice, Procurement, Animal Health, Statistics, and ICT & Digital Services, and is broadly supportive of this proposed Council Decision, as are the other government departments who have been consulted (see our predecessor's Report of last October and its annex for full details).

8.12 He also noted that:

—  the Commission had yet to undertake an impact assessment on this decision and that "UKREP have been trying to obtain more information";

—  adoption of this decision affected a number of programmes or initiatives;

—  however, it did not "itself have any direct impacts on businesses or citizens since it promotes interoperability between governments at all levels";

—  the only assessment undertaken by the EU was largely based on the evaluations of previous programmes and on the fact that these programmes had identified an ongoing need for developing or updating interoperability standards; and

—  "the full evaluation of the current programme is not yet available and HMG will want to monitor progress in implementing the recommendations from the interim evaluation".

8.13 Finally, the Minister said that he did not know "when Council will give consideration to this decision, nor which Council will lead the discussions".

The previous Committee's assessment

8.14 The picture was thus of the Commission pushing ahead without any objective evaluation of how effective the predecessor programme had been, or any assessment of the impact of its proposed successor.

8.15 At the same time, both the then Minister and his predecessor had made their requirements clear:

—  greater value for money from any new programme, and a shift in focus from funding for studies to funding for implementation, with an emphasis on re-use or adaption;

—  indications of progress in implementing the recommendations from the interim evaluation;

—  more work on common methodologies;

—  more use of open standards, a streamlined governance structure, and "a more iterative, agile approach" in any successor programme;

—  "more clarity about governance, a better articulation of user needs, a clearer understanding of how this will work with other initiatives, and clarity on the financial case for investment"; and

—  addressing concerns about "the usage of jargon, acronyms, and ambiguous wording where the meaning is not clear".

8.16 Given that the new programme was envisaged to start in 15 months' time, it seemed extraordinary that the then Minister had no idea of the timetable, or which Council would be responsible for handling this dossier.

8.17 Nor did the then Minister analyse the present ISA2 text either in terms of the extent to which it addressed the areas of concern identified in the ISA interim evaluation or with regard to what he and his predecessor wished to see in the proposed new programme.

8.18 However, he seemed to have become a victim of his own concern about ambiguous wording where the meaning is not clear, in that they at least had no idea what was meant by "a more iterative, agile approach", or implementation, with an emphasis on re-use or adaption.

8.19 The previous Committee accordingly asked the then Minister to address these issues forthwith; and also to know when he expected a full evaluation of the current programme to emerge; and the Commission impact assessment of the proposed ISA2.

8.20 In the meantime, the draft Council Decision was retained under scrutiny.[ 98]

8.21 The Minister did not reply until 9 February 2015. When he did so, it was part of a "portmanteau" letter embracing a number of digital issues, revolving around Public and International Procurement.[ 99] In sum, the Minister noted that:

—  his officials, working with UKREP, were still trying to obtain definitive responses from the Commission to some of the questions raised;

—  the Commission view was that the need for an EU interoperability programme, its policy objectives and its benefits had been previously agreed;

—  because ISA2 was a continuation of an existing programme, there was no requirement for a full impact assessment;

—  they had, however, agreed to share more information from the mid-term interim evaluation of the existing ISA programme;

—  many of the issues identified by the previous Committee about the first ISA programme related to the lack of a full evaluation of the existing ISA programme and an impact assessment for ISA2; the UK was one of a number of Member States to raise these concerns and was looking to work with other like-minded Member States to ensure they were fully addressed; a full update would be provided when progress on these issues had been made; his officials continued to push the Commission together with other Member States to properly justify the proposals for ISA2 before further discussions of the detail of the proposal; and

—  the Telecommunications Council would now take this programme forward and the Latvian Presidency had made this a priority matter.

