EU standards encourage innovation

Written by Marlene Mizzi on 11 April 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

Standards are of paramount importance and must be developed in close partnership with all stakeholders, says Marlene Mizzi.

Marlene Mizzi | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


Standards are all around us. We use them in everything we do, without realising it. As a result, we take standards for granted and rarely appreciate what is really behind their existence and development.

We actually use standards in all aspects of our daily lives - in healthcare, food, cars and transport, construction, furniture, cosmetics, energy and most products and services. Standards are a necessary component and a mechanism for guaranteeing that products can work with each other.

Without common standards, technologies, products and services would not integrate smoothly and reliably. For example, a very important standard that we use on a daily basis all around the world is that for wifi, which helps us connect easily to the internet with our digital devices, wherever we go. Without established and applicable standards in the field of communication, such connectivity would be impossible.

Standards can reduce costs and enhance performance for businesses, improve health and safety for our citizens, protect consumers and raise their confidence, increase sales and accelerate the take-up of new technologies by boosting competitiveness and innovation.

Standards encourage innovation and increase awareness of technical developments and initiatives. These provide a solid foundation for companies to develop new products and services and improve existing practices.

In other words, standards matter and are of paramount importance for our society. They can achieve all of the above and even more, but it is important that they are developed in an efficient European standardisation system, based on a close partnership and cooperation between all stakeholders.

We all need to work together in a standard development system that is founded on inclusiveness, openness, transparency and consensus to make them more efficient and sustainable.

Industry, public authorities, standardisation bodies, consumer and environmental organisations, trade unions and NGOs must all be involved if standards are to be applied efficiently and effectively.

I believe that the most successful standards are those that have the broadest support from citizens, consumers, workers and SMEs. In order to gain their support, their opinions must be taken into account when developing standards. 

This is even more important when standards are developed for products and services that can affect directly the health, safety and wellbeing of people. This is the main thrust of my draft report in the internal market and consumer protection committee.

A standard fit for the 21st century needs to be a standard that protects all stakeholders, taking into account their vulnerabilities and addressing future challenges. The report acknowledges the importance and the unique nature of the European system in integrating societal stakeholders and SMEs concerns in the European standardisation process.

However, there are still a number of challenges that need to be addressed, notably on inclusiveness, openness, transparency of the systems, without of course, undermining all the work that has been done by companies and standardisation bodies for the development of standards.

We also need to acknowledge that the standardisation environment is changing rapidly, becoming global and digital. Recent convergence of technologies and the digitalisation of society, businesses and public services blurs the traditional separation between general standardisation and ICT standardisation.

We need to pay greater attention to interoperability and ICT standards, recognising that each play a key role in the future digital transformation of the European economy. With the development of ICT standards, the question of licensing essential patents is also becoming increasingly relevant.

Having open standardisation processes based on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing terms that address the legitimate interests of both the developers and potential licensees is important. This ensures that standardisation is undertaken on a level playing field, where companies of all sizes can collaborate in a mutually beneficial manner.

We also need to pay greater attention to the fact that the standardisation environment is also becoming more global.

Therefore, we need to promote European standards and the European standardisation system at a global level. European interests need be taken into account when international standards are being developed and adopted, particularly where the international standard will have direct impact on our consumers, business and workers in Europe.

It is important to maintain a European leadership position in the technical development of standards and to promote Europe as a hub for global standardisation.

European standards, adopted at a global level, will not only boost the competitiveness of our companies and businesses, but will also safeguard worldwide the high level of consumer, environmental and social protection, which has been achieved in Europe.

The increasing reference to standards in European legislation and policies in areas of public interest makes it more important than ever to ensure that standards are robust and serve the interests of both industry and all members of society. The involvement of all stakeholders in developing and promoting standards is key to attracting the support needed to successfully implement standards.

 

About the author

Marlene Mizzi (S&D, MT) is Parliament's rapporteur on European standards

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