e-Invoicing in the EU: a report from the European Multi-Stakeholder Forum on e-Invoicing

While more governments and businesses use e-Invoicing to improve efficiency, eliminate fraud and benefit from on-time payment, it’s encouraging to see our colleagues in the European Commission taking a strong lead. The recent meeting of the European Multi-Stakeholder Forum (EMSF) on e-Invoicing provided further proof of the EU’s intent to promote its adoption.

Set up by the EU Commission, the forum provides a unique platform to exchange experiences and recommend best practices on the broad-scale adoption of e-Invoicing at both national and EU levels. The forum met in Brussels on 20 March for the first meeting of the forum’s second cycle (the first cycle ran between 2011 and 2013).

An agenda for e-Invoicing adoption

The forum will be mainly focused on implementing e-Invoicing in public procurement and supporting this with essential standards and regulatory measures. Our summary of the main talking points (and indeed action points) show that:

  • The EU Directive on e-Invoicing in Public Procurement has now been adopted by the European Parliament. European Council adoption followed. All EU public authorities will need to support the new standard when it is ready, and will be able to take the additional step to mandate e-Invoicing if they wish
  • The forum named the activity leaders for our three main work streams. I will lead the e-Invoicing in public procurement stream, Stefan Engel-Flechsig, an independent lawyer and chair of the German National Forum on Electronic Invoices, will lead on regulation and legal issues, and Peter Potgieser from the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) will lead the standards and interoperability stream
  • Each activity group held lengthy break-out sessions to develop a work programme, and define the position papers and recommendations that we will deliver based on internal and external consultation

o  The public procurement activity group consists of public servants focused on procurement (from countries including France, the Netherlands, Norway, Croatia and Germany) and representatives from service providers, banks and consulting firms, including PricewaterhouseCoopers.

This initial session was fruitful and I’m confident that we will give e-Invoicing in public procurement the push it deserves. The EU Commission is also establishing a separate stakeholder forum to focus on public procurement (mainly pre-award, but with an eye to post-award). This forum will run parallel to the e-Invoicing Forum and both forums will be cross-represented in each other’s sessions

o  One of the regulation group’s key issues is the potential elimination of country-specific invoice data fields that impede EU-wide harmonisation and which may be impacted by regulations outside of the e-Invoicing domain

o  The standards group discussed a number of new deliverables, in addition to monitoring and contributing to CEN’s work on the core standard, with the aim to use what currently exists rather than reinvent the wheel

  • We heard about the Commission’s standardisation request to CEN to prepare the new European e-Invoicing standard, which will improve interoperability between different e-Invoicing systems. CEN is tasked with creating a semantic data model for the core e-Invoice. The standardisation request also requires CEN to identify up to five invoice formats (syntaxes) that will reflect the semantic model. Some form of standards test is planned and various national standards bodies will contribute to the work. In the UK, for example, the UK National e-Invoicing Forum (UKNeF) is engaging with the British Standards Institution  to determine the best approach to take
  • The European e-Invoicing Service Providers Association (EESPA), of which I am Co-Chair, is likely to be upgraded from its observer role and granted formal membership of the e-Invoicing forum
  • The European Commission Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT) gave a thought-provoking presentation. We heard about the €1.1bn Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) programme, which proposes to create digital interoperable infrastructures in areas such as public healthcare and e-Invoicing. The programme’s chief e-Invoicing implication is around maintaining standards and potentially providing more support for the PEPPOL initiative. We await further details

This productive meeting highlighted how corporates and governments continue to embrace the inevitable: paper is dead, efficiency is key and e-Invoicing is the future. EU resources and resolve, and public sector directives will go a long way to making the future arrive sooner.

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