eGovernment refers to the provision of online public services to citizens and businesses. Services for citizens include registration to government services such as health care, education or employment benefits. For businesses, eGovernment services can take the form of online alerts for public procurements or funding opportunities as well as information and support on applicable legislation in a given sector. eGovernment is widely viewed as an extraordinary opportunity for administrations to cut down their costs, speed up procedures and therefore increase their efficiency and reactivity.
In the EU context, eGovernment could improve and accelerate administrative efficiency, have positive implications for cross-border mobility and the internal market and is seen by many as a way to achieve the EU's Lisbon target to become the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy.
The Commission is encouraging member states' actions by financing projects and securing the technical interoperability of eGovernment services across Europe. Since 2000, Member States and the Commission have been co-operating in the area of eGovernment through the 'Interchange of Data between Administrations' (IDA) Programme, which is currently being used as a basis to develop pan-European services and exchange best practices. In 2004, EU Ministers replaced IDA by IDABC ('Interoperable delivery of Pan-European eGovernment services to Public Administrations, Business and Citizens'). The first IDABC work programme, covering the period 2005 - 2009, was decided upon on 8 November 2005.
On 23 February 2006, the Commission published a Communication in which it identified a number of different elements which should be harmonised to make different countries' eGovernment services work smoothly together. On an organisational level, administrations should come to a common understanding as to how key events like births, marriages and deaths, as well as standardised business procedures like setting up business or taking part in a tender, should be dealt with. As a next step, they need to introduce a standardised vocabulary that will allow easy translation on a system level of key information provided. Finally, the systems themselves need to have standardised interfaces that will allow the easy exchange of information.
At EU level, the main issues in the debate surrounding eGovernment are:
- The development of high-speed infrastructure to access the Internet, mainly through broadband and other high-speed internet connections like Internet over power lines, Wi-Fi (wireless, high-speed Internet) and other technologies;
- creating trust and transparency, which, a study has found, are essential fro the successful delivery of eGovernment services;
- citizen access and participation trough the availability of Public Internet Access Points to avoid a digital divide;
- network security and the protection of computers against viruses, unsolicited e-mails (spam) and other nuisances to Internet users;
- interoperability of networks (within countries and across the EU) so that they can be linked to one another and offer seamless services to customers
- online privacy;
- the development of pan-European services on other means than the PC (e.g. mobile phones using the 3G technology or digital TV);
- investment spending in online administration by European and national authorities, and;
- use of open-source software (OSS) by public administrations as a potential threat to major software companies trying to reap the benefits of the growing enthusiasm for eGovernment solutions and services.
Eurobusiness, which brings together European industrial and employers' confederations, is of the view that quantitative targets for getting Europe online must be followed by focused qualitative targets. Eurobusiness therefore calls on Member States to promote eGovernment measures.
The Global Business Dialogue on e-commerce (GBDe) proposes a list of 23 points to governments on eGovernment desirable requirements. Their main proposals are to:
- Adopt explicit milestones and a roadmap for eGovernment implementation
- Utilise outsourcing from the private sector
- Carry out measures to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) use eGovernment services
- Release government information on the Internet simultaneously with conventional publishing methods
CompTIA Director Hugo Lueders welcomed the 23 February 2006 Commission communication on interoperable eGovernment services: "In many ways, this new Communication seems more pragmatic and reasonable. We compliment in particular the confirmation that the 'European Interoperability Framework', with its open standard definition, is not seen any longer as an official Commission policy, but merely guidance that does not demand mandatory adherence. We hope this significant admission will better illuminate the choices that governments have and hence increase the field of options for state administrators and citizens who are increasingly dependent on eGovernment services."