Standards and the digitalisation of EU industry: Economic implications and policy developments

Briefing 27-03-2019

Industrial production, both globally and in the EU, is undergoing a radical digital transformation. New advanced manufacturing techniques rely primarily on innovative digital technologies, which cannot work in isolation, but are based on connected ecosystems delivering collective technological breakthroughs. All of these new technologies essentially rest on an interconnected 'smart world', where objects, machines, people and the environment are increasingly closely interlinked. The timely and harmonised adoption of technical standards is likely to play a pivotal role in this context. Standards can facilitate the ongoing digitalisation of industry by promoting compatibility and interoperability between products and processes; they can also transfer information between economic agents or machines, while guaranteeing minimum levels of quality and safety. Crucially, standards can also become accelerators of change, by promoting innovation and the uptake of new digital technologies. The EU has long recognised this key role of standards in the overall efforts to remove barriers and unlock the growth potential of the economy. Yet, progress in new technologies around the world is accelerating exponentially, and the development of new standards in the field is increasingly taking place outside Europe. This trend could undermine the EU's future comparative advantage and weaken the competitiveness of European industry in the long term. It therefore calls for a coordinated effort to develop European technology standards that are not only more responsive to policy needs but are also agile, open, more strongly linked to research and innovation, and importantly, better joined up.