Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Report of the European Parliament's IMCO Committee on the “Future of European Standardisation”

In late June I was invited by the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) of the European to a hearing on European standardisation – see my blog entry on the event. This was part of the Committee's work on a report on the “Future of European Standardisation (2010/2051(INI))”.

The draft report as put together by Edvard Kožušník, the rapporteur, has been available on the committee's web site since mid August. This week discussion in the IMCO Committee on the report continues with the objective to reach a final version.

The report is very comprehensive and covers a full range of aspects around the current European standardisation system. It especially focusses on CEN, CENELEC, the National Bodies and their processes and structures. ETSI with its highly successful mixed model of direct membership and national representation comes a bit too short in the draft report and in the discussions.

The draft report very much focusses on preserving the current system. It is not visionary or forward looking. I appreciate that the current strengths of the European standardisation system need to be preserved – and I would add: in some cases even strengthened, e.g regarding improved transparency and the possibility for all interested stakeholders to follow standardisation activities and provide comments. Yet, I believe that there are challenges ahead of us that require a bit of new thinking and punctual reform. Globalisation and the increasing importance of global standards is one such challenge; the high potential for innovation by integration of technologies and the role of standards as facilitators ensuring interoperability is another; and the role of standards in policy making in general is an important third example.

Similarly, the urgent needs of the ICT sector for standardisation reform are not dealt with. While the report acknowledges the Commission's ICT White Paper the recommendations given, in this case in particular recommendation 28, are solely focussing on the current status quo. To be very clear: the transfer of specifications from fora/consortia to international standards organisations or ESOs is already possible today. But is very obvious that there are many instances where this does not work and is, therefore, not sufficient for effective policy making and public procurement as far as a global technology like ICT is concerned. Given the fact that the ICT sector has been identified as the sector where change in standardisation policy is most urgently needed, this is a strong deficiency of the draft report. This is probably the most important point that could be fixed by the Committee this week.

Some important aspects around this fora/consortia discussion:

  • a large part of the most relevant and broadly implemented standards in ICT are developed by so called fora/consortia outside of the formal standardisation system;
  • when talking about such fora/consortia in the ICT sector we talk about well-established global organisations operating with highly open and transparent processes and with a broad global membership including large and small companies, public authorities and academia (to be very clear: closed private clubs are out of the scope);
  • since the standards from these fora/consortia are widely used and implemented globally (and relevant) there is no need and no added-value for transferring them into formally recognised organisations; after all, transferring includes additional overhead and administrative work and there are some issues like different IPR regimes that have sometimes been impossible to solve;
  • so bottom line: many well-established and relevant ICT standards will not become formal standards but will be need for effective EU policy making, for innovation and for public procurement;
  • all of this has been taken into account in the proposals made by the Commission in the ICT White Paper.

My wish-list, at first stage, for the IMCO committee and its report is pretty simple:

  1. Welcome the ICT White Paper, express support for it and urge the Commission and the Member States to work on its implementation;
  2. State the need for processes that enable direct referencing of ICT fora/consortia standards in EU policies and public procurement provided that these standards meet a set of well defined openness criteria like the attributes of eligibility laid down in the ICT paper;
  3. Support the implementation of a multi-stakeholder platform on ICT standardisation as advisory group to the Commission.

Finally, it is worth noting that these fairly moderate changes to the European standardisation system as expressed in the ICT White Paper are globally seen as a very innovative and forward-looking step taken by Europe. Europe should work hard to keep this leadership role and strive for the fast legal implementation of a new, modernised ICT standardisation policy now.

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