EU Pushes Governments to Offer Online Services

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The European Union wants 80 percent of businesses to be using online public services by 2015.

To help achieve this, the European Commission launched the eGovernment Action Plan on Wednesday. The plan will see member states working with the Commission on 40 specific measures over the next five years to develop cross-border e-government services such as e-tendering.

The plan is also to enable entrepreneurs to set up and run a business anywhere in Europe more quickly and easily, independent of their original location. Currently, only 42 percent of the E.U. population uses online public services, despite a big increase in the availability of basic services such as company registration and tax filing -- up from 21 percent in 2000 to 71 percent in 2009.

However, security of sensitive information transmitted to government agencies is still a concern. To combat this, the action plan will focus on electronic identification technologies and authentication services.

The Commission accepts that passwords alone are not sufficient, and said that more secure privacy controls are increasingly needed. This will involve establishing preconditions for interoperability, e-signatures and e-authentication. Open specifications and interoperability are currently a contentious issue at the E.U. level, with the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) expected this week. The eGovernment Action Plan will be one of the biggest plans to implement the EIF.

The Commission said Wednesday that the action plan will have tangible benefits for businesses, especially small and medium-size enterprises, cutting down time on administrative procedures. For example, the time taken to register a new business in Belgium has fallen from 56 days to just three days since the introduction of online company registration. Other time-saving measures include a once-only secure registration of data to avoid having to give the same information again and again to different parts of government; E.U.-wide electronic identities to smooth cross-border procedures such as starting a company abroad; and real-time progress of transactions.

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