Sweden has the best record in offering online public services among the 25 members of the European Union, according to a survey published by the European Commission on Tuesday.

The survey, carried out by IT consultancy Capgemini in October 2004 into the availability of services online, found that Sweden was the most advanced country, scoring an 89 percent rating for sophistication of available services. Austria was a close second with an 87 percent rating, followed by the UK and Ireland, both with 84 percent.

The rating measures to what extent it is possible to use a public service online, with 100 percent meaning that an entire transaction such as registering for VAT (value add tax) can be done electronically.

Although the 10 mainly central and east European countries that joined the EU in May 2004 scored a lower rating on average than the 15 "old" EU countries (65 percent compared to 72 percent), Estonia was in the top 10 best performers, scoring 73 percent and beating countries like France, the Netherlands and Germany.

The study was carried out as part of the EU's eGovernment program, which aims to ensure that public services are as widely available online as possible. It looked at 14,000 websites in the 25 European member states plus Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.

Furthermore, the study looked at 20 services for individual citizens and businesses, including paying income taxes, looking for jobs, registering for social security benefits, registering cars, and applying for building permission. For companies, the services include dealing with corporate tax and VAT, registering new companies, making customs declarations and applying for environmental permits.

The study's sophistication index makes an assessment of the level of interactivity of a particular services. Ratings were awarded depending on the level of interactivity with a score of 100 percent where services can be fully carried out online and 25 percent to 50 percent where information is simply available online. On this basis, the average performance across the EU was 65 percent with a rating of 72 percent in the old 15 members.