Why do we need standards?

What added value does a harmonious relationship between European  Standardisation Organisations (ESOs) and European Institutions bring to Europe?

What added value does a harmonious relationship between European  Standardisation Organisations (ESOs) and European Institutions bring to Europe? When it comes to the well functioning of the EU Single Market, the role of standardisation ensures the protection of consumers and the interoperability of products while allowing for cross-border trade, encouraging innovation and technological development, facilitating the growth of businesses and fostering the competitiveness of European industry. For over thirty years, the EU Single Market has built on the principle of sharing workload based on competence between the legislator and technical experts in European standardisation. First formalised in the 1980s, this approach was renewed in 2008 as the New Legislative Framework (NLF). As part of this, legislators set essential requirements based on societal needs, before EU standardisation bodies complete the circle by informing manufacturers on how to meet those requirements through harmonised standards. So far, this has proved to be a success story for Europe. 

The link between legal requirements and standards materialises through so-called ‘listed standards’, by publishing references in the Official Journal of the EU (OJEU), which ensures conformity with the legal requirements. Listed standards are key for the Single Market as they provide a common understanding of legal requirements across all Member States. The rising number of local initiatives and regulations at the national level risk creating barriers to the free movement of goods, casting doubt around the very founding principle of the Market. More listed standards result in a more robust and comprehensible legal framework to work under for manufacturers. At the same time, listed standards make the task of Market Surveillance Authorities easier, ultimately contributing to higher levels of compliance in Europe.

At present, the home appliance sector faces a challenge presented by the widening gap between standards and legislation. For example, the Low Voltage Directive 2014/35/EU which lists safety standards for all non-connected appliances, compared to the Radio Equipment Directive 2014/53/EU, which contains no safety standards for connected appliances, instead. Also, there are some difficulties and delays with addressing Formal Objections to the harmonised standards. To combat issues like these from further arising, we must work to preserve a legislative framework where essential requirements for products are worked in the legislative process and harmonised standards developed by European Standardisation Organisations via an inclusive and democratic process, to then be timely cited by the European Commission in the OJEU, under respective legislations while still remaining voluntary. Importantly, once cited, they aid Market Surveillance Authorities in monitoring products more effectively and function as a reference point for manufacturers to display compliance with the respective legislation, by providing the presumption of conformity. Moving forward, the Commission must ensure a maximum time frame for listing, or addressing formal objections and to transparently streamline the rules for publication. Implementation of these parameters keeps the competitiveness of the European industry, among others by  granting manufacturers presumption of conformity while ensuring product safety and securing consumer trust.

The implementation of effective and high-level quality standards is of utmost priority for Europe to secure industrial competitiveness with an eye to truly inherit the added value from an efficient standardisation process. In a nutshell, it is fair to say that a transparent and functional relationship between EU standardisation bodies and EU institutions should be a prerequisite to ensure a prosperous Europe for all stakeholders.