KANBrief 4/14

Have government policy and globalization led to too much time pressure?

Since 1991, co-operation between ISO and CEN and between IEC and CENELEC has been governed by the Vienna and Dresden Agreements respectively (Vienna Agreement between ISO and CEN: Dresden (prior to 1996: Lugano) Agreement between IEC and CENELEC). The objective of these agreements is for standards preferably to be developed at international level and adopted additionally at European level, if at all possible simultaneously, by way of parallel voting processes. This and the increasing time pressure, not least from governments, make it more difficult to find a consensus acceptable to all sides.

The Dresden Agreement binds CENELEC very closely to IEC: around 70% of the EN standards within its remit are identical to the international IEC standards. By contrast, the TCs of CEN and ISO have greater freedom and are able to develop standards independently of each other, as for example in the case of mandated European standardization projects. The proportion of CEN standards identical to ISO standards is only around 30%.

The close co-operation required by the agreements also requires the directives (ISO/IEC Directives;
Internal Regulations) of the four international and European standards organizations to be as identical as possible, albeit with certain unavoidable differences. As a result, changes to the ISO/IEC Directives have an almost direct impact upon the development of harmonized EN standards.

Harmonization of directives

A topical example of this interaction is the reduction in the voting periods, which originates at international level, and the optional omission of the final draft phase in order for standardization work to be speeded up.

• Up to now, the European standards organizations had five months at their disposal for the public enquiry stage of a draft standard (prEN). In future, this period will generally be reduced to only three months or, by special application only, four months. Whether the standards organizations will actually succeed, in spite of this, in making the drafts publicly accessible at least two months before the end of the deadline for comments (already a challenge in the past) remains to be seen. If they do not, the influence of stakeholders who are not able to work directly on a standards committee will be hindered even further.

• At international level, it has been possible for some time to dispense with a final draft (FDIS) and instead to publish a standard immediately after the draft phase and the public enquiry. The requirements for this differ between ISO and IEC, however. IEC permits this – logically – only when no votes against the draft (IEC/CDV) are received from the national standards organizations. At ISO, omitting the final draft is in fact to become the default case, provided the previous draft (ISO/DIS) has received the twothirds majority that is in any case required for progression to the next project step. If this requirement is met, the ISO/TC leadership (chairman, secretariat and project leader) may then exercise the "option" of an FDIS only when a significant number of countries with a major interest in the subject area have made comments (ISO/IEC Directives, Part 1, Consolidated ISO Supplement – Procedures specific to ISO, Fifth edition, 2014). These criteria, which are open to considerable interpretation and in cases of doubt are unlikely to be enforceable, justify the concern that in some cases, the final draft stage could be omitted despite being necessary in order for the standard to be of adequate quality.

Impacts at European level

Owing to the presumption of conformity to which they give rise, harmonized EN standards are of considerably greater importance in the EU than international standards. Despite this, the European Commission exerts wholly unreasonable time pressure upon standardization activity. Owing not least to Regulation (EU) 1025/2012, the ISO procedures described above are also to apply at CEN from the beginning of 2015 onwards. The decision to omit the final draft (FprEN) stage must however be explicitly taken by a CEN/TC and should not be possible when technical amendments have been made following the public enquiry, or when the draft submitted to public enquiry was vetoed by the CEN Consultant.

CENELEC is likewise preparing to adjust its rules to those of IEC. It is to be hoped that CENELEC will adhere to the IEC criteria and omit the FprEN stage only when no objections have been presented at the public enquiry stage. Since CEN and CENELEC are working on harmonizing their voting processes, it would be gratifying if CEN were also to act on the same maxim.

Whether the time pressure, which altogether is increasingly being felt, will impact negatively upon the quality of standards or even upon the level of protection that they describe, will become evident only in some years' time.

Corrado Mattiuzzo