Why are standards important and why is further EU action necessary?
Standards are technical specifications that define requirements for products, production processes, services or test-methods, ensuring they are fit for purpose and guarantee high quality and safety throughout the relevant processes. Standards are voluntary and market driven, agreed in consensus by industry and other stakeholders.
They are a flexible way of raising quality and safety of products and services, improving transparency, reducing costs, opening up markets for businesses and ensuring that companies, especially SMEs, can compete on an equal footing. Standards are at the heart of innovation and industrial leadership and the functioning of the single market. Standards are a key tool for knowledge dissemination, ensuring interoperability, validation of novel ideas and a driver for innovation.
The standardisation environment is changing because the economy is changing, as a result of new technologies and the progressive integration of digital solutions in industrial global value chains, as well as the fast moving international context. Today, standardisation is more and more done at global level. The European Standardisation System (ESS) needs to respond effectively to the rapidly evolving needs of industry, society, consumers and other stakeholders, to ensure that Europe remains the global hub for standardisation. Standards are strategic assets for securing EU competitiveness.
What is the Commission proposing?
As announced in the Single Market Strategy, the Commission intends to modernise the ESS, in cooperation with the industry, the European Standardisation Organisations, SMEs and all other interested parties. In the package adopted today, the Commission sets out its vision for a single and coherent European Standardisation System that adapts to the changing environment, supports multiple policies and brings benefits and predictability to consumers and businesses. The package includes:
- a Joint Initiative on Standardisation(JIS): an innovative dialogue process which brings together European and national standardisation organisations and bodies, industry and their associations, SMEs, consumer associations, trade unions, environmental organisations, Member States, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the Commission. It will be formally endorsed by all partners on 13 June in Amsterdam under the auspices of the Dutch Presidency of the EU. The renewed partnership will develop concrete actions to better prioritise, speed up and streamline standardisation work by the end of 2019, and ensure early inclusion of relevant stakeholders.
- European services standards: guidance to promote the development of voluntary European service standards, reduce obstacles stemming from national standards and certification schemes, and improve information to service providers.
- inter-institutional dialogue: a system of annual reporting to and feedback from the other European institutions on the implementation of the EU standardisation policy and the contribution of European standards to EU policies in general and competitiveness, jobs and growth in particular.
- the Annual Union Work Programme for 2017: sets out the priorities in European standardisation for the next year.
What are the main elements of the European Standardisation System, and what will change?
European standards are voluntary, market-driven and adopted by the European Standardisation Organisations (CEN, Cenelec, ETSI), recognised by the Regulation on European Standardisation. They replace corresponding national standards in all 28 Member States. This makes the life of businesses, notably SMEs easier. European standards are regularly updated to reflect state-of-the-art knowledge and technology. Currently, there are about 20,000 European standards developed by CEN-Cenelec for products and services and 35 000 standardisation deliverables by ETSI.
Harmonised European standards are a specific type of European standard, developed by the European Standardisation Organisations (CEN, Cenelec, ETSI) in response to standardisation requests from the Commission for the application of EU legislation. They provide a blueprint for meeting the requirements of EU legislation. EU companies choosing to use these harmonised standards benefit from a 'presumption of conformity' to the requirements set out in EU legislation and are protected from liability. They can then market their products or services throughout the single market reaching over half a billion potential consumers. This mechanism is unique in the world. There are currently 4,000 harmonised European standards developed by CEN-Cenelec and almost 500 by ETSI. Harmonised standards make it possible for many types of goods to circulate freely in the single market.
The legal framework of 2012 underpins the long standing and successful partnership between the EU, its Member States, European Standardisation Organisations and their bodies, social and societal stakeholders including those representing persons with disabilities, and users of standards.
Within the boundaries of such framework, the Commission is proposing a renewed approach which:
- addresses the challenges to the overall ESS and specifically of particular areas such as ICT and services;
- ensures a single and coherent European standardisation policy that allows for economic operators to have a predictable and stable investment framework; and
- modernises and reinvigorates the unique long standing public-private partnership of the ESS for timely standards.
JOINT INITIATIVE ON STANDARDISATION
What is the Joint Initiative on Standardisation?
The Joint Initiative on Standardisation (JIS) is an innovative and common effort between public and private institutions including European and national standardisation organisations and bodies, industry associations, SMEs, consumer associations, trade unions, environmental organisations, EFTA, EU Member States and the Commission. Based on voluntary collaboration, it sets out a common vision and concrete actions to respond to the European standardisation challenges.
Preparatory discussions among all the partners have taken place in a unique format based on an open, innovative, consensus-based and collaborative process. Within the boundaries of the existing legal framework, the objective is to modernise the way standards are set in Europe and establish a European standardisation hub with global impact, where standards are developed in a timely, open, transparent and inclusive manner to support and promote innovation for all and the competitiveness of European companies in increasingly global value chains.
