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What have two decades of tracking Europe’s digital government journey taught us?

Jochem Dogger
Sep 26, 2023

It’s been more than 20 years since Capgemini teams began tracking Europe’s progress toward digital public services. Through the findings of the European Commission’s annual eGovernment Benchmark, we explore what has changed and what remains the same after two decades of digital government transformation.

Can you imagine a public sector service provider today acknowledging “a total absence of any publicly available website”? No! Neither can we. But that was one of the possible research outcomes explored in the European Commission’s first ever eGovernment Benchmark report published in 2003 and reporting on digital progress between October 2001 and October 2002.

A lot has changed in the past two decades, not least the massive upswing in the use of mobile technology to access government services. As the 2023 eGovernment Benchmark report is published, we take a look at what it tells us about the ongoing digitalization of public services in Europe and assess what’s changed – and what hasn’t – over the past 20 years.

The latest eGovernment Benchmark study captured the digital transformation of governments in 2021 and 2022. It seems a far cry from the very first study carried out at a time when it was estimated that, in July 2002, just under 1 in 10 (9.1%) of the world’s population were internet users. By July 2022, that figure had risen to a little under 7 in 10 (69%) of the world’s population.

Then and now – how things have changed 

The ubiquity of internet access is understandably reflected in the ‘then and now’ findings of the eGovernment Benchmark studies across the years. In the 2003 report we learned that one in five public sector organizations did not have a website. Today, all the public sector service providers in the latest eGovernment Benchmark evaluation had a website that citizens could visit. This is important in terms of the availability of digital government services, with citizen-centric service delivery a core driver of digital transformation. Indeed, the EU’s ambitious Digital Decade policy program aims to make key public services in Europe available 100% online by 2030.

So, how have Europe’s government digital services progressed? In the earlier eGovernment Benchmark, we discovered that just 20% of services were available online. Compare this with 84% that can be completed fully online today – in other words, fully electronic case handling end-to-end. Back at the advent of eGovernment, the web-enabling of public services was largely either simply making information available online or enabling people to attain one-way interaction (downloading forms) to start a procedure. The latest e-Government Benchmark reveals that 82% of services now allow online authentication and 70% enable safe and secure authentication with eID. Further, 68% of the online forms are pre-filled with personal data, making sure that users only need to enter information once.

Interestingly, in the first eGovernment Benchmark, the smartphone was just a concept in the heads of a few ambitious entrepreneurs. It seems extraordinary today that the first report merely addressed mobility as follows: “…and maybe in the future, services provided by governments through WAP” – or, in other words, via wireless networks. Now, of course, 93% of European government websites are mobile friendly and the latest report tells us that 63% of online services can be completed on smartphones. Two decades ago, no one had even heard of smartphones, let alone considered the possibility of using them to access online services.

20 years on – similar service gaps to be bridged 

However, not everything in digital government has advanced at speed in the past two decades. For example, it is perhaps surprising in light of the prevailing high-level of consumer internet use that one unchanging aspect of eGovernment is the disparity between online services for citizens and those for businesses. It is, in fact, one of the three main service gaps that the 2023 eGovernment Benchmark report urges Europe’s governments to bridge. 

In the first ever Benchmark, we learned that by October 2002 around one in ten public services for citizens were available online in the participating countries, with that figure rising significantly to 31% of public services for business users (almost 20% higher than for citizens).   While this gap has reduced, there is still a marked disparity between digital government services for business and for citizens. The 2023 eGovernment Benchmark reveals that 80% of public services for citizens are available online, rising to 92% for business users.

Central governments set the pace

Another of the service gaps referenced by both the inaugural 2003 and latest 2023 report is that between local & regional governments and central governments. In the earlier report, while we don’t have statistics to draw on, we read as follows: “… the best results were achieved by centrally co-ordinated public services that have limited complex procedures … and the services with the lowest scores are typically coordinated by local service providers and have more complex procedures…”  

It’s a similar story in 2023 where 88% of evaluated central government services were completely online, compared to 76% of evaluated regional government services and 62% of evaluated local government services. The report states: “Creating a level playing field between different levels of government is the first step towards better online services for everyone.”

Breaking down barriers to trade

The third service gap discussed in the latest report evidences another changing aspect of eGovernment. Back in 2003, cross-border trade in Europe was barely touched on, with the exception of a case study on Dutch Customs. Such services were, essentially, non-existent. Today, while still far from on par with in-country national services, 49% of services for cross-border users are fully online. The report notes that this is an aspect of eGovernment that is “ready for the next step … with more than 30 countries connected to eIDAS and the ongoing improvements on the Your Europe portal”.

The journey continues: interoperability is key in the future 

The eGovernment Benchmark is a continuously evolving measurement, inspiring countries to keep improving their online services, whether that’s better accessibility, increased transparency, or tighter online security – all evolving aspects of digital government services for the past two decades.

So, what next on the ongoing digital transformation journey for Europe’s public sector? The latest report argues that interoperability will be crucial for minimizing the service gaps. For example, it will help to create the recommended ‘level playing field’ between central and regional & local governments by enabling existing architectural building blocks, such as eID and eSignature, to be easily adopted on other websites. Europe’s Interoperability framework and its new Interoperable Europe Act will play a vital role in this move forward. Greater interoperability will also boost cross-border service delivery by removing barriers, such as a lack of appropriate translation functions and cross-border eID options.

Achieving Europe-wide interoperability needs investment. The 2023 eGovernment Benchmark report concludes that this could ‘potentially’ come from the redirection of funds from the Recovery and Resilience Facility. Such funding would be a boon to smaller government authorities still struggling in their digitalization efforts.

Informing eGovernment policy

It has been fascinating to look at the changing context for eGovernment in the EU through the findings of the eGovernment Benchmark across two decades. The annual survey tracks continued improvements in online public services, while comparing how governments deliver those services across Europe. In measuring digital government as a pillar of digital progress, the eGovernment Benchmark aims to help public sector leadership, policy makers and those in everyday operations make better decisions for continual improvement. 

Find out more

Read the eGovernment Benchmark 2023 for the full analysis of Europe’s progress towards connected digital governments that put users – citizens, businesses, cross-border organizations – at their heart.


Jochem Dogger

Manager in the Data, Research & Evaluations team
“The public sector is increasingly realizing the potential of the data it gathers to improve citizens’ lives. The challenge ahead is to keep using data in an ethical and responsible manner, while opening up vital data sources to citizens and entrepreneurs and facilitating interoperable data exchange between institutions. This will enable governments to realize the economic, societal, political and environmental benefits that data has to offer.”

Niels van der Linden

Vice President and EU Lead at Capgemini Invent
“Making it easy for citizens and businesses to engage with government increases the uptake of cost-effective and more sustainable digital services. Currently, however, many governments do not yet share service data, missing out on the one-government experience and preventing them deriving actionable insights from monitoring and evaluating the state-of-play. We help to design, build, and run trusted, interoperable data platforms and services built around the needs of citizens and businesses.”