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Brussels, 16th October 2006

Standards help SMEs to boost their competitiveness

SMEs must get more competitiveness out of standardisation, was the message of the World Standards Day 2006 conference organised by the European Commission today in Brussels. The use of voluntary standards to support European legislation on the free circulation of goods has been one of the success stories in building a Single European Market. These standards, developed by the European Standards Organisations CEN, CENELEC and ETSI, contribute to the European Union’s Better Regulation policy as a key element in keeping EU legislation simple and limiting it to the essential elements for the protection of the health and safety of citizens. It is up to the stakeholders themselves, in particular experts from industry, to include in standards the details necessary to comply with the law (this is the so-called New Approach). In the past, SMEs have often considered standardisation a private domain of big companies, and therefore they have not benefited enough from it. Participants of the World Standards Day 2006 discussed better access to easier-to-use standards and how to improve participation of SMEs in standardisation.

European Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, responsible for industry and enterprise policy, said: “European and international standards give our enterprises the ability to compete in global markets. SMEs including their enormous innovative capacity must be more engaged in standardisation. A new handshake between standardisation and SMEs in Europe is both necessary and possible now”.

For many SMEs in the EU, for instance in the domains of personal protective equipment, electrical equipment, or telecommunications, participation in standardisation is a strategic asset. It is access to the fantastic ideas which flow everyday in standardisation committees that allows these SMEs to be innovative in very specialized domains. Their anticipation and good knowledge of recognised standards permits them to be market leaders not only in their home country, but across Europe and the whole world. These small companies are the success stories which can be the inspiration for other SMEs to achieve competitiveness through standardisation.

But SMEs are suffering from barriers in access to the standards and from practical difficulties to participate in the process of standardisation. Standards have often ignored the particular business conditions of SMEs. Participants of the World Standards Day called for a new deal between standardisation and SMEs was necessary now. It would complement the Commission’s efforts to ‘Think small first’ and replace business unfriendly regulation with a ‘better regulation’, in particular for SMEs.

Standardisers need to find ways to accommodate the constraints of SMEs in the standardisation process. The Commission co-funds the participation in European standardisation of experts representing the interests of SMEs, and supports the initiatives of European Standards Organisations to increase benefits for SMEs. The findings of the EC-commissioned study “Good practices for the promotion of SMEs' and craft enterprises' participation in European standardisation and use of standards”, also presented at the conference, indicate that Member States need to do more in order to improve SMEs access to standardisation at national level.

The Commission will continue to promote and monitor the increase of benefits of standardisation to SMEs.

More information on:

  • Standards and the conference:

  • The Commission’s SME policy

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