The Joint Initiative will be signed by the partners on 13 June 2016, and the specific actions will be further developed by a Steering Group that will be set up. The Steering Group, an informal consultative body chaired by the Commission, will monitor the follow-up of the individual actions and identify possible new ones, where appropriate. The actions are expected to be tabled for the first time on the occasion of the World Standards Day on 14 October 2016.
The JIS is a bottom-up process within the objectives and spirit of the Better Regulation package. It brings together opinions and ideas outside the traditional discussion formats delivering on the goals set with this initiative.
What are the main actions foreseen in the Joint Initiative? What will the Joint Initiative concretely change?
The Joint Initiative on Standardisation sets out a common vision shared by all partners and a process for focussing together on a variety of initiatives and deliveries seeking to modernise, better prioritise, speed up and streamline standardisation work by the end of 2019:
- Timely development of standards in a fast evolving technology environment: the aim is to bring down the average time to develop a standard and to encourage people to reflect on the relevance of standards already at the research and development phase, closing the gap between standardisation and research.
- Prioritisation of standardisation activities requires dialogue and joint analysis between the EU and standardisation stakeholders in determining market relevance and policy needs. This includes obtaining opinions from social and societal stakeholders in standard-setting and an early involvement of industry through enhanced information exchange with the Commission in line with the Standardisation Regulation.
- The actions contribute to modernising, in dialogue and cooperation with all stakeholders, the way standards are produced in Europe. Relying also on sharing best practices the entire standardisation process will be more transparent, inclusive and efficient to respond to current and future challenges.
The Initiative foresees three pilot projects which aim specifically at
- improving the representation of European SMEs and stakeholders representing civil society in international standardisation processes
- increased use of standards in Public Procurement and better compliance with the public procurement Directives
- enhancing the support of standardisation to the Construction Products Regulation (CPR)
What are services standards and how do they differ from product standards?
A service standard specifies requirements to be fulfilled by a service to establish its fitness for purpose, e.g. by providing definitions, indicators of service quality and their levels or specifying time of delivery, such as the standard on handling customer complaints. It does not necessarily cover all aspects of a service: it can cover a part or specific aspect only, such as providing information to customers. Service standards can be of a sectorial or horizontal nature.
- Sectorial service standards
Service standards have already been developed in various sectors such as construction, business and technical services, real estate management, culture and tourism, healthcare, environmental and infrastructure services, financial services, ICT, trade or education. There are national, European and international standards, such as the international standard (EN-ISO 18513) that facilitates cross-border understanding and increases consumer confidence by defining a common terminology for tourist accommodation and other related services.
- Horizontal service standards
Horizontal standards can be used in different sectors and have been developed for certain generic aspects of services provision, for example: a European standard (EN 15838) for requirements on quality of services offered to clients by customer contact centres, which sets out operational aspects of running a contact centre, improves quality across Europe. The Commission has recently asked CEN to develop horizontal service standards in three areas: performance measurement, service contracts and service procurement, to deliver many of the benefits listed above.
Like standards for goods, also service standards are voluntary, market-driven and based on consensus. However, services specifications often concern processes rather than technical specifications.
What are the benefits of service standards?
Service standards can deliver substantial benefits for businesses and consumers, by raising services quality, including safety of consumers, and acting as an incentive to meet minimum levels (and go beyond); improving transparency, communication and interoperability by helping clarify expectations between a service provider and their customer or client, and giving consumers and clients more confidence. They also reduce costs and open up markets for businesses: a single European service standard can reduce compliance costs for companies, particularly SMEs, and can also make it easier for them to access other markets on the basis of common expectations (e.g. on procurement requirements). In some cases, standards also make it easier for service providers to comply with national or EU legislation. They provide technical details of requirements set out in rules and serve as guidance for companies to secure compliance.
Why is further action on services standards necessary, and what are you proposing?
Whereas standards for goods have been used for decades, the development of service standards is much more recent and they have been slow to take off. Even though services account for 70% of the EU economy, service standards only account for 2% of all European standards.
Diverging national service standards can fragment the single market for services. During a recent consultation exercise, the Commission received complaints from businesses about barriers involving national service standards and certification schemes. These are making it harder for businesses to offer their services across Europe. As a result, the Commission has heard from businesses calls for European service standards in key areas and for these national barriers to be resolved.
The European Commission wants to tackle this in partnership with national and European standard setters. It is therefore putting forward a number of measures that will help prioritise and incentivise the development of European service standards, reduce obstacles stemming from national standards and certification schemes, and improve information to service providers. The aim is to develop standards where they are identified necessary and effective.
Specifically, the Commission:
- will carry out an analysis of whether there are areas of conflict or duplication between national service standards or where there are potential policy gaps with respect to the priorities of the Commission. On this basis it will decide whether to request or recommend CEN to develop standards.
