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Updated 05/2016

Updated 05/2016

Standardisation in Europe

Standards and other standardisation publications are voluntary guidelines providing technical specifications for products, services and processes (from industrial safety helmets to quality service levels for language courses, or chargers for electronic devices). Standards are sometimes referenced in legislation — in such cases a standard may become a preferred way or, in some specific cases, even mandatory in order to comply with the legislation concerning e.g. safety or interoperability requirements.

What are European Standards?

For a standard to become a European Standard (EN), it has to be adopted by one of the European standardisation organisations (ESOs).

How does the standardisation system work?

Standardisation comes from voluntary cooperation among industry, business, public authorities and other stakeholders (research communities, organizations representing consumers, social and environmental stakeholders).

At National level, standardisation is managed by the National standardisation bodies (NSBs) who adopt and publish national standards.
At European level, standardisation is coordinated by the three officially recognised independent European standardisation organisations:

These organisations work in cooperation with the National standardisation bodies, industry and other relevant members or partners of the ESOs.
European standards are usually developed on the initiative of the stakeholders who see a need to apply the standards. About a fifth of all European standards are developed following a standardisation request (mandate) from the European Commission to the ESOs.
When European standards are adopted, the NSBs must transpose them as identical national standards and withdraw any conflicting national standards.

Harmonised standards

Harmonised standards are a specific category of European standards which support the application of EU legislation for products and services.

How are harmonised standards established?

The European Commission makes a standardisation request to one or more European standardisation organisations (ESOs). The harmonised standard is developed following the acceptance of the standardisation request by one or more ESOs.
If the harmonised standard complies with the requirements of the EU legislation, its reference is then published in the Official Journal of the European Union providing a presumption of conformity.

What is the link between harmonised standards and legislation?

  • Technical requirements given in EU legislation are mandatory, while the use of harmonised standards is usually voluntary.
     
  • Harmonised standards detail the technical requirements that a product or a service must meet according to the requirements as formulated in EU legislation.
    • An example of a technical requirement: it is mandatory for a pill box to be child proof.
       
    • An example of a harmonised standard: the lid can only be opened with a push-down function.
       
  • By applying harmonised standards for products or services, manufacturers or service providers benefit from a 'presumption of conformity' — a product or a service is presumed to comply with legal requirements dealt with in harmonised standards.   Manufacturers may choose any technical solution to fulfil the requirements set out in the relevant EU legislation.

Is there a link between CE marking and harmonised standards?

Some benefits of using standards

  • Standards ensure the safety and interoperability of products while enhancing their performance and environment friendliness. For example, standards may:
    • address the size of toys with respect to the age of the child
       
    • advise on the volume of water needed for a washing machine to perform its washing programme, while ensuring it does not waste water,
       
    • advise on the size of the rail tracks to ensure the safety of trains

All these aspects build consumer confidence.

  • Standards help protect workers' and consumers' health and safety as well as the environment:
    • European standards support food hygiene regulations by providing classification and test methods for materials in contact with food
       
    • Tools and equipment that are designed and tested according to European standards give better protection for professionals such as fire-fighters, hospital staff and police forces
       
    • European standards provide measurement methods which help to monitor and control air pollution in the ambient air
       
  • Standards boost confidence in business as:
    • Compliance to standards makes products and services comparable and compatible
       
    • The use of standards demonstrates business' commitment to quality, safety and reliability
       
    • Standards avoid uncertainties and duplications
       
  • Standards open up new markets, thanks to the high level of alignment of European standards to the international standards, which greatly supports global competitiveness for European businesses. European standards are also used in many countries and regions of the world. Compliance with European standards therefore may facilitate the introduction of products and services in those countries where European standards are used.
     
  • European standards facilitate communication, e.g. through the harmonization of safety signs and symbols used in work areas, in public places and on products.

There are thousands European standards (EN) and they are listed on the websites of the European standardisation organisations: CEN , CENELEC , and ETSI .

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