KANBrief 3/11

The European standardization system is to be improved

The European Commission plans to restructure the European standardization system. One reason for this is to address the fact that certain sectors of the economy are increasingly abandoning traditional, consensus-oriented standards committees in favour of other fora for development of the specifications that they need. This particularly applies to areas such as information and communications technology (ICT) and security.

The Commission's reforms are intended to result in European standards being developed significantly more quickly in the future. It also expects greater funding for European standards for services, such as maintenance services, to yield economic benefits. Furthermore, the Commission intends to step up its co-operation with CEN, CENELEC and ETSI, and to bring about more efficient co-operation between these three organizations. Last but not least, European organizations representing SMEs, consumers, the environmental lobby and other social interests are to be able to participate in standardization activity more easily.

The standardization package To this end, the European Commission published a ”standardization package“ on 1 June 2011:

  • A strategic vision for European standards in the form of a communication (pdf). This contains a series of non-legislative measures such as concepts, targets and foci by which the Commission intends to attain the goals stated above.
  • A proposal for an EU regulation which is to set out the legally binding framework conditions for European standardization. This draft is to be discussed by the end of the year in the working groups of the Council and the European Parliament.

Reservations regarding the communication

With its communication, the European Commission aims not only to promote alternative types of standards document that are faster to develop, but also to accelerate the conventional standardization process considerably. It is however highly questionable whether factors of major importance for the areas of ICT or security, such as interoperability, product development cycles or innovation, are equally important for the rest of the standardization system.

The development times achieved today, themselves regarded only a few years ago as utopian, are already often possible only because formal standardization processes are not launched until a draft proposal that has been substantially developed is available. Hardly any committee now officially begins its work with a blank sheet of paper. There are doubtless points at which European standardization procedures and processes can be improved further and speeded up. A reduction in development times of 50%, however, hardly seems appropriate, much less a target of a blanket reduction to 18 months.

A further cause for concern is that, as was seen in the public consultation preceding the standardization package, the trend is still clearly that of challenging the principle of national delegation in the longer term.

Proposals for the draft regulation

KAN considers it important that the social partners and market surveillance authorities be named explicitly in the text of the regulation as key stakeholders in standardization. Furthermore, the regulation should explicitly ensure that participation in standardization activity by the European representatives of employees can continue to be supported financially.

The present draft makes no provision for the opinion of the Member States to be considered during the formulation of standardization mandates, in contrast to the practice to date (the regulation will replace Directive 98/34/EC governing "provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations" with regard to standardization). In KAN's view, not only should their opinions be heard; there should be an obligation for them to be observed. In addition, provisions should be added to the regulation through which the existing practice of the competent specialist committees being involved in the formulation of mandates becomes mandatory.

The case made by KAN

  • The task of standardizing product safety requires, above all, that standardization activity be conducted to a high standard, and that this not be sacrificed in the interests of speed.
  • Those wishing for stakeholders without the same material and organizational resources to become more strongly involved in standardization must first ensure that these groups are able to do so in their own language and without the need for expensive travel. European funds should therefore be used to support and improve the principle of national delegation in countries in which it is not functioning as effectively. Making direct involvement in standardization at European level the norm could simply reinforce the position of those stakeholders who are already the most powerful.

Corrado Mattiuzzo