The European Forum of official gazettes was conceived at the meeting held in Luxembourg in April 2003 to commemorate the Fifth anniversary of the Official Journal of the European Communities. The directors attending the meeting decided to increase their cooperation in order to jointly analyze and exchange experiences regarding the problems they all faced to offer citizens access to the official gazette in electronic format, with full guarantees of its authenticity and integrity.
The directors of the official gazettes of Portugal, France, Greece, Italy and Spain had already initiated contacts, and they had even held a meeting in Lisbon in 1998 to discuss the same issues.
After the warm welcome received by the proposal for establishing a Forum with the aforementioned goals, a first work group was set up with the aim of giving shape to something which, up until then, was simply an “excellent idea”. During the meeting held in Vienna in September 2004, the European Forum of Official Gazettes was formally created and its statutes were approved.
The Forum is made up of the member countries of the European Union and the candidate countries, as well as the Official Journal of the European Union ; official gazettes from third countries may be invited as observers.
Up until now, the European Forum of Official Gazettes has held 5 plenary sessions : in Austria in 2004 ; in Denmark in 2005 ; in Slovenia in 2006 ; in Finland and Estonia in 2007 ; and in Spain in September of the current year, 2008.
In addition to these annual meetings in which all the members of the Forum participate, there have been smaller working groups whose goal is to jointly discuss the common problems being faced (problems which the official gazettes must provide an answer to) and to raise useful proposals for everyone.
The contents of the working groups have seen selected in accordance with the objectives set by all official gazettes, namely :
To allow citizens to have access to the legislation in a simple and user friendly format.
To assure the authenticity and of the publications.
To make the publishing process of the official gazettes more efficient and automatic.
To assure the preservation of the published texts in electronic formats.
From the start of the Forum in 2004, the most relevant issues carried out in these work groups have been :
A guide summarizing the current situation of the official gazette of each country, guide which is constantly being updated.
In 2004, when the Forum took its first steps, the electronic version only had legal value in Belgium, Austria and France. The situation is rapidly changing and there are currently ten countries with an official electronic gazette with legal value (twelve as of the 1st of January 2009).
A directory of the official gazettes that participate and a list of who is who, complete the Forum’s publications. Furthermore, the Secretariat maintains a web page which is constantly being updated.
Methods of authentication of the electronic official gazettes.
The different methods of authentication used by the countries within the European Union have been studied :
Uninterrupted workflow in the production of the legal gazettes
Electronic signature in the PDF version of the legal gazettes.
Use of secure servers, electronically certified.
Use of separate websites for the authenticated versions of the legal gazettes.
Use of different methods and levels of authentication
It is important to inform the users of the authentication policy that has been adopted.
It seems worthwhile to think about the level of security and authentication necessary and how much may be considered sufficient.
The analysis of the experience in the countries which offer authenticated versions with an electronic signature in addition to others that are not authenticated, shows that most of the users prefer to use the other versions.
Use of XML for the production and distribution of official gazettes.
The working group confirmed that there are important differences in the structure of the legislative documents of each country. The group proposed a common metadata vocabulary, with a metadata glossary with agreed definitions, as well as a common XML scheme.
There has also been debate over the use of XML editors and which one of the editors is more appropriate for the legislative process.
Data capturing at the source.
The group analyzed the benefits of capturing data in a structured way from the beginning of the process or as soon as possible : it simplifies the publishing process, reduces content errors, produces documents with a consistent style regardless of who prepared them, allows for the incorporation of data validation in the initial stages of the process ; the process becomes more efficient as far as cost is concerned.
In addition, the necessary requirements to establish the systems for capturing data at the source were analyzed, from the initial projects up to the publication in the official gazette.
An increasing number of European countries are establishing these types of systems.
One of the first problems analyzed by the working groups was how to make the advantages offered by the electronic publication of tender announcements compatible with the necessary security guarantees, both for the announcer and for the party sending in the tenders. And, on the other hand, how to treat the tender in such a way that the information it contains does not become known until set deadlines are met and all tenders have been presented. Must the information sent be encrypted ? Who should decrypt it ?
The electronic publication and processing of public tenders throughout the entire European Union will allow the shortening the deadlines and will favor competition, but it raises a series of important problems that must be solved. The creation of tender platforms in each of the countries will, undoubtedly, help to solve these problems.
The publication of the official gazettes in electronic format calls for the implementation of secure electronic archives in order to guarantee that the documents will be preserved throughout time and will maintain their legal status.
It is important to implement security policies, to assure preservation in the long term and to guarantee citizen’s access.
Formats most frequently used are PDF/A and XML.
All these groups have already finished their studies and have turned in their conclusions to the Forum.
Currently, work is being carried out in the following groups :
The consolidation of legal texts is aimed at providing the citizen with the legislation in force at all times.
There are wide differences between countries as far as consolidation aspects are concerned : date in which the consolidated text are made available (from 2-5 days to up to several months after the rule has been published) ; legal status of the texts (from total legal value to a merely informative value) ; who carries out the consolidation (Ministry of Justice, Organism who publishes the official gazette, Parliament,…) ; who oversees the quality of the work ; what format is given to consolidated texts, etc.
Access to official gazettes and legislation. Financing models.
The group is analyzing the transformation that is taking place within the publishing organisms as a consequence of the electronic publishing of the official gazettes.
Every day citizens require more information in an electronic format, and the publishing organisms have to prepare quality products, increasingly more complex and at a significant cost. However, increasingly more often these products are provided free of charge and, therefore, the publishing organisms have to re-think their financing models.
Carmen Gomis Bernal
Director of Boletín Oficial del Estado