The European Commission has revealed an ambitious e-government action plan that could see savings of €300bn a year across 25 European countries through 100pc electronic invoicing and electronic public procurement. The strategy also includes a plan to ensure that by 2010 all citizens will have access to digital TV, PCs and mobile phones.
The commission claims that hundreds of billions could be saved for European taxpayers every year as a result of technology-led administrative modernisation in the EU member states if its E-Government Action Plan is implemented.
It says that information and communications technology (ICT) is key to modernising government services.
All member states, including Ireland, have already signed up to an ambitious agenda that includes rolling out 100pc electronic invoicing and electronic public procurement.
“E-government is no longer just a political toy, it is the essential tool of government for modernising Europe’s public administrations,” commented Viviane Reding, the EU’s Information Society and Media Commissioner.
“We are starting to see benefits from Europe’s investments in e-government over the last few years but we need to be more active in learning lessons from each other and getting the benefits of scale from adopting common approaches across borders,” Reding added.
The European Commission claims that e-government initiatives have already resulted in significant savings of time and money in some EU member states. Public service e-procurement in Italy resulted in savings of €3.2bn by 2003 (for example an average saving of 34pc on PCs). Portugal has reported savings of 30pc through electronic public procurement. Full deployment of e-procurement across the EU could result in savings of up to €80bn a year.
The new e-government action plan adopted today by the European Commission addresses five priority areas for 2010 including citizen inclusion, improved efficiency, implementing e-procurement, easy access to services and e-democracy.
In terms of citizen inclusion, the commission will work with member states to make sure that by 2010 all citizens, regardless of gender, age, nationality, income, or disability will have access to a wide range of technologies such as digital TV, PCs and mobile phones.
The administrative burden that Europe represents for governments — 470 million citizens, 20 million businesses and tens of thousands of administrations — means that governments account for 45pc of Europe’s entire gross domestic product (GDP).
As a result the commission intends to employ ICT to drive efficiencies and illustrates this point by citing the transformation of the UK pension programme, which has freed up to 50pc of staff to provide customer support and other functions. To make this happen the commission and the member states will put in place a framework for benchmarking the impact of e-government in order get this process on track.
The commission says that government procurement represents 15pc of GDP or about €1,500bn a year. Member states have committed to achieving 100pc availability and at least 50pc take-up of procurement online by 2010, with an estimated annual saving of €40bn. The action plan will lay out a road map for achieving these goals as well as the practical steps required for such large-scale cross-border procurement pilots and full electronic handling of company documents.
The strategy includes an ambitious plan to ensure easy access to services for EU citizens travelling across the continent. EU governments have agreed to facilitate this process by establishing secure systems for mutual recognition of national electronic identities for public administration websites and services. The commission will help make this happen by supporting wide-scale cross-border demonstrators, identifying common specifications for electronic ID management during 2007 and by reviewing the rules of electronic signatures in 2009.
The strategy also includes a plan for strengthening citizen participation in government and democratic decision making. According to the commission, 65pc of respondents to the commission’s public consultation on e-government said that e-democracy can help reduce Europe’s democratic deficit. The action plan proposes to support experiments in the use of ICT for more effective public participation in policy making.
By John Kennedy