Small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs, can now help shape the process of standardisation. Standards will be drawn up more quickly and transparently to further a recent reform of the European standardisation system.
It will also be easier to use global standards in the fast-growing field of information and communication technologies, or ICT, which is crucial to ensuring interoperability. Many ICT standards are not made by the European standardisation organisations but by other organisations known as fora and consortia. Public procurers can now use such standards provided a quality check is undertaken.
Furthermore, the new regulation will promote greater involvement of consumer and societal organisations in standardisation activities so as to introduce improvements in products and services for certain groups such as the disabled and elderly. Finally, the reform reaffirms the possibility to use service standardisation as a policy tool to support EU legislation.
The essential elements of the current system are kept – for example, the voluntary and industry-led approach and the primacy of international standards. However, the reform brings refinements, creating a more effective, efficient and coordinated system.
Standards – a driving force in the economy
The primary objective of standardisation is to define voluntary technical or quality criteria with which manufacturers, production processes or services may comply. Thus standards are a driving force behind the creation of the internal market for goods. European standards replace national and often conflicting standards, which may create technical impediments to market access.
Standards usually increase competition and lower output and sales costs, benefiting economies as a whole and consumers in particular. Moreover, they enhance quality and ensure compatibility, thereby increasing the safety and well-being of citizens.
Studies show the impact of standards on GDP growth. For France this is estimated at 0.8%, for the UK at 0.3% and for Germany at 1% of GDP. The German Institute for Standardisation, or DIN, estimates that in Germany alone, standards generate up to € 17 billion a year.
Harmonised standards drawn up by the European standardisation organisations, or ESOs, are open to voluntary use by manufacturers throughout Europe in order to fulfil legal product requirements. The European Commission regularly requests that ESOs develop new standards.
A tool for innovation and competition
Standardisation can provide an essential contribution towards innovation and competitiveness by facilitating access to markets and by enabling interoperability between new and existing products and services. It brings significant positive economic effects by stimulating the development of new and improved products or markets and better supply conditions.