Tag Archives: European Commission

European Commission provisions on Electronic Documents

By Alfonso Casanueva, from Spain, former Policy Officer at the European Commission’s Secretariat-General, Document Management Policy unit, Belgium

The European Commission started a records management project called e-Domec (electronic document management in European Commission) in 2002, with the aim to rationalise the production and management of records, and to adapt it to the electronic environment, in the line of similar initiatives of e-government carried out in some European countries.

In this framework, several provisions were adopted, setting out the basic rules that all Commission officials should respect when dealing with their records. One of this provisions is the Commission Decision 2004/563/CE, EURATOM, on electronic and digitised documents, which was completed with the Implementing Rules SEC (2005) 1578.

With these provisions, the Commission aims to set the conditions for the validity and the legal value of electronic records, whether they are born digitally (Word documents, e-mails…) or scanned, and also ensure the authenticity, integrity and readability thereof, and the preservation of the records and their metadata during the whole lifecycle of the document. The link between these two texts and the rest of the provisions on records management written for the e-Domec project is obvious, as it is in these other texts where the lifecycle of the document is defined and where the metadata describing the document are set. It is important to mention that according to Commission Provisions, lifecycle and metadata for records are independent of the support of the record, paper or electronic, therefore the Decision 2004/563 does not cover these questions.

We will see how this text deals with the management of electronic records, not being very audacious in pushing towards the electronic environment, but taking, on the contrary, a very safe approach.

The provisions are organised, as usually, in two different texts, each of one of a different level of importance. On the top, we have the Commission Decision 2004/563, which sets the basic principles to be followed and it was approved by the College of Commissioners. Then, we have the Implementing Rules SEC (2005) 1578 that details those principles. The second one is a text approved by the Secretary General of the Commission. Both texts cover four basic questions regarding electronic documents:

Their validity

Their transmission

Their preservation

Their security.

Validity of electronic documents:

Regarding this question, the Commission distinguishes on one side, the validity of the document itself, and on the other side, the validity of an electronic process that may lead to the production of an electronic document (in other words: an electronic workflow)

For the first question, the legal text looks into the question of the unambiguous identification of the author. A precondition is established: if there is, somewhere, any regulation, any legal basis that requests a hand written signature on the (paper) document for its validity, like it is the case of many contracts, for instance then an electronic document would be valid only if it is born digital and signed with an advanced electronic signature. If there is not a legal text demanding for a handwritten signature as a condition for the validity of a document, scanned versions or electronic born documents are considered legal provided that their author is identified unambiguously.

Regarding the validity of electronic workflows, the texts request that every actor and the steps they perform are duly identified by the workflow system. Then, a difference is made among those workflows completely internal to the Commission and those where external actors may take part; for the internal ones, it is just said that the Commission Directorate for IT will ensure that the systems fulfil that conditions; for the second type, the workflow system shall be agreed among all parts performing any task in that given system.

Transmission of electronic documents:

The texts are pretty weak in this point. They just list the different existing forms of transmission at the moment (e-mail, fax…) and suggest that any form is accepted, as long as there is no any legal basis establishing a particular form of transmission. We notice again that the attitude of the text is “when nothing else is said, electronic transmission is accepted”

Preservation of electronic documents:

The provisions describe in detail the conditions for the preservation of electronic records, covering the question of format, time, and inalterability of the content.

Regarding the time and format, the provisions indicate that the electronic documents must be preserved during their complete lifecycle in the original format (i.e., the format in which they were created or scanned) and in a second format that facilitates its preservation for the long term. The text suggest (but does not establish) some of those so called “preservation formats”: PDF/A or Tiff. Together with the document, the provisions indicate that their metadata must be also preserved, and so with the electronic signature and the information regarding its transmission and production in a workflow (if any).

Concerning the inalterability of the content, the Commission is requested to have an electronic repository for its electronic records and keep an electronic “hash” code for each of the records in the repository. This hash code is an algorithm that will allow knowing if the document has been changed since its inclusion in the repository. The repository itself must include some functionalities about the safety of the records hold (back ups, etc.)

Security of electronic documents:

These provisions just indicate that the electronic records must comply with the general provisions on security (applicable also for paper records) and just add that any new electronic program must have the agreement of the Security Directorate to guarantee that it complies with the security rules.

Conclusion:

The position that the Commission would take towards electronic management of records has been expected very long both within and outside the institution, as it could have set a trend or a path towards the e-government for other bodies and for the institution itself. However, it has got critics for being too conservative and cautious. It has been said that the position the Commission took in these texts does not change any practice, any proceeding or any legal basis in order to impulse the electronic management (and production) of records. This conservative attitude is more relevant in comparison to banks, travel agencies, vendors, or even some other public administrations that have change the ways their customers and citizens communicate, pay or interact with them.

The Commission has just put on writing the practices already in place in the Institution, adding only the creation of a repository for the preservation of the records, and opens the possibility of implementing a system for the advanced electronic signature.

It could be said that for these, more technical, decisions, a regulatory text won’t be necessary.

Basically, the texts say that, when paper is not needed, an electronic record can be accepted.

Another proof of this, maybe excessive, prudency is that the text does not set a format for long term preservation (which would have facilitate the creation of an IT strategy for the future preservation of the chosen format). Another criticism to the Commission states that, 5 years after the approval of the implementing rules, the European Commission still don’t has an advanced electronic signature mechanism.

However, it is worth to note that this text has help a lot for the mind changing in the institution. Not only in the Commission, but in almost every other public body, electronic records management projects have to face the opposition of part of the staff that does not trust electronic records. These legal provisions are a step forward for this mind change.

