Standardization is a voluntary process of developing technical specifications based on consensus among all interested parties: industry, including small and medium enterprises (SMEs), consumers, trade unions, environmental and other non-governmental organizations, public authorities, etc. Standardization in Europe is implemented by independent standards bodies, acting at national, European and international level. While the use of standards remains voluntary, the European Union has, since the mid-1980s, made an increasing use of standards in support of its policies and legislation. Standardization has contributed significantly to the completion of the Internal Market in the context of the “New Approach” legislation, which refers to European standards developed by the European standards organizations (CEN, CENELEC, ETSI). Furthermore, European standardization supports European policies in the areas of competitiveness, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), innovation, interoperability, environment, transport, energy, consumer protection, etc. Standardization is an important policy instrument facilitating international trade, competition, and the acceptance of innovations by markets.
European standards are market driven and any stakeholder affected by a standard can have a say in its development. Technical committees drawn from representatives from businesses of all sizes, government, trade associations, research environment, as well as society at large determine the contents of standards. Industry is a key player – whether as a direct member of the process in ETSI or through the national delegations in CEN and CENELEC. The participation of ‘societal’ stakeholders in the standardization process brings a strong and important dimension of accountability. The European consumer voice in standardization (ANEC),European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) and European Environmental Citizens Organization for Standardization (ECOS) play important roles in European standardization. These parties represent consumer, trade union and environmental interests. The public authorities are also key stakeholders in this field; they act as drivers for standardization through legislation, standardization mandates and public procurement calls and policy. They provide significant funding to standardization, both for the ESOs and the NSBs.
Standardization mandates are the mechanism by which the European Commission requests the ESOs and their members to develop and adopt European standards in support of European policies and legislation. Draft mandates are drafted by the Commission services through a process of consultation with a wide group of stakeholders. Before being formally addressed to the ESOs, they are submitted for consultation to the Member States in the Standing Committee of the 98/34/EC Directive. The ESOs, which are independent organizations, have the right to refuse a mandate if they do not think that standards can be produced in the area being covered. In practice this refusal scarcely happens thanks to the prior informal consultation mentioned above.
There are three types of mandates:
- Study mandates to check the feasibility of the foreseen standardization work;
- Mandates requesting the elaboration of a standardization programme and
- Mandates for the development and adoption of European standards.
As innovation is an essential driver for the development of standards, improving links between standardization and research and academia is of high importance to standardisers; research projects need to have state-of-the-art information on standards available or under development; standards activity may itself generate the need for additional research, for instance into more appropriate test methods.
Developing European Standards
CEN and CENELEC are committed to articulating their work with international standards bodies ISO and IEC. In order to avoid duplication of work and support the harmonization of global markets, agreements were signed (Vienna Agreement between CEN and ISO, Dresden Agreement between CENELEC and IEC) in order to establish a methodology supporting this common wish. The result of this can be observed in the fact that 30% of CEN standards are identical to ISO standards, whereas 75% of CENELEC standards are identical to or based on IEC standards.
European standardization work begins with a proposal for a standard, which might come from a member of the European standards organizations CEN/CENELEC/ETSI, the European Commission, or another European or international organization. In most cases, it is the industry which is driving the European standardization work by submitting proposals according to their specific needs.
If the proposal is accepted, a sufficient number of national standards bodies or national committees agree to participate and adequate financial resources are available, CEN/CENELEC allocate the work to an existing working group of the responsible technical committee, or sets up a new working group with appropriate experts. One of the national standards bodies assumes responsibility for running the secretariat. In the absence of an international standard that can be adopted unchanged as a European standard, the responsible working group prepares a first draft (taking into account any international standards that have already been published on the subject). This first draft might be followed by others until a consensus is reached on making the proposal available for public discussion.
CEN/CENELEC begins the public enquiry by releasing English, French and German versions of a European draft Standard-(prEN). The national standards bodies have five months in which to send in their national view. The national mirror committee discusses all comments received and submits the consolidated national standpoint. On the basis of the comments received, the responsible working group formulates a final draft in English, French and German. In a formal vote over a two month period, the members then decide whether to accept this final draft as a European standard. In this case the draft must either be approved or, if not, then reasons for a negative vote must be given. Approval of the final draft is dependent on its receiving at least 71 % of the weighted votes of CEN members. If the content of the final draft Standard differs substantially from the first draft, in exceptional cases a second draft Standard is published and re-submitted to public enquiry.
In ETSI the standard development process is similar; the main difference is that in ETSI the individual members participating in the respective Technical Committee decide directly on new standardization work, and approve new ETSI standardization deliverables. The final decision is made through vote among all ETSI members.
Ratification of a European Standard (EN) takes place automatically one month following positive voting. After ratification a European standard must be implemented by the national standards bodies as a national standard, and any conflicting national standards must be withdrawn, thus there are no conflicting standards in the market. Since European standards are expected to be developed within a time frame of thirty-six months, each stage is to be completed within a set time, though it is possible to apply for an extension to this period. If work is not completed by the end of the set deadlines, the work item will be deleted.
There are other European standardization deliverables that differ from European standards in the way they are developed, the time frame for their development, and the degree to which they are binding: European Technical Specification; European Technical Report and Workshop Agreements. The vast majority of standards issued by ETSI are issued as ETSI deliverables: ES (ETSI Standards), EG (ETSI Guides), and ETSI specifications and reports.
A Technical Specification is a document, which may have the possibility of becoming a European Standard in the future, but which, for the present, has not received the required support for approval as a European standard, or regarding which there is doubt on whether consensus has been achieved, or whose subject matter is still under technical development.
A Technical Report is a document that contains informative material, such as data from a survey of national members or data on the current state of the art in a certain field.
A Workshop Agreement is developed by a workshop, which reflects the consensus of identified individuals and organizations responsible for its contents. The national delegation principle does not apply; participation in the Workshop is open to anyone, even non-Europeans. In contrast to purely industrial consortia, a Workshop is more open to participation and is closer to the standardization activities of CEN or CENELEC and their members.
Standards, their drafts as well as any other approved documents like Technical Specifications, Technical Reports and Workshop Agreements, can be purchased from the National Standard Bodies (NSBs) in case of CEN and CENELEC, or in case of ETSI downloaded directly and free of charge from its website.
Source of information on the proceedings of European standardization organizations, including listings of all National Members:
The Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry maintains a website with comprehensive information on the European standardization process and the cooperation between Commission and ESOs. For more information : http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/european-standards/index_en.htm