Malta tops European league table for digital government

By on 17/11/2021 | Updated on 17/11/2021
An image of a boats on a strip of water outside Valletta, Malta
Malta's AI ambitions follow its strong record of providing government services online

Malta has been ranked top out of a list of 36 European countries in the European Commission’s latest league table for online government services.

The commission’s eGovernment Benchmark Reports 2021 compares the way European countries deliver digital services to citizens based on four main performance benchmarks. These include how easy services are to use on a variety of devices, the transparency of information, platform usability across borders, as well as the presence of key service enablers, such as electronic identification.

Malta scored highest across these benchmarks with an overall score of 96%, followed by Estonia in second place (92%) and Denmark in third (85%).

“[Malta’s digital government] is the most user-centric, transparent, technologically enabled and open to users from other European countries,” the report said.

In a break down of its overall score, the island nation achieved 99% for user-centricity, 98% for transparency, 90% for cross-border usability, and 98% for key enablers. By comparison, the EU’s biennial average across these benchmarks is 88%, 64%, 55% and 65% respectively. Taken together, the overall average score of EU member states currently stands at 68%.

Malta has outperformed other European countries in the delivery of its digital government services for several years. In the commission’s 2020 report, it pipped Estonia for the top spot with a score of 97% compared to 92%, with Austria and Latvia in third and fourth place. This year, Finland was ranked fourth, with Austria, Iceland, Luxembourg, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Latvia making up the rest of the top 10.

Investment drive

According to the Times of Malta, the country’s public service chief and principal permanent secretary, Mario Cutajar, said Malta’s ranking was helped in part by an €200m (US$227m) investment in technologies earlier this year. The aim of the investment has been to renew Malta’s public services so that citizens can access them anywhere, at all times of day, any time throughout the year.

“Technology has helped us change the [country’s] public service. The way services are provided, how they have been clustered together for ease of accessibility, how they are always next to you – on your mobile phone or laptop,” Cutajar said in a statement.

However, he acknowledged that this raises challenges around accountability of data and services.

“People must continue to have control on their data, and we must ease their access to this and other data needed to serve them. The accessibility of data and ethics leads people to trust that their data is being used properly.”

The countries were ranked based on ‘mystery shopper’ experiences of eight life events that require people to interact with government, including how easy it is to start a business and register the birth of a child. It also included an automated assessment of the quality of government websites.

The countries in the list included all EU member states, as well as countries in the European Free Trade Area, and the United Kingdom.

The full ranking is:

  1. Malta
  2. Estonia
  3. Denmark
  4. Finland
  5. Luxembourg
  6. Austria
  7. Iceland
  8. Portugal
  9. Netherlands
  10. Latvia
  11. Norway
  12. Lithuania
  13. Spain
  14. Sweden
  15. Belgium
  16. France
  17. Ireland
  18. Slovenia
  19. United Kingdom
  20. Turkey
  21. Italy
  22. Hungary
  23. Czech Republic
  24. Germany
  25. Slovakia
  26. Croatia
  27. Bulgaria
  28. Poland
  29. Cyprus
  30. Switzerland
  31. Greece
  32. Serbia
  33. Albania
  34. Romania
  35. North Macedonia
  36. Montenegro

The report concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic had been an accelerator of digital government, although progress was quicker in some areas, such as services for people wanting to start new businesses and for the unemployed, than in others.

Digital Europe

The European Commission is meanwhile investing around €1.98bn (US$2.2bn) in transformation objectives linked to its Digital Europe Programme. The aim of this is to spread the benefits of digitalisation to citizens, employees, and business across Europe.

The programme will deploy a network of European Digital Innovation Hubs supported with a budget of €329m (US$373m) until the end of 2023. These hubs will provide support in the digital transformation process to governments at national, regional and local levels, as well as small and medium businesses and start-ups.

Last week, the commission published the results of its 2021 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which tracks the progress made in digital competitiveness of EU member states in terms of human capital, broadband connectivity, integration of digital technologies, as well as digital public services.

The commission has said that there remains a sizeable gap between the EU’s frontrunners and those with the lowest DESI scores.

Internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said: “[The] DESI shows progress, but also where we need to get better collectively to ensure that European citizens and businesses… can access and use cutting-edge technologies that will make their lives better, safer and greener.”

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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