Podcast & blog: Ukraine’s digital signatures are now valid in the EU

28.06.2023 | Federico Plantera

Despite the war, despite the devastation. We saw it last year already, through the eyes and voices of e-Governance Academy’s team in Ukraine – digital transformation never stopped in the country. If anything, it picked up pace. In fact, in many ways, digital tools helped Ukrainians work and access public services despite the ongoing Russian invasion.

And another milestone has been reached in April. Ukraine has become the first non-EU country to see digital signatures of its businesses and citizens recognized by the European Union. Oleksandr Kozlov, Senior Expert on e-ID at eGA’s team in Ukraine, joins this podcast episode to explain trust services, the significance of this achievement, and the implications for businesses and individuals in Ukraine and the EU.

Trust services and three levels for digital signatures – an explanation

We must start, though, from outlining what trust services are. As a legal concept, they allow individuals and entities to certify documents and contracts using digital means. In the digital world, where face-to-face interactions are limited, trust service providers play a crucial role in ensuring the authenticity and integrity of digital signatures.

“To give trust, in that the person who is actually claiming to be Oleksandr Kozlov is indeed Oleksandr Kozlov, there is the concept of trust services and trust service providers,” says Oleksandr. These providers certify the identity of individuals and issue signature creation devices, which are used to create electronic signatures.

Digital signatures within the EU are classified into three levels: simple, advanced, and qualified. The highest level, qualified electronic signatures, holds automatic legal equivalence to handwritten signatures, and enjoys the presumption of validity and authenticity in court. Ukraine’s digital signatures have been granted the advanced level of recognition. “Ukraine is the first ever non-EU country to get its digital signature recognized by the EU and also to get it recognized as advanced,” Kozlov emphasizes. This achievement paves the way for Ukraine’s integration into the European digital single market.

This result has been accomplished in close collaboration between the Ministry of Digital Transformation, the local State Enterprises, the European Commission and the e-Governance Academy’s experts from the EU4DigitalUA project team, and despite the challenges caused by the war.

The process started in 2017, and during the last three years, the e-Governance Academy has been involved in it. The collaboration included the harmonization of the legislation, negotiations with the European Commission and the implementation of technical interoperability solutions. All in all, 74 laws were adopted.

To recognize the great success the e-Governance Academy’s award “Partner of the Year 2023” was forwarded to the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine.

Tightening economic relations between Ukraine and the EU

How so, though? The recognition of Ukraine’s digital signatures in the EU brings numerous benefits for businesses and individuals. This milestone allows Ukrainian businesses to participate in the digital single market, and conduct online transactions with ease. As Kozlov notes, a study conducted by the Institute for European Studies estimated that joining the digital single market could contribute to Ukraine’s GDP growth by 3% to 12%. This potential impact, amounting to billions of euros, underscores the transformative power of this development.

The opportunity here is clear – a paperless relation between the EU and Ukrainian businesses. Since April 2023, there is no need to print and sign agreements and invoices, spend money on delivery and wait days or even weeks before receiving your hard copy back. Electronic document turnover will be able to save money and time for both European and Ukrainian businesses. While, on the other hand, millions of Ukrainians in Europe should be able to electronically sign employment contracts, bank documents, rental agreements, and so on.

Towards mutual qualified recognition

While this recognition is a significant milestone, Ukraine’s long-term goal is to achieve a mutual recognition agreement for qualified trust services with the EU. Currently, Ukraine unilaterally recognizes qualified electronic signatures from the EU.

The aim is to establish a seamless acceptance of qualified signatures between Ukraine and EU member states, eliminating any differentiation between the two. This mutual recognition agreement would further enhance cross-border digital transactions and foster stronger cooperation between Ukraine and the EU.