Electronic signatures: legally recognised but cross-border take-up too slow, says Commission
European Commission - IP/06/325 17/03/2006
Brussels, 17 March 2006
The reluctant take-up of electronic signature tools is slowing down the growth of trade in goods and services via the internet, says the Commission in a progress report published this week. However, growing use of electronic ID cards and the use of e-signatures in e-government services, such as on-line income tax returns, are expected to drive demand in the future. The report also confirms that the 1999 Directive on a Community framework for electronic signatures continues to provide, for the moment, a valid basis for electronic signatures in the internal market.
“A reliable system of electronic signatures that work across intra-EU borders is vital to safe electronic commerce and the efficient electronic delivery of public services to businesses and citizens” noted Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. “The EU rules that all 25 Member States have transposed into their national laws make e-signatures legally recognised on their territory. However, I am not fully satisfied with the take-up of electronic signatures in Europe. Much work still has to be done in particular to make signatures work across borders. I also see a need for asking whether we need further adaptations of our EU framework for electronic signatures to technological and market developments and to the better regulation-policy of this Commission. The development of e-signatures in the internal market will therefore continue to be under my close scrutiny in the year to come.”
The Commission’s progress report presented this week found that the market for “qualified” electronic signatures (i.e. those with sophisticated technical protection) has been much slower to take off than expected. A number of applications in the pipeline might however trigger market growth. These include the use of electronic ID cards for e-signatures. An electronic ID card can be used both as an identification document and to provide on-line access to public services for the citizens. In most cases these ID cards will serve to identify the holder and authenticate the signature, as well as enabling the holder to sign. The development of e-signature applications will be also stimulated by the demand created by electronic public procurement and ID management, as will be stressed in the Commission’s e-Government Action Plan, to be adopted soon.
The strategic role of public service applications is recognised in the EU’s i2010 initiative (see IP/05/643), which fosters the deployment and efficient use of Information and Communication Technologies by the private and public sectors. The need for secure electronic means of identification to access and use public services is essential for citizens and businesses and will promote the use of electronic signatures.
On the legal side, the report concludes that the 1999 Directive on a Community framework for electronic signatures has introduced legal certainty with respect to the general admissibility of electronic signatures. The need for the legal recognition of electronic signatures has been met by the transposition of the general principles of the Directive into the legislation of all 25 Member States.
The Commission however sees a clear need to further encourage the development of e-signatures services and applications and therefore to monitor market and technological developments. Particular emphasis will be on interoperability and cross-border use of electronic signatures. The Commission will encourage further standardisation work in order to promote the interoperability of e-signature systems within and across borders and the use of all kinds of technologies for qualified electronic signature in the single market. The Commission will also prepare a report on standards for electronic signatures in 2006 to see whether further regulatory measures by the EU could be required.
In the months to come, the Commission will hold a series of meetings with EU
Member State experts and stakeholders to consider possible complementary
measures, to address, where appropriate: any differences among national laws
transposing the e-signatures Directive that could fragment the single market,
any clarifications needed in specific articles of the e-signatures Directive and
any technical and standardisation work needed to improve the cross-border
interoperability of e-signature systems.
 Directive 1999/93/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 1999 on a Community framework for electronic signatures, OJ L 13, 19.01.2000, p.12.