8.22 With regard to the previous Committee's uncertainty about the meaning of "adopting an agile iterative approach with an emphasis on reuse and adaptation", the then Minister said:

"Agile is an iterative approach to software development and project management, which the Cabinet Office (in particular the Government Digital Service) has effectively used in developing digital services. It is an approach that many believe can help with rapid development of interoperability solutions. Agile provides a methodology to develop and deliver solutions quickly, these can then be used, re-used or adapted as required. If ISA2 adopted an agile approach, it should see more solutions appearing quicker than has been the case in the current ISA programme."

The Minister's letter of 10 June 2015

8.23 The Minister begins his letter by stating that the Commission has proposed that Member States vote to agree a general approach on the ISA2 text at the Telecommunications Council on 12 June 2015. He continues thus:

"A lot of work has been done in Council working groups on this file over the last two months, but the draft proposal is now more stable in advance of Friday's Telecommunications Council, so I am taking this opportunity to write to update the Committee."

8.24 Recalling our predecessors' October 2014 Report, the Minister continues as follows:

"The Committee's report highlighted a number of concerns on the Commission's work on interoperability which had been raised in the Explanatory Memorandum (11580/14) on the proposal. They included:

·  "the need for a clearer, better structured programme to ensure that ISA2 creates value for money[ 100];

·  "the need for progress to be made on implementing the recommendations from the interim evaluation of the predecessor ISA programme; and

·  "the need for a clearer understanding of how the programme fits with other initiatives to ensure the most useful possible projects are being funded in the context of wider European work on interoperability.

"The interim evaluation of the predecessor ISA programme raised concerns with regards to the important areas of effectiveness, coherence and coordination. The Commission's proposal for ISA2 did little to address those concerns. In particular:

·  "article 9, which failed to make provision for funding to be stopped in the case of an action which is not showing any results;

·  "articles 5-7 in relation to actions to be funded under ISA2 and the implementation of ISA2's work programme, where there was no guiding structure for prioritising which actions ISA2 should fund, missing the opportunity to create a more effective programme that can ensure it is funding the most appropriate and useful actions;

·  "article 3 that included the ambiguous language around 'solution incubators' and 'solution bridges'; and

·  "article 11 and the recitals, which failed to properly set ISA2 in the context of other European initiatives also working towards interoperability, therefore missing the opportunity to ensure that the actions funded are aligned with other European efforts and to avoid duplication of work.

"The Committee's report also noted concerns about the lack of impact assessment, and asked about the likely timing of the final evaluation for the first ISA programme. On the latter, the results of the final evaluation on ISA will be communicated to the European Council and Parliament by 31 December 2015, in line with Article 13(3) of Decision Number 922/2009/EC.[ 101]

"DISCUSSION IN COUNCIL

"We have outlined all of our concerns over the course of the Council's discussion of the proposal on ISA2 at working group meetings.

"With regards to the impact assessment, the Commission has made it clear that it does not feel that an impact assessment was necessary. The Commission maintains the argument that no impact assessment was required because ISA2 is the continuation of an existing programme which is believed to be of value. Their full reasoning is enclosed in Annex A to this letter.

"With regards to the text of the proposal itself, some progress has been made towards improving it. The restrictive handling marking (limité) was removed on 5 June, so the Council's latest draft text is enclosed in Annex B.

"The most significant advancements to the draft text thus far are:

·  "additions to recital 33 to ensure better coordination with other programmes;

·  "the removal of the confusing terms 'solution incubator' and 'solution bridge' in article 2;

·  "the inclusion of new articles on criteria for eligibility and prioritisation of actions to be funded after article 6, helping to create a clearer governance structure; and

·  "the inclusion of a new provision to stop funding ineffective actions in article 9.

"UK POSITION

"I continue to believe that the ISA2 proposal would have been stronger if a proper impact assessment had been prepared when the proposal was being drafted. Whilst the draft now produced by the Council is significantly better than the Commission's original proposal, more could and should also be done during trialogue to improve the text to ensure ISA2 is effective.

