Italy’s minister for technological innovation and digital transition has vowed to simplify red tape by accelerating the rollout of a nationwide digital platform for citizens, as part of a €248bn recovery plan designed to reignite the eurozone’s third-largest economy.
Vittorio Colao, a former chief executive of Vodafone, said the online portal will allow Italians to do everything from paying taxes to booking vaccines and simplify overlapping regional and national state competencies.
It will act as a catalyst for the revamp of the pandemic-hit economy led by prime minister Mario Draghi, he added.
“If I had to say why Italy is behind today, it is because of legal and administrative complexity, which as a government we are determined to simplify,” he told the Financial Times.
He added: “This is the moment to do this. It has not happened in the past because, probably, the urgency was not felt, or probably the resistance was strong. The sad story of Covid is it has not only taken away lives, but hit the economy in many important ways. Now the sense of urgency and need is higher.”
Draghi, former president of the European Central Bank, was tasked by Italy’s president earlier this year to form a government of national unity after its last coalition collapsed. Colao was the chief executive of the British telecoms group Vodafone between 2008 and 2018 and, until becoming a minister, lived in London. A political novice, he is one of several business experts appointed by Draghi.
He said he was determined to extend the use of the administration’s existing online portal to the whole population before upgrading it into “a notification platform that includes everything from fines, taxes, court orders and vaccinations.”
“It looks like science fiction but it is not. We already have 20m people on this platform today”, he said.
About a third of Italians have signed up to the existing platform, called Spid. Colao said that, in the first quarter of this year, the digital service had processed 120m transactions, against 143m for all of 2020.
Colao said that increasing the amount of digital interaction Italians had with the state through the website would facilitate the government’s plans to invest in education and digital skills.
Use of online services in Italy is among the lowest in the EU. Only 38 per cent of Italians aged between 16 and 74 bought goods and services online in 2019, the third lowest share in the EU — on a par with Bulgaria and Romania, according to Eurostat.
Half of Italians aged between 16 and 74 used a portable computer or handheld device to access the internet away from work or home in 2019, compared with 73 per cent of all Europeans on average.
The size of the EU-backed investment package is “eye popping”, Colao said, “but the real core of our plan are the reforms, and investment in people. Italy now wants to invest in its own people and talent, and improve the opportunities for those who are here”.
He added: “You have to invest in the whole conveyor belt, from kindergarten to PhD research. This country has been very erratic in the past and this is not an area where you can be erratic. You have to be systematic because the production cycle for intellectual innovation is 15 to 30 years.”
Colao said these efforts would help the country create conditions to stop the exodus of talents abroad and attract foreign investors.
“The two things foreign investors in Italy always say are: we cannot find the right people, and the system is horrific,” he said. “Am I a hundred per cent confident that we will reach all of this? Well, we have to be ambitious. Maybe we will miss some parts, but if we reach 90 per cent that would put Italy at the front of the race.”