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Brussels, 14 October 2014
Standards help businesses and protect consumers – World Standards Day
Standards improve compatibility, interoperability, safety or quality of products and services. Standards were never as important as today with mobile phone or software companies publicly battling for the domination of their respective technical specifications. Consumers strongly call for standards when it comes to chargers, e.g. for electric cars or bikes.
As a foundation of the internal market European standards help EU businesses to overcome barriers caused by divergent national standards. Harmonised standards allow EU industry to compete on a level playing field thus increasing consumer trust in the market. Moreover, standardisation can promote the development of new and innovative products. Therefore, to raise awareness of the importance of standardisation to the global economy, supporting industry, consumers and authorities, several international standardisation institutions1 organise the World Standards Day, each year on 14th October. To celebrate this day, the Commission is organising an important meeting with stakeholders and industry that will improve cooperation at EU level to bridge challenges with solutions in the ever evolving standardisation world.
The European Standardisation System
European Standardisation boosts the competitiveness of the EU industrial sector, enhances safety of products and increases trust in the market. Thousands of European standards have been developed in the past and continue to be developed to ensure inter-operability of technical solutions chargers are a familiar example, but just one of many) while at the same time supporting European legislation and policies. Their state-of-the-art excellence is widely recognised. Through good coordination with international standardisation bodies, the European Standardisation System also reinforces the global competitiveness of European industry. The current legal framework for standardisation in the European Union is set by the Regulation on European Standardisation, which entered into force on 1 January 2013.
European Standards are a key element of the Single Market
For nearly thirty years, since the introduction of the "new approach", European Standards have helped make the Single Market work efficiently. New approach Directives and their successors in the New Legislative Framework reference European Standards as a way for manufacturers to ensure that their products meet safety requirements. This method ensures that the "what" and "how" questions can be addressed separately: what level of safety is needed and how can this be ensured? The answer to the second question changes over time as technology advances and standards can be updated to reflect new developments without the need to amend EU and Member State legislation.
European Standards are voluntary
The primary objective of standardisation is to define voluntary technical or quality criteria with which manufacturers, production processes or services may comply. Manufacturers are free to find other ways of meeting safety requirements, but they have to be able to prove that their method, including all the testing needed to demonstrate compliance with those safety requirements, is adequate. Thus, standards are a driving force behind the creation of the internal market for goods. European standards replace national and often conflicting standards, which may create technical impediments to market access.
Standards increase competition, lower prices and sales costs as well as quality
Standards usually increase competition by opening markets to new entrants and lower output and sales costs, benefiting economies as a whole and consumers in particular. Moreover, they enhance quality and ensure compatibility, thereby increasing the safety and well-being of citizens. Moreover standards are becoming more and more important, for industry and authorities. The EU has anticipated this evolution by issuing an important strategy vision in 2011 which was also the start of a new legal framework (see above). Together with the EU, industry and stakeholders, the EU has a solid basis to build on for the future and to launch the industrial renaissance, so strongly needed in Europe.
This new strategy will help to overcome the issues of the past when it could take a long time to develop a European standard so that some standards have lagged far behind rapidly evolving technologies. This is why certain sectors have been reluctant to engage in standardisation or were unable to benefit from the positive effects of standards. This should change in the future.
Standardisation can speed up innovation
European standardisation offers an extraordinary opportunity to address the current economic challenges, globalisation and the call for more innovation. For example, European standards are used as the basis of public procurement, so that more demanding standards for energy consumption provide a reward for investment in research and innovation, ultimately benefitting consumers as more efficient products reach the market.
EU cooperation with standardisation and societal organisations
To respond to the challenges, the regulatory and industrial tools at the disposal of the EU should be used in the best possible ways. To do so, the Commission will keep on counting on its longstanding partnership with the European Standardisation Organisations as well as with the representatives of SMEs and NGOs which represent environmental, social and consumer interests in standardisation. In order to have state-of-the art standards, the Commission ensures that the door is always open to other stakeholders so that every voice is heard in the standardisation process.
Since the coming into force of the new legal framework, Member States and Observers2 are even more closely involved in the decision making process on standards in support of EU legislation. The Committee on Standards, where Member States are present, has had 5 successful meetings and the next will take place on 23 October 2014.
The role of science for developing standards
Science has a key role to play in supporting and accelerating the standardisation process and the European Commission itself contributes directly to this work. Commission scientists provide scientific and technical support in a range of areas from environmental monitoring to critical infrastructure protection, or from food and feed safety to nuclear safety and security. First and foremost, in order to underpin the standardisation processes, research done at the Commission' in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre, deals with pre- and co-normative research, harmonised methods and reference measurements and methodologies, providing the scientific base needed for the development, approval and implementation of standards.
For instance, the Joint Research Centre supports EU and world standards in the areas of clean transport and renewable energies, helping to meet the climate and energy targets and promoting a cleaner, greener and sustainable planet. The Commission's European solar test installation laboratory (ESTI) tests the electrical performance and shelf-life of new photovoltaic devices, contributing to accelerate market introduction and innovation by the early development and harmonisation of standards. The vehicle emissions laboratory (VELA) tests CO2 emissions of vehicles of all sizes and types, producing standardised procedures and practical recommendations that contribute to amendments of relevant legislation (EURO standards). The Commission is also working on establishing standards to help address the interoperability between smart grids and electric vehicles in close collaboration with US laboratories.
Another example is the work done in the building sector. A set of EU standards known as the EUROCODES provides information for a common approach for the design of buildings and other construction products, making sure they meet the needed safety standards and can face events such as earthquakes.
The JRC also regularly brings together the scientific and standardisation communities in a series of "putting science into standards" events. The next workshop, takes place on 21-22 October in Petten (the Netherlands), focussing on power-to-hydrogen and hydrogen-enriched compressed natural gas.
Soon, new guidelines for European Standardisation
The European Commission continues to look for ways to improve: to ensure a coherent understanding of the role of European standardisation as a policy tool for the European Union, and in particular sound application of the regulatory framework, the Commission is currently working on new guidelines. This document (a Vademecum) will play a major role in the wide range project of the Commission aimed at assessing and improving the system to make it fit for the future.
In particular today, on 14 October 2014, World Standards Day, the Commission is organising an important meeting with stakeholders and industry to improve cooperation across the board to bridge challenges with solutions in the ever evolving standardisation world. It is the intention of the Commission to continue these exchanges of view and a constructive and transparent manner.
Public consultation on "Patents and Standards"
The Commission launches today a public consultation on "Patents and Standards". Many standards comprise technologies that are patent protected. Public authorities and the standardisation community have developed rules and practices to ensure the efficient licensing of such patents. Stakeholders are invited to comment on the current rules and practices governing standardization involving patents and how this framework should evolve in the future. The consultation will be open until 31 January 2015.
Web pages of European Standardisation Organisations:
the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
Standardisation organisations (CEN, CENELEC, ETSI) and organisations representing SMEs, consumers, environment and workers