France's red tape to all go online

End of queuing at the mairie as planning permission, health forms and driving documents available on web

21 April 2010

A HOST of bureaucratic tasks, from renewing vehicle registration papers to applying for planning permission and hiring staff for a business could soon be carried out completely online.

The government is revamping its official websites to allow people to avoid queues at the mairie and prefecture - and do paperwork instead from home on the web. Over the next few years, most official tasks should be able to be done online although the option of doing things face to face will remain.

Bordeaux Vice Consul Alison de Grailly said: “Very few British residents don’t have access to the internet, including retired people, and many live in isolated places.
“Especially if they are elderly or not very mobile and a long way from prefectures this will simplify their lives a great deal.”

However opponents fear it will lead to inconvenience as the web forms will only allow a certain number of options - and your situation may fall outside these.

The revamp comes after a report found duplications, confusing language and no coherent identity across more than 10,000 websites belonging to public bodies.

Many also lacked useful, interactive functions, experts said.

A key plank of the initiative to be ready by 2011 is IDéNum, whereby you would plug hardware such as a USB key into your computer and type in a single PIN number to be identified on all government sites.

Other big bodies like banks and insurers, La Poste and the notaires are also interested. Digital Economy Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said it will “avoid the nightmare of having 1,001 different passwords.”

The report also proposed:

-Redesigning public body sites to be instantly identifiable.

-Cutting state sites (gouv.fr) from 400 to 40 by 2012.

-Online payment and bank transfer options for all public bodies by the end of 2011.

-Allocating email addresses for all public bodies along with guaranteed response times.

-mon.service-public.fr to be the main site for administrative tasks, with the goal of paper-free options for them all.

- Ten new key online procedures for individuals and 10 for firms by the end of 2011, eg. applying for child and housing benefit, procedures linked to hospital stays or stopping work for illness, planning permission, customs declarations and declaring staff hired or a change of premises.

- A one-stop shop site for firms’ dealings with official bodies.

- Sites to be more proactive, eg. with calendars for important tasks and sending you reminders about payments or to tell you when a document’s expiry date is coming up.

- Making sure sites do not show outdated, duplicated or contradictory information.

- Sites to allow users to evaluate experiences.

- Where you still need to see an official, facilities online to make appointments.

Reaction

Vice-Consul for Bordeaux, Alison de Grailly:

"It will help enormously if they simplify websites and make them more user-friendly. For example, service-public.fr is laborious, it can be hard to find what you are looking for and difficult to understand information once you find it. If you can apply for things online rather than in person or by writing, it is helpful - whether it is residents’ cards, criminal record extracts, dealings with social security or tax etc. There are many aspects of day-to-day life that could be made simpler online as long as information is set out clearly."

Dr Theodore Zeldin, advisor to President Sarkozy through the Attali reform commission:

"People should not see more “e-government” as “utopia” or a “cure for bureaucracy” - it could be seen as a way for bureaucracy to survive, as it is being snowed under by paperwork. Every useful reform has a dangerous side. Here, you can access things more rapidly but it also gives governments a chance to actually increase bureaucracy - they may create more and more forms to fill in online as they don’t have to bother with paper; and once it’s all automated they needn’t bother about what your reply is - it will go into some great system that produces statistics they want. Another risk is that online forms do not allow you to say what you want - they give limited options."

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