The sudden transition to a remote working environment has caused many of us to rethink the way in which we interact with the world around us, highlighting the importance of digital trust services as a key enabler for trusted and secure interaction in the digital space. Between March and June this year, as strict lockdown measures were imposed around the world, the number of monthly electronic signature operations using “EU Sign” saw an increase of 600% Eastern Partner (EaP) countries can also harness the transition to online work as a catalyst for change in digital trust services.

Current situation in digital trust services

eSignatures in the European Union are regulated by eIDAS Regulation, which mandates a single framework for electronic identification (eID) and eSignatures (electronic signatures) across the 27 EU countries. The technological implementation, trust services, and local legislation surrounding eSignatures vary greatly across each Eastern Partner country and from those of the EU.

To evaluate the current situation across countries, the EU4Digital Facility completed an assessment on the maturity of digital trust and electronic identification services in the Eastern Partner countries. The assessment evaluated the EaP region from the organisational, legal, and technological perspectives. For eSignature mutual recognition, eSignature creating devices must meet certain criteria, as specified in eIDAS, but the assessment revealed that the means currently in use are different. Currently, harmonisation of cross-border eID and eSignature is required in multiple important areas, namely areas related to data privacy and protection.

The eSignature pilot initiative

The eSignature pilot initiative managed by the EU4Digital Facility is currently testing the operation of cross-border eSignature between select Eastern Partner countries. The eSignature pilot is performed between Ukraine and Estonia (EaP – EU), and between Ukraine and Moldova (EaP – EaP). The piloting of cross-border eSignature, launched in April 2020, includes timestamping, validation mechanisms, certificate status checking, and is testing the qualified electronic signature (digital signature) solution in a practical use case.

It is important to highlight that the eSignature piloting activities will provide insights on technical, as well as organisational cross-border aspects to achieve mutual recognition of digital trust services. The cross-border eSignature is one of the key enablers to extend the Digital Single Market to the Eastern Neighbourhood, and therefore throughout the process, the EU4Digital Facility will support and identify what is needed for full-scale eSignature implementation in the Eastern Partner countries. Additionally, the EU4Digital Facility aims for continuity, and so the project’s experts will create a regional roadmap and national action plans towards mutual recognition of electronic identification means in the EaP region, based on eIDAS and in full compliance with the EU acquis for EaP countries.