(Re-published with permission from the EU Issue Tracker)

The EU is looking to streamline the way it establishes harmonised standards for products and processes in order to boost European competitiveness and improve efficiency.

A package of measures on revising the European standardisation system, which includes a new strategy outlined in a Communication as well as a proposal for a Regulation, were presented by the Commission on 1 June 2011.

The new strategy sets out ways to achieve a more streamlined European standardisation process by 2020, while the proposal aims to overhaul legal rules governing the EU’s standardisation system.

Harmonised Standards

Standards are voluntary guidelines that define technical or quality requirements with which products, production processes, services or methods may comply. Many European standards have been developed by European standardisation bodies following a request made by the Commission.
These standards are called “harmonised standards” and propose a number of requirements — including safety requirements — which products should meet as well as a number of best practices that producers should follow. While initially only covering product requirements, European standards now include guidelines on production and processes.

The Package of Measures

The package measures presented by the Commission follow a review of the European standardisation system, which was carried out between 2008 and 2010. It also takes into account the European Parliament’s October 2010 report on the future of European standardisation.

The Commission envisages standardisation playing a crucial role in supporting the Europe 2020 Strategy for sustainable and inclusive growth. The European Council of 4 February 2011 also affirmed the importance of European standardisation for private investment in innovative goods and services and called for more simple and modern standardisation processes.

Strategic Objectives

The Communication outlines five main strategic objectives with regard to a European standardisation system:

  • Speeding up access to standards and making them interoperable between services and applications, particularly in the field of information and communications technologies (ICT) and for use in public procurement
  • Ensuring standards keep up with technological development in order to boost the competitiveness of businesses
  • Standards developed by European standardisation bodies should take into account different European policy areas in order to establish European standards as important EU policy tools
  • Creating a European standardisation system that is inclusive and transparent as possible, requiring more cooperation between European and national standardisation bodies and stakeholders, particularly SMEs and NGOs
  • European standards should improve the competitiveness of European businesses in the global market

Actions to be taken on Standardisation

In order to achieve those objectives, the Commission sets out actions the EU will take according to certain strategically identified areas:

Supporting Industrial Policy and Innovation

  • Set up an annual work programme to identify standardisation priorities
  • Prioritise development of standards for innovative products and services such as eco-design, smart grids, nanotechnologies, civil security and eMobility
  • Make funding of European Standardisation bodies (ESOs) on performance criteria and require a reduction of 50% of the time taken to develop standards requested by the Commission by 2020
  • Commission to ensure that there is an impartial, sound and scientific evidence for the European standardisation process
  • calls on ESOs, Member States and other bodies to improve awareness and education on standardisation and links with research

Addressing societal challenges

  • Revise the General Product safety Directive
  • Use standardisation strategically in support of the environment, civil security and protection rules
  • Calls on Member States to ensure the involvement of stakeholders at national level
  • Require ESOs to take the environment, consumers and accessibility into account and adequately involve stakeholders

Inclusive standards development process

  • Ask ESOs to have a more inclusive work process particularly on issues of public interest
  • Ask ESOs to introduce a voluntary membership scheme based on WTO TBT principles
  • Improve financial support of SME representative organisations within the standardisation system at national and EU level, including special membership rates for SMEs and stakeholder organisations

Standardisation and a single European market for services

  • Extend scope of standardisation laws to services
  • Develop voluntary standards for the service sector
  • Set up an expert group to examine services standards

Standardisation for ICT and interoperability

  • Increase use of selected ICT standards in EU policies
  • Set up a multi-stakeholder forum to advise the Commission on standardisation
  • Increase use of ICT standards in public procurement
  • Encourage ESOs to bring ICT standards developed elsewhere into the European system.

Standards for international competitiveness

  • Promoting convergence of existing international standards
  • Providing technical assistance
  • Supporting standardisation experts
  • Encouraging ESOs to act jointly at the international level and put forward international proposals in areas where Europe is a global leader.

Revising the European Standardisation Framework

The Commission proposal for a Regulation as part of a package of measures would set down legally binding rules in the following areas:

Cooperation between European standardisation bodies, national standardisation bodies and the Commission

  • Requiring European and national standardisation bodies to publish annual work programmes on the standards and deliverables it intends to prepare or amend and has adopted in previous period
  • Requiring all standardisation bodies to send any draft standards, European standards or deliverables to other standardisation bodies or the Commission upon request
  • Requiring national standardisation bodies to draft public standards in order to allow other parties to submit comments. In this way, the participation of other national standardisation bodies in planned activities will be encouraged, as these bodies may send their observers
  • Requiring appropriate representation of SME’s and NGOs within standardisation bodies with the aim of improving representation of SMEs and NGOs

Creation of European standards and standardisation deliverables for products and services in support of Union legislation and polices

  • Requiring the Commission to adopt European standardisation work programmes on requests it intends to make to European standardisation bodies
  • Setting out the procedure for standardisation requests, including objections

Financing of European standardisation

  • Repealing Decision 1673/2006/EC on financing European Standards Organisations (ESOs) so that administrative burden imposed on operational services and European standardisation bodies will be reduced, in line with the new Financial Regulation
  • Member States shall provide financial support for organisations representing SMEs and NGOs

Recognition of technical specifications for ICT

  • Revising Council Decision 87/95/EEC on the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector in order to repeal out-dated provisions and to allow use of ICT standards developed by organisations other than European standardisation bodies for public procurement

Use of delegated acts to amend the Regulation

  • In order to update the list of European standardisation bodies set out in Annex I
  • Adapt criteria for recognising standards in ICT set out in Annex II

Next Steps

The proposal for a Regulation follows the ordinary legislative procedure and will now be sent to the European Parliament and the Council for examination. It is expected to be legislated during 2012 but would only apply from 2013.

An independent review of the Strategy assessing the attainment of the strategic objectives and evaluating the European standardisation system is planned for 2013. The review may come forward with measures to speed up the standard-setting process and make it more efficient, whilst ensuring the EU maintains a strong position with its main trade partners.

By: EU Issue Tracker
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