European governments must make greater use of the internet in the way they work or risk increasing the cost of doing business and alienating the young, the European Commission has said.
The Commission has launched a plan and some pilot projects aimed at encouraging governments across the trading bloc to make more use of internet technologies to streamline services, standardise processes and ensure public use of and engagement with government.
"This is about more than good government," said the EU Commissioner responsible for the Commission's Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes. "Effective and efficient public administration is the first pillar of the broader competitiveness Europe needs."
"More must be done to tap the efficiency and empowerment potential of the technologies out there. Otherwise, the untapped potential may start causing problems," she said.
"Uncoordinated development of eProcurement platforms and e-identity systems may be creating a pointless barrier to the Digital Single Market," said Kroes. "Business wanting to trade, to register for licences and permits, to pay VAT or establish branches across borders may experience problems. I am speaking about compliance problems and incompatible national systems. Both citizens and businesses must be able to benefit from online services everywhere in Europe regardless of their country of origin."
"If administrations are reluctant to embrace emerging technologies they risk alienating the younger generations – the digital natives. That is neither good for democracy nor for innovation in government," said Kroes. "If public administrations fail to keep up with the times, they risk irrelevance or even worse. They risk becoming an obstacle for competitiveness and civic engagement."
The Commission's plan to encourage governments to make more use of internet technologies includes a goal that 50 per cent of EU citizens and 80 per cent of businesses will make use of electronic government services by 2015. It also wants systems to exist so that businesses can be set up and run anywhere in Europe, regardless of the country of origin of the person setting up the business.
"The European eGovernment Action Plan aims to support the transition to a new generation of open, flexible and seamless eGovernment services at local, regional, national and EU levels," said a Commission statement. "More specifically, the Plan aims to make services work as well in other EU Member States as they do at home and to open the way to allowing users actively to shape the online public services which suit their needs best."
The Commission has said that governments' engagement with digitised services must happen on an open and standards-compliant basis so that systems can easily work together and sets of data made in one country can be used in another.
Open specifications and interoperability in line with the European Interoperability Framework are listed as "pre-conditions for developing eGovernment" by the Commission statement.
"This second generation of eGovernment services and application is Europe’s best chance to create a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable public sector," said Kroes. "Take the example of public sector information – possibly a €30 billion market in Europe. I have said it before, and I say it again: yes to open data!
"I want to see more citizens and businesses making use of more open – machine readable – data," she said. "By involving third parties we can both improve services and be more transparent."
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