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Cooperation between Archives in the EU

By Jef Schram, from The Netherlands, Policy Officer, European Commission, Secretariat-General, Document Management Policy unit, Belgium

Cooperation between the Archives of the Member States is not a new phenomenon. It started in the early 1990s following a Council resolution and a first report on Archives in the European Union published by the European Commission in 1994.[1] This report led to a reaction from the Council of Ministers in the form of the Council Conclusions[2] which became an important catalyst in promoting co-operation between archives in Europe for nearly a decade. To give just one example, the organisation of the large three yearly DLM Forum conferences, the first of which was organised in Brussels in 1996, is a direct result of these Council Conclusions.

Since then co-operation has both widened and deepened. Co-operation between archives has spread further geographically following successive enlargements of the Union. The number of Member States, and thus the number of participating national archives, has increased from 12 at the beginning of the 1990s to 27 today. While this increase in numbers has brought increased benefits and opportunities, it also poses challenges.

These challenges became especially apparent during the first years of this decade, on the eve of the enlargement with ten new member states. In 2003 the Council therefore adopted a new resolution that called for an assessment of the situation of public archives in the European Union, taking particular account of the enlargement. The Commission was asked to submit a report that would address the possibilities for enhanced co-ordination and co-operation.[3]

In response to this resolution, a group of experts from the archives of the EU Member States prepared a comprehensive Report on archives in the enlarged European Union.[4] The Report contains both an analysis of the situation of archives in the European Union and a number of proposed actions and orientations for increased co-operation between archives at the European level. It led the adoption of the Council Recommendation on priority actions to increase cooperation in the field of archives in Europe of 14 November 2005.[5]

The 2005 Council Recommendation marks a new phase in cooperation between archives. It calls for the creation of a European Archives Group (EAG), which was promptly established by the European Commission at the beginning of 2006. The EAG consists of experts from the archives of the member states and the EU institutions, whereby the member states are usually represented by their National Archivist or the deputy.

The EAG ensures co-operation and co-ordination on general matters relating to archives and to follow-up the work referred to in the Report on Archives. More in particular, the EAG has worked to implement the five priority measures for archival cooperation set out in the Council Recommendation, whereby the following has been achieved:

  • Preservation of and prevention of damage to archives in Europe

Good progress has been made in regional cooperation between the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany, notably towards the development of an internet based service with detailed information on disaster prevention and disaster management. The ultimate goal is to expand this internet database as networking tool at a European level. This will allow archives across the EU to prepare and to react effectively to catastrophes.

  • Reinforcement of European interdisciplinary cooperation on electronic documents and archives

In 2008 the European Commission published the updated model requirements for the management of electronic records (MoReq2), which is set to become a standard for records management software in Europe and beyond. The governance of MoReq2 is the responsibility of the DLM Forum, which reports to the EAG on a regular basis.

  • Creation and maintenance of an internet portal to the archival heritage of the Union

A consortium of 12 National Archives and the European Digital Library Foundation is preparing an internet portal for archives in Europe. The portal will make it possible to retrieve archival information in Europe regardless of national, institutional or sector boundaries. It will be linked to EUROPEANA and will contribute to fulfilling the vision of a common multilingual access point to Europe’s digital cultural and scientific heritage.

  • Promotion of best practice with regard to national and European law with regard to archives

In cooperation with the European Branch of the International Council on Archives, a legal database for archives in Europe, EURONOMOS, was developed. Euronomos will provide access to archival and related legislation as well as interpretative and contextual information. The project is off to a good start, its future success will depend on the continued cooperation of the member states, which provide the content.

  • Measures to prevent theft and facilitate the recovery of stolen documents

A working group for measures to prevent theft in archives was chaired by the Swedish Riksarkivet. In June 2007 the group presented a report based on a survey of almost 200 archives throughout Europe that gives insight into the nature and extent of the problem. The group then developed guidelines for the prevention of theft that will serve as a common tool for archival institutions. A declaration on the prevention of theft in archives and the fight against their illegal trade was adopted by the Heads of the National Archives of the 27 Member States in November 2008 .

In the summer of 2008 the EAG adopted a progress report that sets out not only the achievements with regard to the implementation of the 2005 Council Recommendation but also identifies a number of challenges that lie ahead.[6] These challenges focus on the changing role of public archives in e-government, the relationship between online and onsite access to archives, the re-use of public sector information, plans to strengthen archival networks and, finally, the development of a new generation of professional archives managers in a European context.

Co-operation between the archives of the EU Member States has moved forward since the adoption of the Council Recommendation in 2005. As in the past, such cooperation is an evolutionary process, built on shared interests and ambitions and the recognition that co-operation should, and can, be mutually beneficial. On this basis, co-operation between archives in Europe has been surprisingly successful over the last two decades. In order to continue that success, the National Archives services of the EU member states will continue to work together and the European Commission will continue to support the work of the European Archives Group.

The opinions expressed in this article represent the views of its author only and cannot be taken to represent an official position of the European Commission.


[1]    European Commission, Archives in the European Union. Report of the Group of experts on the Coordination of Archives, Brussels – Luxembourg, 1994

[2]    OJ C 235, 23.8.1994, p.3

[3]    OJ C 113, 13.5.2003, p.2

[4]    COM(2005) 52 final.

[5]    OJ L 312, 29.11.2005, p.55

[6]       COM(2008)500 of 1.8.2008; SEC(2008)2364 of 1.8.2008