The strategic importance of a harmonised standardisation system to preserve EU industrial competitiveness

The European standardisation system underpins Europe’s economy funding pillar, the EU Single Market, and is essential to competitiveness and innovation. The EU Standardisation Strategy, foreseen to be published today, is rooted in these premises.

The European standardisation system underpins Europe’s economy funding pillar, the EU Single Market, and is essential to Europe’s competitiveness and innovation. Addressing all arising bottlenecks delaying or jeopardising its correct implementation, is therefore of critical importance to ensure the EU remains a relevant actor in the global arena. The EU Standardisation Strategy, foreseen to be published today, is rooted in these premises. Whilst there is an agreement around reaching this overarching target, there are yet numerous challenges that risk remaining unanswered. 

By design, the rationale behind the EU Single Market entails bringing down barriers and simplifying existing rules to enable the so-called “four freedoms” – the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. For European industries, this translates, at large, into easier and cheaper businesses across borders. While many benefits come with the Model, Member States are given an ineluctable responsibility to ensure the proper working of the common market. Yet, there are plenty of examples of mounting practises and initiatives in the EU that would instead harm its functioning. Arguably, “the increasing number of local initiatives and regulations at the national level risk creating barriers to the free movement of goods and undermine the very funding principle of the Single Market,” explained Paolo Falcioni, APPLiA Director General. Particularly, “the home appliance sector has been keeping track of numerous disruptive proposals that are already setting up trade barriers.” From the Triman Logo in France and microplastics filters in France and Luxembourg to stricter resource requirements on local producers and electronic equipment put forward in Portugal, “these divergent rules should be discussed at the European level to avoid fragmentation on the market and allow the industry to adapt accordingly,” detailed Falcioni. The EU Standardisation Strategy should spell out these issues and contribute to provide a clear solution. 

In this context, harmonised European standards, referenced without undue delay in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), are, in fact, crucial to Europe’s market power and a pillar of its Single Market. They are fundamental in reaching core policy objectives and are an indispensable tool for raising product safety and environmental performance, while driving innovation, competitiveness, sustainability and consumer protection. Creating a link between legislation and products, standards should function as market-driven implementation tools, generating a competitive advantage for European businesses. While a lot has already been achieved,  “a key challenge remains that of a timely listing in the Official Journal of the European Union,” highlighted Falcioni. In fact, this step is vital to ensure industries can properly enforce new laws, while guaranteeing a level playing field for all sectors. Current bottlenecks in the process therefore risk weakening the coherence of the Single Market, ultimately sapping EU industrial competitiveness. 

In its priorities, the EU expresses the need to become more strategic in its approach to new technologies, innovation and industry. With this in mind, emphasis is placed on the leading role of the Single Market in setting global standards, with an eye at strengthening the EU's strategic autonomy and industrial competitiveness. To this end, “identifying good performance indicators assessing the effectiveness of the process is key to ensure speed and quality and avoid undermining the rollout of innovative technologies,” pointed out Mr Falcioni. In the route towards global standard leadership, the fast delivery of standards is indeed essential.

From climate neutrality to digital leadership, standards are crucial for economic growth and innovation and are fundamental to achieving Europe’s objectives. However, many of these will be missed if Europe is unable to implement and benefit from a harmonised European standardisation system. “As a sector, we have been regularly raising concerns regarding the need for legislation to be discussed at the European level first,” stressed APPLiA Director General, shedding light on the observed trend of national initiatives endangering the functioning of the EU Single Market. This, together with the implementation of effective and high-level quality standards is crucial to secure EU industrial competitiveness and ensure continued value from standardisation.