A deal with the Council on a major overhaul of the EU standardisation system was unanimously endorsed by Internal Market Committee MEPs on Thursday. Under this deal, EU firms should get faster access to standard solutions to technical problems, enabling them to cut production costs, boost competitiveness and drive growth. Parliament also inserted a provision to step up the involvement of small firms and other stakeholders in developing standards, to ensure that they meet their needs.
"EU rules on standardisation spring from everyday experience and respond to practical needs. Parliament has fought to guarantee the participation of stakeholders - businesses, consumers, civil society and environmental organisations - in the process. Standards are user-driven tools and as such offer a very successful example of stakeholder involvement and legislation from the bottom up", said Parliament's rapporteur Lara Comi (EPP, IT) after the vote.
Standards are voluntary guidelines for manufacturers that provide technical or qualitative specifications for a vast range of goods or services, such as electronic device chargers and language courses, to ensure that they meet minimum requirements, e.g. for the safety or interoperability of products.
Speeding up procedures
The new regulation modernises the process whereby EU standards are developed. It lays down rules on cooperation among the various players in the system at national and EU levels (i.e. national and European standardisation bodies and the European Commission), so as to ensure a clear division of responsibilities, avoid administrative snags and prevent the emergence of incompatible or contradictory standards.
It stipulates that European standards prevail over national ones, sets concrete deadlines for developing standards mandated by the Commission and asks that annual work programmes be published for all standardisation bodies to ensure that the system works transparently and consistently.
Involving small firms and other stakeholders
Parliament pushed hard to step up the involvement of small firms and representatives of consumers, environmental or civil society bodies in developing standards, so as to ensure that the views of final consumers, in particular those with special needs such as disabled or elderly people, are taken into account and products meet their needs.
Parliament's key win in the negotiations was to include a "notification system" in the regulation to ensure that stakeholders are consulted at all development stages, taking part in the technical discussions, commenting on drafts and participating in the dissemination of both new and revised standards.
ITC and services
The deal also aims to spread the use of standards in the services sector, inter alia to improve the transparency and comparability of services, build trust and spur growth. It also includes an accelerated procedure for the information and communication technology (ITC) sector, to ensure product interoperability and encourage the rapid spread of best practice and innovation so as to enhance the EU's global competitiveness.
The new regulation modernising the EU standardisation system is the first of the Single Market Act legislative proposals to be adopted.
The agreement must still be finally approved by the Council and the Parliament as a whole. Parliament is to endorse the new regulation at the September plenary session in Strasbourg.
The regulation will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the EU Official Journal and will apply directly in all Member States from 1 January 2013.
For further details on what the new EU regulation on standardisation will mean for businesses and consumers and how it will affect sectors such as services and ICT, please see Q&A (link to the right).