e-SENS: digitising government services across Europe

Government services in Europe are being modernised and made accessible online for people and companies across borders in a large-scale project that could save society billions of euros over the coming years.

An EU project aimed at connecting Europe better by digitising a range of public services promises to make cross-border procedures simpler and more accessible for people and companies, radically reducing bureaucracy and lowering costs.

The EUR 27 million, three-year e-SENS project, half-funded by the EU’s Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), involves public administrations, agencies and companies from 20 countries.

‘Digital services vary across Europe, which results in a number of barriers when it comes to cross-border transactions,’ explained e-SENS project coordinator Carsten Schmidt, Ministry of Justice, North-Rhine Westphalia (Germany). ‘Also the approach towards digital services is different – communication via e-mail or electronic forms – formalities are different and cultural aspects also come into play, not to mention difficulties understanding different business terms or documents. All those challenges need to be addressed,’ he said.

Examples of electronic ID and document delivery

During the European Commission preparation of the electronic identification and trust services (e-IDAS) regulation, the businesses involved in consultations said Europe needed an electronic identification (e-ID) that is simple, quick, user-friendly, trustworthy and usable in different countries for the exchange of documentation for a wide range of public and private sector activities.

This is only one example of the European Union regulatory context in which the e-SENS project has been generated: it builds on the solutions developed in earlier Large-Scale Pilot projects (LSPs) in the areas of health, justice, business mobility and electronic procurement.

These previous LSPs created the technical building blocks for e-ID and document delivery to work seamlessly in most EU countries, as well as e-Signature, e-Documents and e-Invoicing, to mention a few. Now the e-SENS team is focusing on consolidating, extending and combining the use of these generic building blocks by launching a series of 65 pilots in 18 countries from April 2015 to April 2016 to prove they can be deployed across Europe sustainably and to make them ready for the market.

The aim is to get people and businesses to carry out, on a massive basis, administrative procedures electronically between countries. This could entail anything from accessing health services to starting a business abroad, bidding for contracts in another country or issuing a claim in a foreign court.

Cost savings and EU investment

‘Digitisation of public cross-border services will bring tangible benefits and savings both to public bodies and citizens and entrepreneurs, both in terms of money and time,’ Mr Schmidt pointed out.

Total savings by reducing administrative burdens in the area of company law alone have been estimated at EUR 69 million per year. Just boosting online cross-border access to patient summaries will save more than EUR 36 million, according to another study. And registering a new legal entity will be over EUR 32 000 cheaper. These are just a few examples of the large benefits that can be obtained, said Mr Schmidt.

In addition, Europe’s Connecting Europe Facility, a new financing instrument for trans-European networks in the fields of transport, energy and telecoms up to 2020, is investing some EUR 970 million for Digital Service Infrastructures to deliver networked cross-border services for citizens, businesses and public administrations, based on the achievements of e-SENS, aimed at making the Digital Single Market in Europe become a reality very soon indeed