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Switzerland lags behind on e-government

E-government services include being able to make tax returns online

(Keystone)

A European Commission study says Switzerland is near the bottom of the e-government class – but is slowly improving.

Switzerland was ranked 26th out of 31 European countries for the sophistication and availability of its online public services.

The report found that only 21 per cent of the monitored public services were fully available online in Switzerland – up ten per cent on 2006 - compared with the European average of 58 per cent.

Europe as a whole continued to progress in e-government, the report stated, and "online sophistication" had reached an average of 75 per cent, but Switzerland fared less well at only 60 per cent.

Last year St Gallen University published a similar report which showed that e-government was under-developed in Switzerland. Since 2004, public online services had regularly evolved but at an insufficient level, it noted.

"This is not new... we have been consistently bad," Jean-Jacques Didisheim, in charge of e-government at the Federal Finance Office, told swissinfo. "One of the main reasons is our decentralised federal structure, but there are others."

Andreas Hugi, a consultant involved in an initiative to promote e-government, agreed that the federal system was partly to blame.

"A lot of political e-government issues are driven by the cantons... and here in Switzerland you always have to deal with 26 states and 2,000 communities," he said.

"Up to now each canton and municipality has worked at its own pace and with its own priorities," said Didisheim.

Top of the e-chart

Austria topped the table, followed by Malta, Slovenia, and Portugal, in the recent survey of more than 5,000 public agencies in the 27 European Union states, plus Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Turkey.

"Austria is always at the top of this list. They have made big efforts driven by their president," said Hugi. "But I have the impression that [here] it's not possible to find a top-down solution. We have to find a bottom-up solution with interesting e-government projects in big cities and cantons that can be copied as best practices. That's the only way it will function in Switzerland."

For Hugi businesses had most to gain from e-government which provides "easier access to administrative services".

"E-voting is interesting at the technical level, but it makes no difference if you give your vote by post or by email. But as a multinational, being able to pay your taxes online makes a big economic difference," he commented.

Another factor preventing Switzerland from topping the e-government chart was that each Swiss citizen did not have a unique digital identity.

"We have been working on this for years but we don't make any progress," added Hugi.

"The fact that we don't have this makes it difficult to put in place services," acknowledged Didisheim.

Optimistic

But despite its current poor showing in the e-government rankings, Switzerland has taken the necessary political steps to make progress, said Didisheim.

The government adopted an e-government strategy in January 2007 and the federal authorities and cantons have agreed to "set common priorities and a steering structure for the advancement of e-government".

Hugi said that, regardless of recent problems, the situation was changing rapidly in Switzerland and he was optimistic about the future.

"I can feel political will at the national level that the government wants to work with the cantons," he said.

"It may take some time... but I'm confident that, maybe not in next year's report, but in the reports to come, Switzerland will make great progress, as we've corrected this lack of common structures and coordination," added Didisheim.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley

Key facts

e-government (also known as e-gov, digital government or online government) refers to government's use of information technology to exchange information and services with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government.
e-government may be applied by the legislature, judiciary or administration in order to improve internal efficiency, the delivery of public services, or processes of democratic governance.
EC 2007 e-government study (top countries in descending order) Austria, Slovenia, Malta, Portugal, Britain, France... (Switzerland 26th out of 31).

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