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Outside influence over EU standards to be curbed

EU law is to be updated to curb outside influence over the development of EU standards, under plans put forward by the European Commission.

The Commission has proposed targeted amendments to the EU Standardisation Regulation after warning about the risk of “unrestricted participation” in internal decision making at the EU’s three standardisation bodies – the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), the European Committee for standardisation (CEN), and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC).

According to the Commission, the standards bodies have “have increased their co-operation with international and European stakeholders” in recent years. While this cooperation is welcomed because it “contributes to the transparent, open, impartial and consensus-built standardisation process”, the Commission said there is a risk “the interests, policy objectives, and values of the Union as well as public interests in general” may not be wholly factored into the decisions those bodies take if limits are not placed on the influence those external stakeholders have.

The Commission can ask ETSI, CEN and CENELEC to develop standards to support EU legislation and policy. It has proposed that major decisions those bodies make, including which Commission requests to accept and execute, and which standards to adopt, be “taken exclusively by representatives of the national standardisation bodies” that form the three organisations’ decision-making bodies.

If the proposal is implemented, it would mean profound change for the way the European standardisation organisations are governed.

ETSI, for example, which oversees the development of communications standards that are central to many business’ operations, has over 900 members from all over the world and who are able to participate directly in the standards-making process without having to be involved in a national standardisation body from an EU country. Those members decide ETSI’s work programme, how its resources are allocated and “make and set the standards”, according to the body.

Alongside its proposed changes to the Standardisation Regulation, the Commission has also published a new EU strategy on standardisation, acknowledging in particular that the present standardisation system does not cater well for SMEs in particular, or those involved with emerging technologies. Under the strategy, the Commission has committed to working with the EU’s three standardisation bodies to develop new standards in relation to the Covid-19 vaccine and medicine production, critical raw materials recycling, the clean hydrogen value chain, low-carbon cement, chips certification and data standards. It has described the need for standards in those areas as urgent.

The strategy also confirmed the Commission’s plans to establish a new ‘high-level forum’ to advise it and EU law makers on “future standardisation needs”. The forum is to be comprised of representatives of EU member states, the three EU standardisation organisations and national standards bodies too, along with members of industry, civil society and academia.

The Commission also committed to reflecting standardisation priorities in its annual work programme from now on.

EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager said: “Ensuring that data is protected in artificial intelligence or ensuring that mobile devices are secure from hacking, rely on standards and must be in line with EU democratic values. In the same way, we need standards for the roll-out of important investment projects, like hydrogen or batteries, and to valorise innovation investment by providing EU companies with an important first-mover advantage.”

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