The European Commission has called for moves to make electronic invoicing more accessible, particularly to smaller businesses, as part of a wider drive to bring down barriers to cross-border electronic procurement.
"(E-invoicing) is an essential part of an efficient financial supply chain, and it links the internal processes of enterprises to the payment systems," the commission said in a statement on Tuesday. It estimated the potential savings for businesses to be in the billions of euros per year.
The moves recommended by the commission include changes to the regulatory framework to put electronic invoices on the same footing as paper invoices. It also wants improvements to interoperability and the adoption of a common standard for invoice data content and forms across the European Union.
The commission made its recommendations in a report prepared by its expert group on e-invoicing and presented at a conference in Madrid.
The report predicted that within five to eight years, structured e-invoicing will become the main invoicing method throughout Europe. The report was open for consultation until 26 February and is available from the commission's website.
The EU should focus its e-invoicing efforts on the needs of small and medium-sized businesses, fostering the creation of simplified electronic invoicing products with low management costs, according to the report. The commission also wants member states to harmonise the regulatory framework applicable to e-invoicing.
In addition, more should be done to communicate the environmental and savings advantages of e-invoicing, the commission said. This could include the creation of a public-relations plan, as well as the identification of organisations at the national and international levels that could help push e-invoicing.
The e-invoicing initiative is ongoing and is backed by the commission's Directorates-General of Enterprise and Industry, Information Society and Media, Internal Market and Services and Informatics, as well as the Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union.