KANBrief 1/13

Standardization of services: benefit for the trade and crafts sector doubtful

The European standardization package became applicable on 1 January 2013. With this package, the European Commission intends to make the system of standardization more efficient and to simplify participation by SMEs in the standardization process. Above all, stronger European standardization is to promote the Single Market for services. Jens-Uwe Hopf explains the position of the ZDH, the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts, on this subject.

Mr Hopf, what is the craft and trade sector's position on the standardisation package?

Our position is one of constructive criticism. The European Commission had attempted to override the principle of national delegation. In its view, standardization should take place in Brussels. This would have made participation in the standardization process in participants' own languages practically impossible. In addition, the Commission and the Member States are now explicitly called upon to issue mandates for service standards. The result is therefore an increase in political influence, as the recent example of the mandate concerning horizontal service standards also shows. We oppose this development.

What relevance do services have for the craft and trades sector?

Allow me to illustrate this with a slogan from our image campaign: "If it wasn't built by hand, it was built by machines that were built by hand." Without services, there would be no adaptation of standardized products to the needs of individual customers. The craft and trades sector regards itself as Germany's national service provider. Over 70% of the value created in Germany and in Europe is created in the service sector. The market for services is functioning; we do not see any failure of the market that could be rectified by standards.

Why does the European Commission want to see more European service standards?

We welcome the political goal of making the European Single Market as dynamic as is already the case for the market for products. However, we have our doubts that this can be achieved solely by the instrument of standardization. The complaints voiced by our export-oriented companies have more to do with differences in social and labour legislation and in fiscal policy, and with red tape. Action must also be taken in these areas.

What risks are entailed by the standardization of services in Europe?

We will see a substantial increase in the number of new standards. SMEs, though, already have enough to cope with. A disadvantage is that there is no consensus on the subjects that are worth standardizing and for which standardization would add value for the economy. We are dismayed that new management systems are increasingly coming onto the market which for example seek to standardize ethical behaviour on the part of companies. In addition, a risk exists that standards will not only govern the quality, safety and transparency of services, but will also define requirements for skills and qualifications. We are strictly opposed to that. Germany owes its strength to a large extent to the high standard of training of its skilled personnel and to its dual vocational training system. It would be negligent of us to sacrifice this competitive benefit to standardization.

Do you also see opportunities?

The opportunities lie in the fact that individual countries are now prevented from going it alone in standardizing services. The subjects to be standardized must be determined by consensus at European level. The Commission requires new European standards to be relevant to the market, i.e. to have essential input from users. If we actually put this principle into practice, it will prevent us from going down the wrong road.

What work still needs to be done at national level?

Germany already has effective structures in place in the form of the KDL, the Coordination Office for Services Standardization, and its KOMMIT small business commission. Transparency and orientation are still lacking, however. Also lacking are criteria against which new projects can be evaluated for their suitability for standardization. If service standardization is not geared to its relevance to the market, participation in the standards development process will not be adequate. And without broad participation, the legitimacy and acceptance of the standardization results will be placed in doubt. What we need is a system of co-ordinates showing the direction which we can take together. That is what we need to work on.