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The European Forum on e-Invoicing strides ahead

by Charles Bryant 20. November 2012 05:28 AM

The EU Multi-Stakeholder Forum on e-Invoicing held a productive third meeting on 26 September. Given the difficulties of generating concrete deliverables from such pan-European debating chambers, the results are becoming more and more tangible.

It was gratifying to see that the European Commission, which chairs the body, had diversified participation in the Forum by admitting the supply side of the industry as observers. The European e-Invoicing Service Providers Association (EESPA) presented its plans and activities and could be said now to have truly ‘arrived’.

To read the minutes and reports from the meeting please visit the European Commission’s Single Market or Enterprise and Industry pages.

During the meeting a number of representatives summarised developments in their countries, although, disappointingly, some countries have yet to establish a National Forum.

The Directorate-General (DG) Internal Market and Services gave a presentation on European Public Procurement and announced its survey on the adoption of e-Invoicing in public procurement across the EU. One possible course of action the DG is exploring is the possibility of member state governments mandating e-Invoicing for public procurement. It is also concerned with improving the interoperability of national e-Invoicing systems.

The survey is open to all stakeholders until 14 January 2013. In December, DG Internal Market is organising a conference on public procurement, the results of which will contribute towards the ‘Golden Book’ project assessing the state of play in EU public procurement.

Sub-group progress

The Forum heard updates from each of the sub-groups on their activity streams since the last meeting:

  • Improving statistics on e-invoicing uptake: Eurostat has accepted the idea of posing more detailed questions on e-Invoicing in its European survey of technology use by businesses. The Forum will propose questions that establish the proportion of invoices that are electronic, and carefully distinguish between structured and unstructured electronic invoices.
  • Experience and good practices: I lead this sub-group with Nigel Taylor of GXS. We gave an update on the extensive consultation report by the ACCA on experience and good practice, the summary slides covering the consultation’s key results, and the profiles of leading e-Invoicing adoption models common in the market. All were well received. A set of activities for the next 12 months will be prepared, with a possible focus on public procurement and easier SME adoption of e-Invoicing.
  • Remaining cross-border barriers: We discussed a paper on a number of issues. The Forum noted the lack of serious blocking issues to e-Invoicing adoption but noted the existence of many local variations in non-VAT requirements across Europe, which create additional complexity.  The Forum also requested that more attention be paid to the current roll-out of the VAT Directive with special attention to anticipating problems arising from the lack of harmonisation.
  • A single e-Invoicing data model:  Rather than propose a single standard the activity group has decided to propose a single semantic data model for the core elements of an invoice. The various syntactical data formats would be mapped to this model. We await further results.

The European Multi-Stakeholder Forum closed with plans to take the various conclusions from the work to date into a set of detailed activities for the second of its three-year programme. Members of national communities were encouraged to take part directly in the work by volunteering through their National Forums on e-Invoicing.

The UK remains fully engaged with the Forum and is looking forward to seeing UK volunteers taking part in the next phase of work.

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