KANBrief 2/14

Mandated standards: how exactly does that work?

Harmonized standards that give rise to a presumption of conformity (KANBrief 1/10) are produced by the European standards organizations in response to requests from the European Commission. Such mandates are issued for the development of standards and similar documents. The procedure to be followed by the Commission in the issuing of these mandates is described in detail in EU Regulation 1025/2012 (of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on European standardisation [...]).

Co-operation between the European Commission and the European system of standardization is based in the first instance upon a detailed annual work programme, which also includes the planned mandates. Only in urgent cases may the Commission issue mandates without first announcing them.

Mandates for the purpose of leverage

Standards development work based upon mandates is generally subsidized by the European Commission. This enables pressure to be exerted upon the standards organizations to achieve certain objectives desired by the legislator, since mandates contain both requirements concerning the content of standards and a deadline by which the standards must be adopted. An essential goal of EU standardization policy is for example for the time required for the development of standards to be reduced appreciably. A further requirement is that the stakeholders are to be able to present their opinions more easily in the future during standardization work. This particularly applies to the market surveillance authorities of the Member States and the European organizations ANEC (consumers), ECOS (the environment), ETUI (employees) and SBS (small and medium-sized enterprises), which are funded by the EU.

Participation and transparency

Mandates are not drawn up unilaterally by the European Commission. In principle, any party may draw the Commission's attention to a particular topic. The impetus for new mandates frequently originates for example in the Sectoral Committee for the relevant directive (such as the Machinery Committee), from the market surveillance authorities, as a result of formal objections, or through action by the Commission regarding political aspects such as current environmental or consumer protection issues.

In the draft phase of a mandate, the Commission must consider the views not only of the European standards organizations, but also of the above stakeholder groups funded by the EU and, where it exists, those of the responsible Sectoral Committee. Finally, following an examination procedure, the Member States must approve the drafts of the mandate and the associated formal Commission Decision in the 1025/2012 Regulation Committee. This examination procedure is very time-consuming, since the Parliament must be involved and translation is required into all official languages of the EU. The Commission is therefore to evaluate by 2 January 2015 the time required for the issuing of standardization mandates. It could then submit a proposal to the Parliament and the Council to amend this aspect of the regulation in order to simplify the procedure.

Worthy of note is that should an expert committee not exist for a particular sector, the Commission is obliged to conduct a public consultation in which any party may participate. Stakeholders may access the latest news and documents by means of an RSS feed on the Commission's website and may submit comments to the relevant Commission contact point. Searches can be conducted in a database containing all mandates. The Vademecum on European standardisation and a number of reference documents concerning standardization policy and the role of standardization are available for download.

New procedure not yet proven

Whereas the transparency of the procedure and the scope for involvement by stakeholders represent a promising approach, the considerable increase in time pressure could however soon have dire consequences for the standardization process. As was pointed out by KAN during drafting of the Standardisation Regulation (KANBrief 4/12), the standards committees are already under considerable time pressure. It is to be feared that standards will increasingly contain inadequately conceived results, a development that could also have worrying consequences for safety. In KAN's view, the new procedure must therefore first prove effective, and be modified if necessary.

Corrado Mattiuzzo