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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
"Build, Connect, Grow": The road towards borderless eGovernment
6th Ministerial eGovernment Conference, Poznan
Poznan, 17 November 2011
Your Excellency, Minister Boni,
I am grateful for the good cooperation with the Polish presidency in organising this important Conference, and it is my pleasure to address it.
Last year I spoke at a similar event, under the Belgian presidency, right after we adopted the eGovernment Action Plan.
We discussed how we need to do more with less, how the promised eGovernment remained largely unfulfilled, how changes and reform in this area were long overdue.
Since then, these key ideas have not changed.
What has changed is that the economic crisis we face is yet more troubling.
For me the crisis underlines all the more the need to reform.
We should be not more conservative, but all the more ambitious, in our quest to make public efficiency savings.
We should not shy away from, but actively seek out, new market opportunities.
We should not be scared of, but embrace the possibilities of open data and joined-up service delivery.
Let me tell you my vision.
These days, for too many people, dealing with government services can be trying or time-consuming.
First and foremost, governments can and should put these users in control, and in the centre.
I want citizens to benefit from services they really want to use, services targeted to their needs, services that are smooth and seamless.
Students and retirees, parents and patients, employees and entrepreneurs.
And, when governments are themselves the customer, for public procurement, governments should likewise benefit from the most opportunity, the widest market, the most choice.
Second, we have given the people of Europe powerful legal freedoms.
The freedom to travel wherever they want, to study, work, or retire wherever they want, to invest or trade wherever they want.
Millions of citizens take advantage of those rights; millions of businesses feel their economic benefits.
Technology can unlock the potential of these freedoms.
When citizens travel or live across Europe, they still have to c orrespond with administrations that are far away.
That isn't easy: they are unable to present themselves or their documents in person without considerable hassle.
Genuine, cross-border eGovernment could help here.
It could help put the citizen in the centre: it could strengthen the reality of the Single Market.
But, to date, eGovernment, which should be part of the solution, has been part of the problem.
National eGovernment systems have developed in isolation, creating new digital borders where physical ones have long since disappeared.
F ragmenting the EU rather than unifying it.
To give an example, students have the legal right to enrol at any university across the EU.
But often they cannot do so online, because national electronic ID systems are not recognised abroad.
Even though paper ID would be.
Isn't that crazy?
There are similar obstacles for businesses looking to operate cross-border.
They must respond to calls for tender launched miles away in other languages, and very few of them bother.
They must reclaim VAT from foreign administrations, using procedures which are unfamiliar, lengthy or cumbersome.
None of this makes sense in the digital age.
We are imposing extra frustrating obligations on citizens.
We are imposing extra barriers on businesses who want to expand within the Single Market.
And we are imposing extra costs on public authorities.
Remember that electronic procurement can bring significant savings for governments, while online forms can be processed at a fraction of the cost.
Going online saves public money.
Luckily, across the EU, people are beginning to realise that we must do something about this.
That we must work together.
That all these eGovernment conferences should not be for nothing!
First, the European Council has underlined how much a digital Single Market matters to Europe's future growth.
They highlighted in particular the cross-border use of online services: an advance that can be unlocked by secure eIdentification people can trust.
Indeed, we are working on this key issue of legal interoperability of eID.
And I know member states are engaging constructively in this idea, as seen in Warsaw last week.
Second, the Commission has proposed the Connecting Europe Facility to ensure sustainable financing: 9 billion euros we are putting on the table, including sizeable funds to establish and start running pan-European digital public services.
Third, after a lot of hard work, we have developed the building blocks for some of those services: for eProcurement, eID, business mobility, and even electronic patient records.
These building blocks are the large scale pilots.
They show we can support true mobility of people and services, across the EU.
Can you imagine what this means?
The market potential it opens?
The freedom it gives people to exploit their talents, expand their businesses, explore new horizons?
It could bring down costly administrative barriers – so that entrepreneurs can look far beyond borders, into new markets.
It could create new areas of demand and new opportunities for innovation – benefiting IT suppliers.
And it offers efficiencies for governments, who can absorb non-nationals into their systems with less cost and less complexity.
The large-scale pilots show we can achieve this by connecting the different eGovernment services Member States have already developed.
We can build on existing achievements and bring the benefits of eGovernment to a European scale.
Not a new, twenty-eighth, EU system; not centralisation or additional bureaucracy.
Rather, a way of linking up the systems that already exist – and getting most value from the investments already made.
Such an approach is consistent with the 2009 Malmö Declaration; it is consistent with our eGovernment Action Plan.
Most of all, it is consistent with our objective of boosting growth and jobs, by applying 21 st century tools to the Single Market.
To make this a reality, it is up to you, Member States, to tell us your priorities.
I realise that commitments of any kind are difficult in the current climate.
But, by the same token, the current climate means that we cannot afford to miss such opportunities to save government money.
So we need to know, what are you willing to commit to, politically and financially?
And which cross border services would you like to see online by 2015?
To the title of this conference I would add it’s a motto, a slogan.
Just three words: build, connect, grow.
These actions are the three key milestones on the road towards borderless eGovernment.
We have already done the hard part of building systems.
Member States have invested considerably in doing so, and it is starting to pay off.
Now we need to take the next step, of connecting those systems.
Then we can grow them: into other areas, into other countries.
If we do that, our governments can make the most out of their investment; our people can connect to more opportunity, our economies can benefit.
We can tear down digital barriers and deliver services seamlessly across borders.
So that each and every one of us, wherever we come from and wherever we want to go to, can enjoy the opportunities of the Single Market.