COM(2008)0798, Action Plan on e-signatures and e-identification to facilitate the provision of cross-border public services in the Single Market

European Commission


In the framework of the Lisbon Strategy, the EU has committed itself to improving the legal and administrative environment to unlock business potential. Bringing public administrations on line, and enabling enterprises and individuals to communicate electronically with public administrations across borders, contributes to creating an environment that favours entrepreneurship and facilitates citizen’s contact with public authorities.

Electronic communications are becoming increasingly important in many aspects of economic and public life. Public authorities across Europe have started to offer electronic access to government services. In doing so they have been focusing mostly on national needs and means, which has led to a complex system with different solutions. This situation carries the risk of creating new barriers to cross-border markets and of hampering the functioning of the single market for enterprises and citizens.

Major barriers to cross-border access to electronic services of public administrations are linked to the use of electronic identification and of electronic signatures. Like in the non-digital environment, certain electronic procedures may require identification and signatures. Thus access to public administrations’ electronic procedures often implies the need for the individuals involved to identify themselves (i.e. allowing the administration to make sure that the persons are who they claim to be by checking their personal credentials) and the need to provide an electronic signature allowing the administration to identify the signatory as well as to make sure that the data submitted has not been altered during transmission). The main barrier is the lack of interoperability, be it legal, technical or organisational.

The current European Union framework offers horizontal and sectoral instruments to facilitate and enhance the use of e-signatures and e-identification. The e-Signatures Directive establishes the legal recognition of electronic signatures and a legal framework to promote their interoperability. A number of practical, technical and organisational requirements need to be met to establish such interoperability.

Furthermore, effective interoperability is also required if Member States are to comply with their legal obligations under other EU legislation, in particular under specific internal market instruments. Several internal market initiatives foresee that businesses should be able to use electronic means to communicate with public bodies, exercise their rights and do business across borders.

The Services Directive obliges Member States to ensure by the end of 2009 that service providers are able to complete electronically and at a distance all procedures and formalities necessary to provide a service activity. This implies, amongst other things, the possibility for cross-border identification of service providers and authentication of the data submitted.

The Directives on Public Procurement aim to promote the development and use of electronic means in public purchasing procedures, with potentially substantial cost savings for business. Member States may regulate the level of electronic signature required in line with the obligations of the e-Signatures Directive, and may restrict the choice of contracting authorities to qualified signatures.

Electronic invoicing — the electronic transfer of invoicing information (billing and payment) between business partners (supplier and buyer) — is an essential part of an efficient financial supply chain. To accompany the creation of Single Euro Payment Area, work is under way to prepare an e-invoicing initiative (the European Commission has set up an expert group tasked with establishing a European Electronic Invoicing Framework by 2009) with further savings for businesses.

The objective of this Action Plan is therefore to offer a comprehensive and pragmatic framework to achieve interoperable e-signatures and e-identification, which will simplify access of enterprises and citizens to cross-border electronic public services. To achieve this objective, the Action Plan focuses on a number of practical, organisational and technical issues, complementing the existing legal framework.

(INTRODUCTION, Issues addressed by the Action Plan)

  • 1. Introduction
  • 1.1. Issues addressed by the Action Plan
  • 1.2. Current framework for e-signatures and e-identification at EU level
  • 1.2.1. The e-Signatures Directive
  • 1.2.2. The i2010 e-Government Action Plan
  • 1.3. Enhancing the cross-border interoperability of e-signatures and e-identification
  • 2. Part 1: Actions to enhance the cross-border interoperability of e-Signatures
  • 2.1. Qualified electronic signatures and advanced electronic signatures based on a qualified certificate
  • 2.2. Advanced electronic signatures
  • 3. Part 2: Actions to enhance the cross-border interoperability of electronic identity
  • 4. Monitoring and implementation