Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Still open: EU public consultation on reform of European Standardisation System

The European Commission is moving on with it's agenda regarding the revision of the European Standardisation System. Following the EXPRESS panel and its report and the work on the obligatory Impact Assessment which the Commission has had done over the last two months, a public consultation was launched some weeks ago inviting everybody to give input on the revision of the European Standardisation System. The consultation is still running until May 21.

Just to remind everyone: like EXPRESS this consultation is not specific to IT and communication technologies (ICT), it covers the full spectrum of standardisation. On the other hand, the Commission is explicit that this consultation is not meant to repeat last year's consultation on the ICT White Paper and thus the specific ICT issues that had already been addressed are excluded from this new exercise. This does, however, not mean that the consultation is irrellevant for ICT. Far from it, it asks several questions about standardisation and the European Standardisation System that are of high importance for anyone interested in standardisation – including ICT. 

In the context of this consultation some public debate has built up on the reform of the European Standardisation System – including a lot of speculation and a good deal of FUD. Partly this may result from the options which the Commission had drafted as the basis for the Impact Assessment study. Some of these options would, indeed, mean a fundamental restructuring of the European Standardisation System, if not an abolishing of the current system. And partly it may result from the fact that the Commission has not yet presented a precise outline on which changes are actually being considered; the questions of the current consultation only give some vague hints and leave a lot room for interpretation. The best overview can be gained from the Roadmap the Commission has drafted up.

I always like a vivid debate. Makes things more exciting than just silence and stiff exchange of positions. But for sure the facts need to correct, the style needs to be professional and the overall attitude needs to be democratic, i.e. respect others and their opinions, as well, listen and be open for new arguments. Openness might, in fact, be a key aspect in the overall debate: openness for new things, for innovative add-ons to the current system. In my personal resumee on the EXPRESS report I blogged about what I believe was not considered in the required detail yet and what is important for standardisation in Europe. Overall the system in Europe works well. But it is the pivotal improvements that are required for future success. And for the ICT sector the Commission's ICT White Paper provides highly innovative proposals for urgently needed improvements.

In my opinion the following aspects are most critical regardnig the revision process of the European Standardisation System:  
  1. Fast revision of ICT standardisation policy: The Commission needs to go for the revision of ICT Standardisation Policy as laid down in the ICT White Paper last year soon as possible. The ICT White Paper presented a consistent programme for change and received broad support in the public consultation. The changes are highly critical for effective innovation policy making and in general for innovation, competitiveness and growth in Europe.
  2. Separate revision of horizontal standardisation system and ICT policy: The revision of the ICT standardisation policy should be decoupled from the horizontal review of the European Standardisation System. They are different in scope: While the horizontal review is concerned about the development of standards in support of regulation and legislation, the focus of the modernising of the ICT standards policy is about the use and implementation of standards for promoting interoperability and competitiveness. 
  3. No need to fundamentally reconstruct the current system, but a need to innovate: The current European Standardisation as governed by Directive 98/34 works fine. What is important, though, is that there are some specific, innovative, pivotal improvements that make the system fit for the next decade, in particular for coping with all challenges of globalisation. The future European Standardisation System needs to be flexible enough for reacting to global (and other) trends effectively and without coming into a deadlock.
Everybody still has the chance to submit innovative ideas in the context of this consultation. It will be very interesting to see all the submissions once they are published on the Commission website. In my opinion the Commission is well set-up for taking the necessary steps for innovative reform of the European Standardisation System. ICT could move ahead fast with a focus on the implementation of standards. This would manifest Europe's global leadership in standards policy.

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