The Joint Initiative on Standardisation in the Single Market Strategy
Standards play an important role in the Single Market/European Economic Area (EEA). A standard is voluntary in use and sets out requirements for a specific item, material, component, system or service, or describes in detail a particular method or procedure. Standards facilitate trade by ensuring the compatibility and interoperability of components, products and services. They bring benefits to consumers and businesses in terms of improving safety, enhancing performance and reducing costs.
The European Standardisation System is facing new challenges such as the fast-changing nature of the economy, the impact of information and communication technologies, and the growing importance of services. In October 2015, the Commission adopted the Single Market Strategy in order to modernise and revive the Single Market while improving its functioning. The Commission acknowledged that the challenges for the European Standardisation System were increasing and therefore included modernising the system as one of its key actions.
Producing timely and market-driven standards in an inclusive way and consolidating Europe’s leadership in international standardisation will help to overcome some of the current economic challenges and further contribute to creating jobs and growth. The Commission has therefore proposed to update the existing public-private partnership between the Commission and EFTA on the one hand and the European Standardisation Organisations (ESOs) and standardisation stakeholders on the other through the development of a high-level political consensus document entitled the “Joint Initiative on Standardisation”.
An editorial committee, consisting of the Commission, the EFTA Secretariat, the three ESOs (CEN, CENELEC and ETSI1), member States, national standardisation bodies and various stakeholder organisations and business representatives, is working on developing this high-level document through consensus. It will consist of political principles and commitments supporting the Junker Commission priorities, as well as concrete actions to be delivered by 2019. The actions will focus on issues such as how standards can better support innovation, how collaboration among the various actors that develop standards can be improved, raising awareness of the important role that standards play and international aspects of standardisation.
The committee has planned a series of meetings for the first half of 2016. EFTA is participating actively in these meetings and holds the secretariat to the joint initiative. An agreement is expected to be finalised and signed in Amsterdam in June under the Dutch Presidency of the EU on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Dutch national standardisation body, NEN.
The European Standardisation System
European standards are developed by the ESOs. The EFTA States participate in European standardisation activities through their national standardisation bodies (Liechtenstein participates via the Swiss national standardisation body). The national standardisation bodies of the EU and EFTA States, which are members of CEN and CENELEC, are obliged to withdraw any conflicting national standards once an equivalent European standard has been developed. This obligation ensures the existence of common European standards and prevents the development of competing national standards which could create technical barriers to trade. ETSI, in which the EFTA States are also active, is based on direct participation.
The majority of European standards are market driven and initiated by business. Nevertheless, the European Standardisation System has a unique feature because of the existence of harmonised standards. In line with the Standardisation Regulation, once it has consulted with the Member States, the Commission has the possibility of inviting the ESOs to draft harmonised standards in support of EU harmonisation legislation. Harmonised standards represent around 20% of European standards and not only offer a technical solution, but also provide a presumption of conformity with legal requirements of the relevant EU legislation (e.g. the Toys Directive). Through the EEA Agreement, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway adopt the same legislation, while Switzerland harmonises its legislation through its bilateral agreements with the EU. Harmonised standards remain voluntary in nature and a producer or service provider can therefore also demonstrate conformity with legislative requirements through other means.
EFTA’s Role in Standardisation
Standardisation policy falls under the responsibility of the EFTA Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade, in which the four EFTA States discuss and exchange views on policy developments. Through close cooperation and dialogue with the Commission and the European standardisation community, the EFTA States and the EFTA Secretariat play an active part in standardisation work at European level.
The origins of the cooperation with the EU date back to 1984 with the signing in Luxembourg of a declaration between the then European Economic Community and EFTA on broader cooperation between the two sides. This support has since been laid down in the general guidelines for cooperation among EFTA, the Commission and the ESOs. A key aspect of this cooperation is the parallel financing by the Commission and EFTA of standards-related work carried out by the ESOs. EFTA also co-funds the work of organisations representing small and medium-sized enterprises, and consumer, environmental and societal interests in standardisation.
1 The European Committee for Standardization (CEN), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).