EU stakeholder cooperation major asset for e-invoicing adoption

Now that the 2014 EU Directive on electronic invoicing has been fully implemented, is there anything left to be done when it comes to e-invoicing? A lot, if you ask Solène Drugeot, eInvoicing Stakeholder Onboarding Manager for the European Commission's Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). "Although the CEF Programme has ended, we are ready to continue our work on e-invoicing under the Digital Europe Programme, once this is in place", she explains.

Coming from a financial and banking background, Drugeot joined the consulting firm Wavestone about two years ago. Her first assignment was at the European Commission, as a Stakeholder Onboarding Manager for the CEF Programme, a position she holds to this day. In this role, she ensures stakeholder coordination and is a linking pin between EU policy-making on e-invoicing and its practical implementation in the EU Member States. "My job and mainly the role of our team is to smooth the implementation and adoption of e-invoicing in the EU, together with country representatives, service providers, e-invoicing experts and more recently, with businesses that are entering in the game", she summarises.

EU Directive on e-invoicing

When the European Commission issued Directive 2014/55/EU on e-invoicing, the goal was to make the procurement chain more efficient for public contracting authorities in the EU. When purchasing goods and services from private or public suppliers, using e-invoices represents a major efficiency improvement. "E-invoicing is one of the ways to facilitate transactions between public administrations and businesses within domestic and Intra-EU markets", says Drugeot.

CEF Programme

The European Commission's CEF Programme has been a key funding instrument for the adoption and implementation of European standards. Together with grants to EU projects, the Commission also made available free supporting tools and services, the so-called Building Blocks. These Building Blocks help Member States to reuse and adapt their digital services to EU standards. "Within the eInvoicing Building Block, our CEF eInvoicing team has been providing support to the EU Member States on implementing the EU Directive on e-invoicing and the European e-invoicing standard", Drugeot clarifies.

"We provided technical recommendations to country representatives through the former European Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Electronic Invoicing (EMSFEI), based on lessons learnt and internal expertise. We developed technical tools for implementers to support their take up of the e-invoicing standard, for instance a conformance testing service, code lists and validation artefacts. We also conducted implementation workshops with our e-invoicing experts in the different Member States as well as online events. Additionally, our CEF eInvoicing team provided documentation, benefit analyses, country factsheets and more support materials on the website of the European Commission."

Digital Europe Programme

"The CEF Programme now has formally ended. Nevertheless, we wish to maintain close cooperation with all e-invoicing stakeholders", Drugeot says. "We expect a smooth transition to the new Digital Europe Programme to continue our work on e-invoicing. I can imagine we will be focusing more on business-to-business e-invoicing for instance. Further improvement of interoperability - we see that the Peppol community has a significant impact here - and the internationalisation of the European standard are also on our wish list. In addition, capitalising on the e-invoicing standard for enhancing VAT reporting processes could also be a great working area. The next e-invoicing goals and supporting strategy built by our team will of course depend on the policy guidelines defined in alignment with the European Commission objectives and stakeholders’ needs. We expect clarity on our objectives in the coming months."

Positive effects of e-invoicing

To measure the effectiveness of the implementation of the e-invoicing Directive, the CEF team has carried out two benefit analyses. "What we found were operational cost savings, a reduction of administrative burden, a reduction of the time to payment and a contribution to the development of e-procurement", says Drugeot. "In 2019, France reported an operational aggregate cost saving of 30 per cent, Slovenia and Sweden reported 50 and 25 per cent respectively. These numbers are based on country data which representatives of the Member States provided our team with via a questionnaire and contextualised with extensive desk research."

Stimulating e-invoicing further

Each Member State implemented the Directive in national legislation. The Directive mandates public contracting authorities to be able to receive and process e-invoices when received from suppliers and aligned with the European standard on e-invoicing. The decision to oblige the usage of compliant e-invoicing by the supplier side is left to the individual Member States. "In the Member States that mandated businesses to submit e-invoices to public authorities, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, we noticed a larger adoption of e-invoicing. It is important to point out that, aside from the legal obligation, these countries have elaborated stakeholder onboarding approaches", says Drugeot. "France is heading in the same direction with the mandatory e-invoicing for business as of 2023, with the roll-out lasting until 2025 for smaller enterprises."

Continued stakeholder cooperation

E-invoicing is now in place and available for business-to-government transactions. "We hope to deliver continued support to EU stakeholders, whether it be government institutions, service providers or businesses, in their efforts to bring e-invoicing to a higher level", Drugeot says. "I am very grateful for the stakeholder engagement we had so far. Our team will do its best to maintain it. I sincerely consider our cooperation on e-invoicing topics as a source of continuous improvement of EU interoperability."