Imagine a hospital wanting to share its capacity of free intensive care beds with the nearest hospital on the other side of the border, only to find out that a legal and technical framework doesn’t permit it. The hospital, in fact, is only allowed to share that capacity nationally. This is exactly the type of situation the Interoperable Europe Act aims to prevent and avoid by promoting the interoperability-by-design of public services.
Last November, the EU Commission adopted the Interoperable Europe Act proposal and its accompanying Communication. The aim of this new legislative proposal is to strengthen cross-border interoperability and cooperation in the public sector across the EU. To date, there was no overarching European policy approach to interoperability. The existing European Interoperability Framework (EIF), developed under the ISA2 Programme and last reviewed in 2017, is entirely voluntary with no binding obligations.
Following the Commission’s adoption of this proposal, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament have now also started the process of deciding on the definitive legislative adoption of the new Act. Therefore we believe the time is right to take a step back and have a closer look, first and foremost, at what is meant by interoperability - in a general sense but also, more specifically, for cross-border public services. In a later post, we’ll also take a closer look at the new Act itself.
The concept of interoperability refers to the ability of different systems, organisations, and sectors to work together and exchange information effectively. This can involve the integration of different systems and technologies, such as the use of common data standards and protocols, as well as the coordination of policies and procedures across different levels of government.
Cross-border interoperability of public services is the capacity of public sector organisations in different countries to share data, collaborate effectively, and provide services to citizens and businesses. In the context of the European Union, cross-border interoperability is seen as a key factor in the creation of a Single Market, enabling the free movement of goods, people, and services, and supporting the delivery of efficient, high-quality public services.
Achieving cross-border interoperability of public services within the EU is a complex process, as it requires addressing various technical, cultural, and policy-related challenges:
- One key technical challenge is the need to establish a secure and reliable system for exchanging data between different organisations. This can involve implementing technical standards and protocols for data transfer, such as the use of standardised data formats and secure communication channels. Additionally, there may be a need to establish trusted identity and authentication systems to ensure that only authorised individuals and organisations can access certain data.
- Language barriers: Public sector organisations in different countries may use different languages, which can make it challenging to communicate and understand each other.
- Legal and regulatory differences: There may be differences in laws and regulations governing the delivery of public services in different countries, which can create barriers to cooperation.
- Cultural differences: Public sector organisations in different countries may have different cultural norms and ways of working, which can also be a barrier to cooperation.
Overall, achieving cross-border interoperability of public services requires a coordinated effort to address these challenges and build the necessary infrastructure and systems for data exchange and cooperation.
To address these challenges, the Interoperable Europe Act proposes and provides a cooperation framework as well as a range of shared digital solutions, including open-source software, guidelines, checklists, frameworks, and IT tools. These resources are meant to help public sector organisations work more effectively together, exchange information, and deliver seamless public services across borders, sectors, and organisational boundaries. Additionally, the Act is aimed at promoting innovation in the public sector and fostering partnerships between the public sector and private tech companies through so-called GovTech projects.
In my next blog post, I will look into more detail at what the Interoperable Europe Act entails concretely. Meanwhile, do not hesitate to get in touch with me or my colleagues for more information.