By 2030, every citizen of the European Union (EU) should be able to access their own unique online digital identity, which they can use across 27 member states.  

The EU digital wallet will enable 450 million people to store their personal information safely and securely and use it to do everything from renting a car, to applying for a bank loan, or accessing social security.  

In the wallet, you will be able to store a range of trustworthy or “verified” documents, from birth certificates and passports to university degrees and your driver’s licence.  

It will save people the time – and hassle – of having to search through dusty old filing cupboards, looking for statements or records that might not have kept in good order over the years.  

It’s also meant to give people more control over their data, allowing them to share specific information such as age, without revealing unnecessary personal details.  

There is inevitably a level of co-ordination required for 27 countries to agree on before the project is advanced, but the signs are positive. A draft law was passed earlier this year, paving the way for a pilot programme and technical specifications for the wallet have been published on Github.  

In addition, 14 member states, about 60 per cent of the EU population, already have a type of national digital system, albeit without cross-border convergence at this point.  

Thomas Rysgaard-Christiansen, partner at Danish IT firm Netcompany, which has been instrumental in early phases of the app’s prototyping, says: “This is a proposal from the Commission dating back to 2021. It’s about basically ensuring that EU citizens, residents and businesses have a digital ID.  

“Why do we need a digital ID? It’s to make it easier for people to access services, conveniently and safely.  

“We know from everyday experience that it is often difficult for people to prove their identity – from opening a bank account, to applying for a benefit. The EU digital wallet aims to overcome frustrating bureaucratic hurdles.” 

Four large-scale pilots for the technology were launched in April 2023, to test the wallets in real-life scenarios spanning different sectors. More than 250 private companies and public authorities across 25 member states plus Norway, Iceland, and Ukraine participated, exploring 11 use cases.  

They included accessing government services, opening a bank account, online payments verification, claiming prescriptions and accessing social security benefits. 

Rysgaard-Christiansen says the scope for the application of digital ID – which is designed to work on and offline – is far-reaching. “There are many scenarios in which we use our IDs, whether that’s travel, proving your age, dealing with a mortgage company or insurer, sharing your qualifications,” he says.  

“All of these interactions typically involve some kind of verification. If you have your credentials in a digital wallet, they can be exchanged and verified in seconds.” 

He added: “Although the origins of national digital ID services come from government, for it to truly work requires public and private sector collaboration.” 

There are, however, stumbling blocks. Most people use their devices to access online services. Big tech players including Apple, Google, Android manufacturers, not to mention social media giants and global payment platforms, mediate that access.  

The debate centres on whether the EU will be able to wrest control of data away from third party servers in the US and restore it to citizens. Rysgaard-Christiansen says: “We know that our digital ID is very much tied to big tech, and it’s very difficult for us to control our own data. This is the EU’s attempt at addressing some of these concerns.”  

“If we cannot solve it through the big tech manufacturers, then we’re going to have to look at other options. Those discussions are ongoing,” says Rysgaard-Christiansen.  

As to what those options are, it remains to be seen, but could involve use of different SIM cards and private cloud. Although data privacy and security standards in the EU are moving in a different regulatory direction to the US, Rysgaard-Christiansen believes there are trickier issues to navigate. 

“I actually think the implementation and uptake of ID will be the biggest challenge, rather than anything in the technical domain,” he says.  

“I do believe we will reach a solution, I’m pretty confident of that, but it’s more important that the application can win the trust of citizens, who have maybe not always had that with their governments.  

“If we can demonstrate that the app is user-friendly, and works across the private and public realm, there is every chance we will succeed.” 

Partner Content in association with Netcompany