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Siim Kallas

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Administrative Affairs, Audit and Fraud

Transforming public services: the new e-government strategy in the Commission

Ministerial e-government conference 2005
Manchester, 24 November 2005

I am glad to have the opportunity today to address the ministerial conference on e-government, both as an Estonian citizen, familiar with e-government, and as a Member of the European Commission in charge of administration (which includes also the responsibility for the internal use of the information technology), audit and anti-fraud.

Estonia is the northernmost and smallest of the Baltic republics, opposite to Finland, with just over 1.4 million inhabitants. The country recovered its independence in 1991. Since then, it has made tremendous technological and organisational progress in a free economy, characterised with high growth rates of over 6% in recent years.

As the country was born and had to be constructed in the 90s, it was able to use the latest technologies from the very beginning in an explicit e-government policy driven by the top. Estonian ministers undertake their regular meetings with the support of computers and without paper. The recent experiences of electronic voting in local elections and the large number of electronic identity cards used in Estonia allow it to compare well with other nations as regards e-government practices.

One of the obstacles encountered when introducing e-government related disciplines is resistance to change and technological fear. This was also the case in Estonia. But it was overcome by a common will to construct a sound economy and a modern and efficient state from scratch, to break with soviet administration habits of bureaucracy and lack of transparency.

To reach such an ambitious goal, sponsorship came from the top of the State. When I was Member of the Government and Prime Minister, the Estonian government started to hold, from 2000 onwards, its own meetings paperless and online. As a result, resistance to the change brought by e-government has been overcome and technological fear has reduced.

One year ago I took office in the European Commission. One of my key objectives is increasing trust between citizens and the European administration – not only the Commission, but all other EU institutions in Brussels, that citizens do not always differentiate between.

I believe that increased transparency has a tremendous role to play to build and maintain peoples’ trust. Transparency can “clear the fog” and quash the myths that may exist, and reduce the distance between the public and the administration at its service. Transparency has the potential to strengthen European integration by enhancing the credibility of the European institutions.

Indeed, to reach its political objectives, the Commission relies both on the strength of its proposals and on the authority of its reputation.

The Commission has made significant efforts on transparency, already during its previous mandate. In a continuous spirit of improvement, more can and will be done, as was decided by the College on the 9th of November.

One of the aims of transparency is better communication to the public of relevant information. And mass communication is changing. Citizens have increased expectations. Receiving information “on offer” on TV will not be sufficient in the long term. Citizens have been given unprecedented access to information in most corporate and private spheres of life. They quite naturally also have increasing expectations for greater transparency in public institutions. To give one example, the Commission will try to put information on all end recipients of EU grants on the web. We should facilitate scrutiny at our own initiative, rather than waiting to “release” information drop by drop in response to requests received.

Indeed, the public will expect to be able to access desired information “on demand” in a user-friendly form.

Therefore, whilst for the time being over 70% of European citizens expect to hear about Europe using television or newspapers, the importance of the web will clearly increase over the years. Hence, following the i-2010 initiative launched by my colleague Viviane Reding, I have proposed to the College to adopt measures to further pursue and implement internally the “e-government” ambitions that we are asking all Member States to strive for.

It is the “e-Commission” programme, aiming to enable efficiency and transparency of our Institution. I am pleased to announce that a strategic framework for 2006-2010 was decided upon yesterday.

The E-Commission initiative has its origins in the Commission’s administrative reform that was undertaken by the previous Commission. It provided the framework under which the Commission became an on-line administration.

With the adoption, yesterday, of the new e-Commission strategic framework, the Commission has renewed its commitment to an optimal use of Information and Communication Technologies. In line with Lisbon targets, enhancing competitiveness, increasing the efficiency and availability of services and improving inclusion remain our overall goals.

To implement this vision, we decided to ensure a clear political sponsorship.

In the Commission I will oversee the implementation of the 2006-2010 strategy and, in coordination with my colleague Commissioner Reding, we will co-sponsor communication and training initiatives aimed to raise awareness, within the Commission, about best e-government practices.

More specifically, in the area of security I intend to transpose the ambition, being discussed right now in view of the Declaration to be adopted by this Conference, to ensure a reliable electronic identity for all our staff.

As for our internal decision-making process, I am determined to promote the model of an efficient, paperless and secure e-College, where all concerned colleagues – and only them! – get on-line the information they need and can easily trace back on their PCs any relevant amendment or new proposal. I do believe that, once people get used to it and the underlying procedures are accordingly adjusted, such a setting would simplify and possibly improve our current decision-making practices, by allowing us to devote more time on delicate issues whilst spending less time on little contentious items.

Guaranteeing informatics operational excellence is also one of the Commission priorities. Ensuring the quality and continuity of service is the basis for trust between business and the IT world: IT must never be in a position to prevent the business to work, and in our round the clock organisation with hundreds of delegations and representations worldwide, this represents an important challenge.

In our continuous efforts to make the best use of taxpayers’ money, I can ensure you that the Commission will continue to strive for optimising the portfolio of computer facilities and information systems it uses and possesses. New developments, new pieces of infrastructure will be purchased, developed or deployed if and only if it is 1) necessary and 2) in support of the Union’s policies.

I can think here of specific activities in support of transparency, e-procurement, communication and dialogue with Member States, business and citizens, etc.

All these activities will be carried out whilst paying due attention to information security and data protection aspects.

To conclude, the e-Commission 2006-2010 aims at enabling efficiency and transparency to deliver better, more cost-effective, transparent and secure services to the benefits of staff, the Commission’s partners, businesses and citizens. We’ll do so in coherence with what Member States do in implementing their e-government strategies by sharing experiences, best practices, common goals and whenever possible common tools. We all have a long way to go to contribute to making Europe the most dynamic and competitive economy by 2010 and it is together that we can make better and most effective progress.

I thank you for your attention.

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