EU Strategy on Standardisation. Setting global standards for a resilient green and digital EU

On the 2 February 2022, the EC presented a communication on “The New European Standardisation Strategy”[1], establishing a new approach to standards both at EU and global level. This new strategy plans to strengthen the EU’s competitiveness and encourage a resilient, green and digital economy while, at the same time, promote democratic values in technology.

Europe’s ambitions to create a resilient, green and digital economy will fall short if the necessary standards are defined by other regions in the world. Therefore, the ability to shape international standards is essential for the EU’s competitiveness, and it has become clear that the EU today faces a critical standardisation urgency. There are some areas where standards are needed to manifest the EU’s global leadership in green and digital technologies, as otherwise strategic dependencies may follow. Some “standardisation urgencies” have been identified at EU level in different strategic areas and these include COVID-19 vaccine and medicine production; recycling of critical raw materials (CRM); roll-out of the clean hydrogen value chain; low-carbon cement; standards for the certification of chips in terms of security, authenticity and reliability; and data standards enhancing data interoperability, data sharing and data re-use in support of the Common European Data Spaces. According to the new EU standardisation strategy, the Commission will put forward a set of measures in five different areas[2].

The first area, entitled “Anticipate, prioritise and address standardisation needs in strategic areas”, focuses on the need to speed up the processes related to the creation of standards and ensure the latter reflect the EU innovation and policy agenda. With regards to the “standardisation urgencies” previously introduced, the EC will act on them by (a) launching standardisation requests, (b) engaging with the respective stakeholders, and (c) supporting the work financially. Moreover, a High-level Forum will be set up to bring together representatives of the ESOs and National standardisation Bodies, Member States, and also relevant groups of stakeholders. This Forum will help “set priorities, advise on future needs, coordinate effective representation […] of international standardisation fora”. Moreover, it will promote the ideals of a greener, more digital, fairer and more resilient EU, also in standardisation activities.

Following, the EC will launch a review process of existing standards in cooperation with the High-Level Forum. This will help identify those standards that need revision, and where new ones need to be developed in order to meet the green, digital and resilient goals the EU has set across several programmes. In addition, the role of a Chief Standardisation Officer will be created to ensure proper guidance on standardisation activities across the EC.

The second area aims to improve the governance and integrity of the European standardisation system. As pointed out by the EC, EU standards play an important role as they (in)directly shape EU policy and legislation and must therefore be set by European players. To address this concern the Commission is proposing an amendment to the Regulation on standardisation to improve the governance in the European standardisation system. The latter will be further discussed in the following paragraphs of this paper.

The third area of intervention deals with the geopolitical implications of standardisation and is entitled “Enhance European leadership in global standards”. Here the EC intends to create a new mechanism to share information, coordinate and strengthen the EU approach to international standardisation between EU Member States and national standardisation bodies. The Commission will try to enhance cooperation and coordination between Member States and like-minded partners, and linked to this, the EU will sponsor and fund standardisation projects in neighbouring countries.

The fourth area revolves around innovation, whereby the EC will be investing in innovation projects in order to anticipate early standardisation needs. Moreover, a ‘standardisation booster’ will be launched to support researchers under Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe and, by mid-2022, a Code of Practice for researchers on standardisation will be initiated to strengthen the link between standardisation and research/innovation through the European Research Area (ERA).

Finally, the fifth area is entitled “Enable the next generation of standardisation experts” and will ease the generation shift in standardisation experts across the EU. To achieve this, the EC has committed to promoting academic awareness in the field of standardisation.

The new standardisation strategy was accompanied by three additional elements – (a) a proposal for an amendment to the Regulation on standardisation, (b) a report on its implementation, and (c) the 2022 Annual Union Work Programme for European standardisation.

