The various discussions about the legal package on standardisation reveal that there seems to be a lot of uncertainty about what policies are – especially since the Commission proposes changes for ICT to enable direct referencing of ICT fora/consortia standards in EU policies. There is confusion with legislation, regulations and directives – and more.
In general, this might not be surprising because the term “policies” is hard to translate from English into several of the European languages. In German, for instance, we don't have a really equivalent expression. Sometimes we use “Politik” as in “Industriepolitik” (industrial policy) or in “Innovationspolitik” (innovation policy). Many times, however, we need work-arounds in the tranlsation which don't make a proper and clear understanding easier.
In the Communication “A strategic vision for European standards” (COM(2011)311), which is one of the two essential parts of the legal package, the Commission expresses at the very beginning that “European standards and standardisation are very effective policy tools for the EU” (1.1).
A bit further down, in section 3, the Commission elaborates that
“In areas of high political and economic importance, standards can be used strategically to accelerate the development of innovative solutions, including through the deployment of ICT. In the twenty-first century Europe faces a number of strategic challenges, in particular in areas where standards have particularly strong potential to support EU policy, such as consumer protection, accessibility, climate change, resource efficiency, security and civil protection, protection of personal data and individuals' privacy and the use of ICT for interoperability in the Digital Single Market. […]“European standardisation can support legislation and policies on climate change, green growth and can promote the transition to a low carbon and resource efficient economy.”
Finally, in section 6 on ICT, the Commission announces that “In EU policies, the Commission will increasingly use selected ICT standards that comply with the same set of quality criteria, in particular when the interoperability between devices, applications, data repositories, services and networks must be further enhanced.” (Action 20)
In other words, a policy in this context is an instrument for promoting technologies and objectives of key public interest (like interoperability). Especially in innovation policy – as a sub-interest of industrial policy in general – do modern ICT technologies and interoperability play a key role. And especially there are ICT specifications from global fora/consortia critical because you cannot build a single ICT system without using these specifications. And the same is true for all systems that integrate ICT technologies like all of the e* and smart* areas, e.g. eHealth, smart energy, eMobility, intelligent transportation, etc.
I recently showed this slide below which helped to create an understanding why it is important to have ICT specifications from fora/consortia available for direct referencing in policies:
Today global ICT specifications from fora/consortia are critical especially in those areas where a lot of potential for innovation is in the integration of technologies and thus in the combination of standards. If Europe wants to take leadership in innovation policy in such areas it needs to be able to directly reference the required standards and specifications in the respective policies. And this means the full set of all required standards and specifications – not just a subset produced by the ESOs or so.
Therefore, the Commission proposal for changes to ICT standardisation in Europe and the strategic directions as given in the Communication (as quoted above) entirely make sense. And more: they are an essential part of the legal package and deserve full support.