"In particular, I am still keen to see further improvements in relation to:

·  "a clearer requirement, either in the recitals or in article 3, stating that the main objective of the programme should be on developing and maintaining tools which contribute to interoperability — this would ensure that most of the programme's efforts are spent on practical progress towards interoperability;

·  "better coordination with other EU activities on interoperability to ensure different parts of the Commission are working together - this could including looking at a possible joint evaluation of ISA2 together with other measures on interoperability rather than evaluating each separately; and

·  "clearer prioritisation of user needs, for example by making provision in articles 9 and 11 to base monitoring, evaluation and on-going funding on some genuine testing during development of ISA's interoperability solutions.

"NEXT STEPS

"It remains the case that the UK supports the overall aim of improving interoperability to reduce the friction involved in online transactions across borders and across sectors the EU. However, given that it has not yet been possible to properly scrutinise text and given the areas where I believe further improvements to the text could have been made, the UK will abstain from voting on the general approach on 12 June.

"We will continue to work to support further improvements to the file with the hope that the proposal will be something that we can support when it comes to a future Telecoms Council for final agreement. The European Parliament has voiced some similar concerns on the proposal to those set out by the UK, so we do not anticipate any significant risk of the work to date being reversed during the trialogue process."

8.25 The Minister concludes by expressing the "hope that the Committee will feel that, in conjunction with the then Minister for the Cabinet Office's letter of 9 February 2015, this addresses all of the points made in the Committee's report of 15 October 2014", and undertakes to "keep the Committee updated with further progress on this file".

8.26 On 12 June, the Council issued a statement confirming that the Council had adopted a general approach on the ISA 2 Programme.[ 102] The aim is to make sure that European public administrations can interact electronically with each other and with citizens and businesses in a seamless manner. The ISA 2 Programme will support both cross-border and cross-sector interaction. It is set to run from 2016 to 2020, with a financial envelope of "about €131 million". The programme will support actions to assess, improve and re-use existing interoperability solutions and to develop new ones. Compared to the initial Commission proposal, the presidency compromise text:

"introduces provisions to clarify the eligibility criteria for actions to be financed under the ISA 2 programme and introduces criteria to prioritise actions. It also includes provisions to avoid overlaps and ensure consistencies and coordination with other EU programmes."

8.27 The Council statement also notes that, in order to be adopted, the decision will have to be approved by both the Council and the European Parliament, the latter of which has not yet voted its position.[ 103]

Previous Committee Reports

Thirteenth Report HC 219-xiii (2014-15), chapter 10 (15 October 2014).


95   Thirteenth Report: HC 219-xiii (2014-15), chapter 10 (15 October 2014). Back

96   Ditto. Back

97   COM(14) 367, p.11. Back

98   See Thirteenth Report HC 219-xiii (2014-15), chapter 10 (15 October 2014). Back

99   See Thirty-third Report HC 219-xxxii (2014-15), chapter 5 (11 February 2015). Back

100   The Minister's footnote: "(this includes clearer language; more clarity about governance; and an approach that focuses more on implementing interoperability solutions that make a real impact). Member States will play a role in on-going decisions about the ISA2 programme through the Committee referred to in Article 11 of the proposal. However this new legal basis is an opportunity to refine the programme and give it a clearer structure". Back

101   This says:

"The ISA programme shall be subject to an interim evaluation and a final evaluation, the results of which shall be communicated to the European Parliament and the Council by 31 December 2012 and 31 December 2015 respectively. In this context the responsible committee of the European Parliament may invite the Commission to present the evaluation results and answer questions put by its members.

"The evaluations shall examine issues such as the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, utility, sustainability and coherence of the ISA programme's actions and shall assess performance against the objective of the ISA programme and the rolling work programme. The final evaluation shall, in addition, examine the extent to which the ISA programme has achieved its objective": see OJ L 260/20 of 16 September 2009, page 7.  Back

102   Available at General Approach.  Back

103   See Press release.  Back


 
previous page contents next page


© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 30 July 2015