European Commission reports on European standardisation system: EBC calls for greater discussion & coordination to continue the successes

On 22 November, the European Commission published the communication “Harmonised standards: Enhancing transparency and legal certainty for a fully functioning Single Market”, highlighting the success of standardisation in developing the Single Market and proposing further improvements to the standardisation process. EBC welcomes this Communication and agrees with the success of standardisation achieved to date, but calls for greater discussion and coordination of all stakeholders in the process to continue the successes.

The New Approach, launched in the 1980s, represented a major triumph for the Commission and provided the framework according to which many thousands of harmonised European Standards (hENs) were written, published and applied. It allowed standards to be market-driven and, crucially, it allowed those best able to draft standards (mainly industry and those using them) to do so.

The Commission will prepare a guidance document to further clarify the roles and responsibilities of the different actors during all stages of the harmonised standards development. EBC welcomes this initiative, and requests that due account is taken of the legitimate interests of all stakeholders, not only regulators, in the process. EBC welcomes, too, the many references to SMEs, their role in the standardisation process, the need to ensure their increased participation in standards-writing and their importance to the EU economy in general.

The Communication calls, repeatedly, for ‘legal certainty’. EBC supports the need for clarity of the roles and obligations of all stakeholders in meeting EU regulatory requirements, but underlines that legal texts provide legal certainty; voluntary standards provide one effective and efficient way of satisfying the clear legal provisions.

Four proposals for action are suggested. The Commission will:

  • use its best endeavours to eliminate the remaining backlog of uncited hENs. EBC fully supports this and recalls that progress in standardisation is based on compromise and consensus;
  • review its decision-making processes to streamline the publication of references to hENs. EBC welcomes this, too, but underlines that standards are voluntary means of meeting legal provisions, not legal provisions themselves;
  • elaborate guidance implementing the Standardisation Regulation, in particular the roles and responsibilities in the development process of hENs. EBC has called for more clarity on roles, especially of contractors, but also proposes that, while legal texts cannot easily be changed, standards are flexible tools which can be rapidly and efficiently adjusted as needs arise;
  • reinforce the system of consultants to support swift and robust assessments of hENs. EBC welcomes the work done by consultants, but believes closer work with Technical Committees to guide them at an earlier stage would be helpful.