KANBrief 4/23

Three questions for: Dr Michael Stephan, responsible for DIN’s Standardization Division

Several new items of EU legislation grant the European Commission the power to define requirements for products in Common Specifications. What does this mean for standardization?

In all likelihood, it will increase the effort entailed by orientation and compliance. It could also result in competing technical requirements emerging. A clear framework exists for the development of harmonized European standards. The EU Standardisation Regulation is among the instruments defining this framework. It assigns both rights and obligations to the European standards organizations. For example, they must put transparent procedures in place, and ensure the broadest possible participation by stakeholders, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, consumers and environmental protection organizations. Common Specifications are not subject to specific requirements concerning the development process or transparency and broad stakeholder participation, nor need their content necessarily be consistent with the existing body of European standards. My view is therefore that Common Specifications can only ever constitute a stopgap measure, and that priority should always be given to developing harmonized European standards.

An EU Advocate-General recently called for harmonized standards to be made available free of charge. What is DIN’s position on this?

The call was made during legal proceedings currently in progress before the European Court of Justice (ECJ). It remains to be seen whether, and if so to what extent, the ECJ will follow the Advocate-General’s call in its judgement. This step could have a considerable negative impact on the European economy and the European standardization system. The issue would not merely be whether, and if so how, harmonized European standards developed within this system would have to be published free of charge in future; most significantly, the ruling could lead to European standardization being decoupled from that at international level, since if the content of standards were no longer protected by copyright, it is likely that ISO and IEC would no longer make the content of their international standards available to European standardization activity as they have done to date. Such a decoupling would render our current well-functioning standardization system inoperative, potentially leading to the creation of trade barriers.

In my view, the synergy between EU legislation and standardization guarantees that technical details are regulated in a way that adapts them practically and continuously to the state of the art. For over 30 years, this task has taken the form of standardization activity organized by the private sector, which has facilitated access by companies to the Single Market. Conversely, legislation is limited to regulating the essential requirements. The call by the Advocate-General could therefore ultimately also be regarded as termination of this successful partnership between the public and private sectors.

The baby boomer generation will soon be retiring. Is standardization work facing enormous problems as a result, like other sectors?

This challenge is as great for us as it is for society and the economy as a whole. We’re already noticing it, both during our efforts to recruit employees ourselves for DIN, and with regard to the experts who ultimately develop the content of the standards. We’re responding to this challenge on four levels:

  1. We’re stepping up our scheme for universities, in which trainees and students learn more about standardization at an early stage, because we’ll need them on the standards committees later on in their working lives.
  2. The DIN Young Professionals network makes it easier for new skilled professionals to take their first steps in standardization, and offers them a platform for dialogue.
  3. Further digitalization of the sphere, up to and including the creation of smart standards, is to make the use of standards efficient. With these measures, we’re creating opportunities for standards to be applied automatically and for AI to be used to simplify access to them.
  4. It goes without saying that as an employer, we aim to appeal to new employees by offering attractive working conditions and topical subjects. Standardization continues to be extremely important for the economy and society as a means of describing a state of the art that is safe and engenders confidence.

Dr Michael Stephan has been a member of the DIN management board since 2016, after holding various positions in industry. He has been responsible for the Standardization Division since 2018.