Vice-president of the European Commission Neelie Kroes is never short of things to say, but the constant flow of words masks a digital agenda which, despite lofty ambitions, has seen slow progress to date.
Pushing standardised e-government services across member states, along with the ICT system interoperability to support those services, has been a big focus for the EU for some time. It wants 50 per cent of individuals and 80 per cent of businesses to use e-government tools by the end of 2015, for example.
Having the clout to deliver that transformation is a different matter: it is the responsibility of member states themselves to implement and co-ordinate e-government services. All the EU can do is set targets, promote discussion, and do its best to foster a favourable regulatory environment while introducing interoperability into its own IT infrastructure.
Ovum analyst Jessica Hawkins says that the true data-sharing at the crux of these initiatives is very hard to achieve. This is due the history of fragmentation in both national and cross-border governments: the co-ordination, let alone the interoperability, of activity across such a complex environment is creating ongoing challenges.
"Often, agencies have not had a tradition, and in some cases no legal mandate, for working together. Respecting an agency's jurisdiction is a key consideration within the public sector, so sharing data and information can be a difficult undertaking," she says.
"eGovernment and eHealth are certainly tools for improving the freedom of movement of citizens and enterprises, but they remain national areas," adds Silvia Piai, research manager for health and government insights at analyst firm IDC.
"With time, the EU has positioned itself as a great player for aggregation, best practices sharing, and setting up of indicators that have allowed single countries to measure their achievements in a constructive way."
The EU has fostered a small number of projects designed to showcase working examples of successful implementation of e-government initiatives. These are intended to make it easier for smaller businesses in the region to set up shop in other member states.
"The political will to do this is beginning to change. There are a number of European large-scale pilots, each of which represents a key pillar of delivering electronic government and provides a model for cross-border services," says Hawkins.
"These are designed to reduce administrative barriers to delivery of services to businesses and citizens across Europe where they can benefit from synergies between projects through the reuse of existing infrastructure."
Launched in 2008, the Pan European Public Procurement OnLine project (PEPPOL) was designed to ease communication between companies or suppliers and government bodies responsible for procurement processes in the EU, for example.
The thinking is that, by connecting national systems, PEPPOL will allow businesses to bid for public sector contracts anywhere in the EU. This will increase competition and transparency of government supplier contracts.
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