- will engage with European and national standard setters and stakeholders by the end of 2016 to agree on criteria to prioritise European service standards.
- will launch a targeted review in 2017 to gather information on existing national rules and practices for authorisations on standards and certificates, with a view to promote best practices and remove barriers.
- recommends that CEN issues an annual list of areas of potential conflict or duplication between national service standards or potential gaps where European service standards could be developed, and identifies whether there are any areas impeded by the absence of linked product and service standards.
- recommends to national standard setting bodies that when developing a national service standard, they should consider the European dimension and whether it might be better to develop a European service standard instead.
- recommends to Member States to explore the use of European service standards, when introducing or reviewing legislation involving market access conditions in service sectors.
In addition, the availability of information on standards and related requirements will be improved through the Single Digital Gateway proposed in the Single Market Strategy.
These measures are designed to complement work that the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) is doing in order to develop a strategy for European service standards for the end of the year, as well as to ensure more general improvements as regards the standardisation processes.
How will the guidance make a difference?
Together with the above initiatives, the guidance and proposed approach will:
- provide greater clarity on service standards and how they can be used;
- help the Commission and standard setters to identify problems and gaps where European service standards could be most useful;
- encourage more effective and targeted development of European service standards in the areas where they can be most beneficial to businesses and consumers;
- help remove or reduce national barriers faced by service providers, and
- promote greater awareness of standards.
What are the next steps?
The implementation of the new approach starts immediately. In the coming months, the Commission will engage with standard setters and stakeholders to refine and agree the approach for promoting the greater development and use of European service standards. In 2017 the Commission will launch a targeted review of national rules.
What is the position of the Commission on Open Source Software and Standard Essential Patents?
The European Commission supports Open Source Software (OSS) with funding under the EU research and innovation funding programme Horizon 2020, and has called for greater use of open source elements by better integrating open source communities into Standards Development Organisations (SDOs)' standard setting processes, notably for cloud computing. It has a dedicated and publicly available Open Source Software strategy in place for its own use.
The Commission intends to provide guidance to ensure that the licensing frameworks for essential patents used in standards (Standard Essential Patents - SEPs) can continue to bring benefits to innovation and implementation of new technologies such as 5G or the Internet of Things. It seeks to incentivise R&D investments by ensuring that patent holders are able to obtain a fair return on their investment, while promoting effective access to technologies and interoperable solutions at the same time.
It should be noted that royalty-free licensing agreements for SEPs are a type of FRAND agreement, not an alternative, according to the principles of the Regulation 1025/2012 on European standardisation. Where patent holders and licensees can agree on royalty-free terms, the Commission welcomes such agreements.
The Commission does not prescribe business models in the market, be they built on open source, or on for-money licensing arrangements.
What is the interaction between the standardisation process and research?
The Joint Initiative on Standardisation (JIS) will better align standard setting priorities with research and innovation, with support from the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020.
Efficient anticipation and planning of standardisation through R&D are important. In fact, foresight studies can help to anticipate the need for standards development, by linking emerging technologies, their research needs for future products and processes to the definition of policy. A recent foresight study of the Joint Research Centre investigated the future industrial landscape and areas of improvement for the ESS to fulfil the future needs while respecting the core value of the system. The JIS explores how the gap between research and innovation priorities and European standardisation could be analysed in a more systematic and forward looking way to finally bridge it more effectively so as to generate an early standardisation reflex in R&D work and its absorption by the ESS to better support the marketing of innovative products and services. This will help align priorities with standards developments and testing activities supported in particular by the Horizon 2020 programme.
The JIS sets out a vision and aims at modernising the way standards are produced in Europe. It will in particular focus on key elements: promoting faster standards development, closing the gap between research priorities and European standardisation, clearer prioritisation, and stronger international presence.
Public-private partnerships and other large scale, industry-driven research initiatives enable European companies to link their research to standardisation. There is a need for further collaboration between the relevant stakeholders, including European industry, European and international standardisation bodies and forums aiming at comprehensive standardisation roadmaps.
Why has the Commission already adopted a Communication on ICT Standardisation Priorities?
This package is a complement to the Commission Communication on ICT Standardisation Priorities for the Digital Single Market (DSM) adopted on 19 April 2016. It is the response to the announcement made in the DSM strategy to launch an integrated standardisation plan to identify and define key priorities for standardisation with a focus on the technologies and domains that are deemed to be critical to the DSM: 5G, cloud computing, internet of things, data technologies and cybersecurity.
The aim is to ensure that ICT-related standards are set in a way that is more responsive to policy needs, agile, open and more strongly linked to research and innovation. The process to set this up will make use of the European Standardisation System and will involve a wide range of stakeholders to ensure delivery of improved standard-setting processes, in line with the Joint Initiative on Standardisation.