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The role of European standardisation in the framework of European policies and legislation

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The role of European standardisation in the framework of European policies and legislation

European standardisation is a back-up instrument to European policies in view of its consensual nature which allows different economic operators to compare products and services and make them compatible within the internal market. It is also a powerful factor. Given its effectiveness for the free movement of goods, it is gradually being extended to the whole of the internal market, but there is still room for progress. It is also capable of being extended beyond the internal market. Although it is voluntary, all stakeholders should be more actively involved.


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, of 18 October 2004, on the role of European standardisation in the framework of European policies and legislation (Text with EEA relevance) [COM(2004) 674 final - Not published in the Official Journal]


The Commission evaluates European standardisation on the basis of the Council Resolution of 28 October 1999 and its conclusions of 1 March 2002. The Commission takes stock of the situation by reviewing its scope and assessing the needs of European standardisation policy.

Standardisation is a basic and effective tool of European policies aimed at:

  • carrying out "better regulation", i.e. the policy seeking to simplify and cut down on legislation both with regard to enlargement and to updating and simplifying the acquis;
  • increasing the competitiveness of enterprises;
  • helping to remove barriers to international trade.

Thus, in the context of the internal market, it is an essential tool under the New Approach which undertakes efforts to harmonise essential product requirements. It has made a significant contribution towards ensuring the free movement of goods.

In the field of industry, standardisation is particularly beneficial in terms of added value and goes beyond just supporting European legislation. Standards do in fact make it possible to increase competitiveness and ensure interoperability, without diminishing quality. All stakeholders are urged to help develop standards. This is especially the case in areas such as:

  • the internal market for goods and services. European standardisation should be promoted and improved. The Commission encourages the harmonisation of quality marks and certification systems by means of a coherent system of common European quality marks. This system would help avoid the current dispersion resulting from national marks. Similarly, standardisation activities should be carried out to make the free movement of services a practical reality, given the economic importance and scale of this sector. The Commission urges ESOs to press on with their efforts to develop a European programme and identify priority areas;
  • innovation. There is a need for clear common standards as a source of the most up-to-date technical knowledge and as a market-based instrument. Standards constitute a common trading language, as typified by the GSM and GALILEO projects. Standards thus play a crucial role in investments in R+D by businesses;
  • information and telecommunication technologies (ICT/IT). Standardisation helps avoid the fragmentation of markets. As this is also a constantly evolving area, standards can help promote interoperability. Standardisation itself should therefore evolve and adapt to new forms of ICT/IT. The Commission will seek to initiate a strategic review, together with Member States and stakeholders. This review will look at all the players involved and the specifications of the IT sector in order to come up with an appropriate response to the challenges.

Standardisation can also help support societal needs, such as:

  • the environment. The Commission has already adopted a position in favour of the integration of environmental aspects into standardisation, and thus supports sustainable development;
  • accessibility for all. Standards should be an instrument for making society and the economy more inclusive;
  • policies relating to security, fighting terrorism and crime prevention where standardisation can provide obvious support.

Despite the progress made, there is a need to improve and strengthen European standardisation and its institutional framework. Standards should be more widely used. In its conclusions of 1 March 2002, the Council advocated the continued use of this approach. Efforts should continue to be made to make more extensive use of European standardisation beyond the field of the single market in goods, on the basis of the benefits it has brought in this area, taking into account the specific nature of each policy area involved. This process will be guided by three key objectives: efficiency, coherence and visibility.

Improving the efficiency of European standardisation entails :

  • developing standards within a reasonable period of time;
  • the better organisation of ESOs. Given that standards are of a voluntary nature, the ESOs are best able to come up with appropriate responses to meet the challenges. They should therefore step up coordination for subjects of common interest;
  • the involvement of all interested parties in the standardisation process. The interested parties are not well enough represented, either at ESO level, or within standardisation bodies in the Member States. Greater involvement would help enhance the strategic value of standardisation for competitiveness and for its uniform application.

It is imperative that the institutional framework of European standardisation be reformed. To this end, the Commission proposes the creation of a legal basis for the financing of European standardisation. The standards part of Directive 98/34 establishing an information procedure in the field of standards and technical regulations also needs to be revised.

With respect to the creation of a legal basis for the financing of European standardisation, the Commission will put forward a legislative proposal which will take account of all standardisation activities and needs. The reform of the financing of European standardisation will be based on three key elements:

  • greater involvement by all parties concerned;
  • co-financing by the Commission;
  • the co-responsibility of the Member States.

Finally, the financing of the central infrastructure of two ESOs - the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) - needs to be secured. All interested parties should contribute towards financing more than under the current system in which the EU and the national standardisation bodies are the main contributors.

There is also a global dimension to European standardisation. The WTO Agreements on Technical Barriers to Trade and the co-operation and partnership agreements between the European and international standards organisations provide regulatory frameworks. The Commission, in co-operation with the ESOs does, for example, promote the use of international standards and their transposition in the EU. The ESOs ensure that they conform to the objectives of European policies.

The visibility of European standards also needs to be raised at global level. European standardisation is in fact a powerful factor on the international stage. It helps strengthen the competitiveness of European industry, particularly by opening its markets. The European system of standards therefore needs to be strengthened, and to do so a sufficient infrastructure at European level is essential. All interested parties should be involved in this.

The Commission proposes drawing up an Action Plan to develop new initiatives on European standardisation, in conjunction with Member States and stakeholders.


Commission staff working document, of 18 October 2004, on the challenges for European standardisation [SEC(2004) 1251 - Not published in the Official Journal]

This working document accompanies the Communication and envisages a whole series of initiatives to meet these challenges. It is specifically aimed at all stakeholders in standardisation.

See also

For further information, please consult the Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General website.

Last updated: 10.05.2005