KANBrief 1/13

Strengthening the use of European standardisation as a political instrument

Since October 2012 Dr. Stefan Nonneman has been head of the “Standards for boosting competitiveness” unit at the Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General of the European Commission. In this interview, he talks about the objectives and implications of the new EU regulation on standardisation.

Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012 on standardisation (pdf) has been applicable since 1 January 2013. What has changed with this new regulation?

With this regulation we now have, for the first time, a consolidated legal basis for the use of European standardisation as a policy tool to support European Union legislation for both products and services. Our aim is to reinforce the effectiveness of European industry. Standardisation is to facilitate access not only to the Single Market, but also to international markets. Moreover, it is to promote new technologies and innovation.

What is the situation regarding participation by “weaker” stakeholders in standardisation?

The standardisation bodies will have to ensure that standards take full account of consumer, environmental, social and accessibility concerns and those of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In order to achieve this, it is essential for these stakeholders to have representatives who are systematically involved in the standardisation process. The Commission went beyond the basic WTO principle of transparency and requests that the European standards bodies report on the representation of stakeholders in the national standards bodies.

In addition, the Commission encourages the national standards bodies to grant special rates to SMEs and societal stakeholders for participation in standardisation, and to provide them with standards or packages of standards at reduced prices.

What particular measures has the Commission taken?

Let me take the example of SMEs. We are taking measures to improve SMEs’ participation in the European standardisation process and to promote the provision of information on standards to SMEs and the use of standards by them. A call for proposals will be issued to appoint a European stakeholder organisation assuming this role for SMEs. This organisation will for example be able to nominate experts to represent the SMEs’ position on European Technical Committees (TCs) when standards are drafted.

We are also financing certain SME-related projects conducted by CEN and CENELEC. These include the SMEST1 “Standardisation Toolkit” for national standards bodies and the SME Toolbox of Solutions, which provides explanations on the application of standards and on the standardisation process. A new project named SMEST2 will create an Internet platform on which SMEs and standards bodies can share knowledge, information, best practices and experience on the involvement of SMEs in the European standardisation process.

Will there still be financial support for certain stakeholders?

Yes: the Commission will for example continue to provide operating grants to European organisations representing SMEs, consumers, and environmental and social interests. It was appropriate for us to streamline the various support schemes in place in the past and to regroup them on the same legal basis. The criteria for eligibility and conditions for the use of grants are now aligned for all stakeholders.

What are the next steps?

In 2013, the Commission will adopt the first annual Union work programme for European standardisation. This new planning tool will be used to identify strategic priorities and to communicate how industrial policy needs to be supported by European standardisation. The work programme will in particular list the mandates for standards that the Commission intends to award to the European standards bodies. One new trend is already becoming apparent: we can anticipate that in the future we will see an increase in standardisation mandates relating to services, and also in mandates supporting new technologies and innovation.