The European Commission wants to see e-invoicing become the predominant method of invoicing in Europe. In its Communication 'Reaping the benefits of electronic invoicing (e-invoicing) for Europe', the European Commission identifies a set of tangible actions to make the uptake of e-invoices in Europe easier.
Providing invoice data electronically and in a format could allow businesses to benefit from shorter payment delays, fewer errors, reduced printing and postage costs. Most importantly, structured e-invoices facilitate business process integration from purchase to payment, meaning that invoices could be sent, received and processed without manual intervention. Currently, exchanging e-invoices is often complex and costly, in particular across borders and for SMEs. The Communication by the Commission addresses these obstacles and is complemented by a Commission Decision to set-up a European multi-stakeholder forum on e-invoicing.
Existing rules governing e-invoicing in Europe are not uniform. As such the potential benefits of e-invoicing still remain to a large extent unexploited. As part of its flagship initiative, ‘A Digital Agenda for Europe', the European Commission is focusing its efforts on removing barriers to the broad-scale adoption of electronic invoicing in Europe. The four key priorities on e-invoicing are:
Ensuring a consistent legal environment for e-invoicing
Achieving mass market adoption by getting SMEs onboard
Stimulating an environment that creates maximum reach between trading partners exchanging invoices
Promoting a common e-invoicing standard
To facilitate the monitoring and implementation of these actions, the Commission invites Member States to establish national multi-stakeholder fora on e-invoicing by June 2011. The Commission will complement this by setting up a stakeholder forum on e-invoicing at EU level.
E-invoicing, short for electronic invoicing, is the electronic transfer of billing and payment information via the Internet or other electronic means between trading parties involved in commercial transactions. These include businesses, the public sector or consumers, for example. Compared to paper invoices, e-invoices may create substantial advantages for all trading partners. According to a study carried out on behalf of the Commission in 2008, replacing regular paper invoices by e-invoices across the EU could result in approximately EUR 240 billion in savings over a six-year period.
The mass uptake of interoperable e-invoicing solutions in the EU is currently being prevented by barriers such as technical ambiguity, legal uncertainty, and operational constraints. In order to address this situation the Commission established an independent e-Invoicing Expert Group, which came forward with a final report at the end of 2009. The Communication and Decision adopted today are based on a public consultation on the final report of the expert group (see MEX/09/1130).
SMEs in general process very few cross border invoices and payments and are mostly used to the national systems in place. Although they support in principle better cross border services and the possibility of harmonised European e-invoicing and payment systems, they are not particularly active in the field and are mainly afraid about higher costs and/or lower quality of the new European services compared to the existing national solutions. Competition and transparency for the new services are therefore of the utmost importance for small companies.