25 January 2021 — Publication

European Single Electronic Format (ESEF) – collected guidance

European Single Electronic Format (ESEF) – collected guidance

This page gathers key publications and guidance available for ESEF reporting and assurance, and tracks the implementation by EU Member States. We will update this regularly reflecting new developments (latest update : 16 December 2022).

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What is the European Single Electronic Format (ESEF)?

The Transparency Directive was amended in 2013 in order to make reporting easier for issuers and to facilitate accessibility, analysis and comparability of the financial information. The Directive sets rules on harmonisation of transparency requirements for listed companies in European Union (EU) regulated markets. The amendment included, amongst others, a new requirement for issuers to prepare their annual financial reports (AFRs) in a single electronic reporting format starting from 2020 AFRs.

The European Securities Markets Authority (ESMA) was assigned the responsibility to develop the technical standards for European Single Electronic Format (ESEF) and the eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) tags and inline XBRL (iXBRL) technology were chosen as the basis. This technology has already been used for various reporting purposes in many countries such as Denmark, India, Japan, the  Netherlands, South Africa, the UK and the US. With ESEF, consolidated financial statements included in AFRs will be both human- and machine-readable.

In February 2019, Accountancy Europe published the factsheet ESEF – Digitalising EU listed companies’ financial information that provides an overview of the ESEF requirements, including practical advice for preparers of financial information.

As noted by Alain Deckers from the European Commission (EC) DG FISMA in this Accountancy Europe podcast:  The European Commission’s take on ESEFESEF should be considered as part of a broader strategy towards digitisation of capital markets information in the EU.

ESEF Reporting

In 2019, ESMA developed ESEF Regulatory Technical Standards (RTS) that include the ESEF taxonomy (based on the IFRS taxonomy) and related requirements for the issuers. To promote a harmonised and consistent ESEF implementation, ESMA published on its website other useful material, including:

In addition, ESMA regularly updates the ESEF taxonomy to align with the latest available version of the IFRS Taxonomy. ESMA released the 2021 taxonomy files in December 2021.

XBRL Europe has also a dedicated ESEF Hub that includes educational materials and tools for preparing and reading ESEF reports.

ESEF Assurance

As intended users will make decisions based on digital financial information provided in ESEF-compliant AFRs, the EC considered the need for assurance on their reliability.

In May 2019, EC DG FISMA issued a Q&A document on ESEF which clearly stated that ESEF RTS provisions shall be considered as “statutory requirements” within the meaning of Article 28(2)(c)(ii) of the Audit Directive. Accordingly, the statutory auditors shall opine on whether the digitised consolidated financial statements are prepared in accordance with ESEF RTS.

The EC asked the Committee of European Auditing Oversight Bodies (CEAOB) to explore how this could be done in practice with a view to possibly provide guidance to the market. In November 2019, the CEAOB issued the guidelines on auditor’s involvement. This document was revised in November 2021 (see revised version).

Accountancy Europe and the European Contact Group (ECG) released their publication on ESEF Assurance in December 2019 as a contribution to ESEF implementation efforts at EU member state level. This paper sets out specific considerations along with practical implications that may assist auditors providing ESEF assurance.

Implementation status in the EU member states

On 12 October 2020, Accountancy Europe hosted the webinar Implementing ESEF: opportunities, challenges & way forward. The scope of the debate covered the opportunities, challenges and practical considerations about ESEF reporting and assurance. Our objective was to support national efforts and contribute to an efficient and effective ESEF implementation.

There continued to be some uncertainties about ESEF implementation at national level and the EC issued an Interpretative Communication on ESEF in November 2020 to provide clarifications on:

  • audit opinion on compliance with ESEF
  • use of e-signature by issuers and statutory auditors
  • issuers’ responsibility for drawing-up and disclosing the ESEF-compliant AFRs
  • other EU Obligations for limited liability companies laid down in the Accounting Directive
  • requirement for officially appointed mechanisms (OAMs) to disseminate the ESEF-compliant AFRs

Partly due to these uncertainties and largely to the coronavirus’ implications, there was a call to EU authorities for delaying the ESEF requirements for one year.

On 11 December 2020, The European Parliament and the Council agreed to an amendment of the Transparency Directive allowing EU member states to delay by one year the application of the ESEF requirements. The amendment was published in the EU Official Journal on 16 February 2021. Article 2 of the amendment states that “Member State may allow issuers to apply [ESEF] for financial years beginning on or after 1 January 2021, provided that Member State notifies the Commission of its intention to allow such a delay by 19 March 2021, and that its intention is duly justified.”

Following this, 23 MS notified the EC that they opted to delay the implementation of ESEF. Four countries – Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and Slovenia – decided to not delay the implementation. With 2021 Annual Financial Reports, ESEF is implemented in all EU Members States.

Accountancy Europe events 

On 7 July 2021, Accountancy Europe held the webinar ESEF in Practice to share national experiences and success stories with implementing ESEF in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain.

To support preparatory efforts, we held a second ESEF in Practice webinar on 15 November 2021. Auditors and experts from Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden shared their experiences and practical tips.

Our webinar on 30 May 2022 aimed to see how ESEF and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) fit into the bigger picture of digitising EU capital markets information via the European Single Access Point (ESAP). We also heard about successful first-year ESEF implementation in Luxembourg and Italy.

The block tagging requirement

Issuers will need to mark-up the notes to their 2022 IFRS consolidated financial statements in ‘block tagging’. This new requirement has brought challenges for the issuers and software providers. How and when these challenges are overcome will have an impact on the auditor’s work.

Accountancy Europe issued a guidance for auditors which explains main touchpoints related to block tagging in ESEF assurance engagements.

XBRL France’s working group proposed a common base of methodology on ESEF block tagging. The proposed hierarchy is not an official or authoritative document.