Digital signature in France
Starting from October 1st 2018, it is mandatory to answer bids digitally. A signature is still required, a digital one. This is a problematic for foreign companies as the bidding platforms in France do not seem to support all European signatures. Here are some answers to some questions you may have about the French digital signature market.
Is there one digital signature backed up by the french government like in Estonia?
No, France has a free market model. Private companies and public entities can create their own signature system provided they fulfill the needed qualifications (eIDAS). France has currently 23 providers (https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/tl-browser/#/tl/FR).
Can you sign bids with any of the available digital signatures?
Only digital signature certificates, which comply with the general security reference (RGS***) in force, that are marketed by private qualified electronic certification providers are allowed. There are 3 levels of signature security qualification, RGS*** is the highest.
Is the digital signature free and is it linked to an identity card like in Estonia?
The French digital signatures that you can use for bidding procedures are not free. You need an RGS*** USB key (average of 3 year validity). The price for one key is between 250 and 350 euros depending on the provider and the package.
Only one mandated person per key can sign bidding documents. The biggest caveat is that the keys are delivered only within France and have to be delivered in person to the signature buyer.
Can i use my foreign (eIDAS) certified signature?
In theory, yes but in practice it is more complicated. Most bidding platforms have compatibility issues with foreign signatures. I you have trouble, then contacting support is the only way forward. They have to make your signature work if it is an official EU member country signature.
Our experience is that ATEXO (Bidding platform provider for Ile-de-France region, the town of Marseille and the country of Morocco) does not allow the use of the Estonian digital signature. You can verify if your signature is valid, it will confirm that everything is fine but when you want to sign through their system it will not work. Most platforms recognize that the signature is legitimate but cannot handle the signing process.
The sending of a document with an Estonian signature without going through the platform own system has resulted in disqualification from the bid already in the first phase. This happened on the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region bidding platform.