Regarding the proposal for an amendment to Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012 on standardisation, it is important to recall the role of the ESOs. As set out in Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012, “European standardisation is organised by and for the stakeholders concerned, based on national representation (in the European Committee for standardisation, CEN, and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation, CENELEC) and on direct member participation (in the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, ETSI)”[3]. When a request for standardisation is presented by the EC, the only bodies that can issue a standard are three EU standardisation organisations – CEN, CENELEC and ETSI.

To understand why the EC decided to intervene on this regulation, we must look at when the system was created and how the geopolitical situation has evolved. When EU standardisation organisations were set up, in the 1980s, the system was focused on European stakeholders, but the situation has changed and today stakeholders are often based outside the EU. While the nationality of a stakeholder is not a problem per se, the EC points out that such cooperation is welcome but “safeguards are needed to ensure sound procedure and a balanced representation of stakeholders’ interests” and that especially “when the European standardisation organisations should focus on supporting EU legislation[4].

The new proposal will amend the existing Regulation so that mandates at the request of the EC to the ESOs will be handled by national delegates (from the EU and EEA Member States). The goal is to avoid any influence from actors outside the EU and EEA in the decision-making processes of standards for key areas (e.g. cybersecurity or data protection). The EC also calls on the ESOs to modernise their internal governance and intends to launch a peer review process across Member States and national bodies to achieve better inclusiveness.

More specifically, the EC proposed that Art. 10 of Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012 should be amended in two parts. First, in paragraph 1, the first sentence is replaced by the following: “The Commission may within the limitations of the competences laid down in the Treaties, request that one or several European standardisation organisations draft a European standard or European standardisation deliverable within a set deadline, provided that the European standardisation organisation concerned complies with paragraph 2a”. Second, another paragraph (paragraph 2a), will be added to Article 10: “Each European standardisation organisation shall ensure that the following decisions concerning European standards and European standardisation deliverables referred to in paragraph 1 are taken exclusively by representatives of the national standardisation bodies within the competent decision-making body of that organisation: (a) decisions on the acceptance, refusal and execution of standardisation requests; (b) decisions on the acceptance of new work items; (c) decisions on the adoption, revision and withdrawal of European standards or European standardisation deliverables.”

As mentioned above, the second addendum to the new standardisation strategy is the report on the implementation of the regulation[5]. It analyses both the existing and new implementation methods for each and every article of the regulation. When analysing Article 6 on the Access of SMEs to standards, for instance, the report recalls its third sub-paragraph (Article 6.3) according to which “NSBs shall prepare an annual report on their activities to encourage and facilitate the access of SMEs to standards and the standard development procedures”. Another example recalls that “the Commission has established a dedicated webpage for the notifications referred to in Article 12”. With regard to the implementation of Articles 13 and 14 on ICT specifications, the report refers to the setting up of a European Multi-Stakeholder Platform on ICT Standardisation[6] that will give recommendations to the EC on topics relating to the implementation of ICT standardisation policy. The report concludes its analysis by stating that the European standardisation system has improved in some areas, but others need more intervention.

The third and final element that accompanied the new EU strategy on standardisation is the annual EU work programme for European standardisation for the year 2022. The annual EU Work Programme is accompanied by an Annex which consists of an elaborate table with detailed references to all standardisation urgencies set by the Communication on the Standardisation Strategy, as well as action connected to the development and revision of European standards or European standardisation deliverables which are necessary and suitable for the support of Union legislation and policies.

 

[1]  EC COMMUNICATION – An EU Strategy on Standardisation Setting global standards in support of a resilient, green and digital EU single market, COM(2022) 31 final, available at: https://ec.europa.eu/docsroom/documents/48598

[2]  See: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_661

[3]  Proposal for a regulation amending Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012 on decisions of European standardisation organisations concerning European standards and European standardisation deliverables, available at: https://ec.europa.eu/docsroom/documents/48599

[4]  Ibidem, see: EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM.

[5]  Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the implementation of the Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012 from 2015 to 2020, available at: COM(2022) 30

[6] https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/expert-groups-register/screen/expert-groups/consult?do=groupDetail.groupDetail&groupID=2758

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