Spotlight on Belgium
Electronic identity card: A success story for Europe
By Eric Ravenne | Monday 17 January 2011
In the early 2000s, Belgium was one of the first countries in the world to equip itself with an electronic identity card. Today, many of its citizens have the document, which offers them secure access to the internet and a wide range of services. Several European countries have drawn inspiration from this Belgian model.
This July was like any other in Belgium’s tax declaration collection centres. As happens ever year, taxpayers are pushing and shoving in front of the door to submit their tax declaration before the midnight 15 July deadline. But this year the tax authorities’ mailbox is a little less full than usual. The reason is that over 2.1 million citizens have chosen to file their tax declaration on the internet (tax-on-web), which amounts to a 24% increase on last year. And a large number of them have signed on online using their electronic identity card.
Even if the aim of reaching three million users has not been achieved this year, tax-on-web and electronic ID cards are one of the success stories of Belgium’s ‘e-government’ strategy. It is a success story that has been recognised by the European Commission, which, in a document attached to its 19 May 2010 communication proposing a Digital Agenda for 2020, notes that “Belgium has tackled e-government head on and is leading the way in the EU in a certain number of areas, especially electronic ID management”.
In fact, all citizens aged over 12 will soon have their own electronic card and there are lots of applications, such as obtaining birth records and other administrative documents online, reporting a theft (police-on-web), making virtual train ticket inspections, a platform giving access to documents lodged with a notary, access to a medical file in hospitals and secure access to the web for children. The Minister in charge of Information Technologies, Vincent Van Quickenborne, “dreams” that citizens may one day vote from home by signing on with their eID.
Aside from the electronic card’s administrative uses, the private sector is also starting to become interested in its wider potential. For example, a start-up in Nivelles (South of Brussels) has just launched the Freedelity project, which will make it possible to turn it into a loyalty card for some purchases in shops, a world first.
There is no official information on the number of companies or jobs that have been created by the electronic identity card. But the federal administration, which is tasked with supervising the card’s deployment, is still proud that it is playing a pioneering role.
“We’ve received numerous foreign delegations which have come to draw inspiration from our system. Look at the Portuguese electronic identity card: it looks very like the Belgian one,” says a spokesperson.