Thursday, 12 January 2012

EU Draft Regulation on Standardisation – a glimpse into the ongoing debate in the European Parliament

Entering into the new year the discussions and decision making in the European Parliament on the EU draft regulation on standardisation continues at full speed. I am trying to follow it from the outside as good as I can. And I must say the high level of the debate is impressive. The discussions are very informed and going into a level of detail that reflects the fact that the Parliament has been dealing with the topic for a long time recognising the high importance of standardisation for the economy and for innovation and growth in Europe. And I very much appreciate the high level of transparency in the work of the parliamentary committees where work is regularly documented.
Just before Christmas the committees involved completed their draft reports and opinions. Naturally enough, the passages in the draft regulation on ICT, in particular Chapter IV consisting of Articles 9 and 10, are always part of the debate. After all, ICT is of major importance for innovation, and the draft Regulation takes notice of that by proposing some changes to European standardisation in order to make global ICT specifications available for use in Europe in order to promote interoperability. And a good number of people are afraid of these changes and heavily lobby against them. But the good news here is that apparently everybody in Parliament agrees that it is necessary to have ICT fora/consortia specifications available for Europe and that, therefore, a process to recognise them – as proposed by the Commission – is urgently needed.
Looking at the draft report from ITRE (Committee on Industry, Technology and Research) – which is available on the ITRE website – I have the following comments on the amendments proposed therein:
  1. Amendment 23 (on Article 9 of the draft Regulation)
    This is where I have the strongest concern. The amendment proposes that for every single act of recognising an ICT specification from a forum/consortium an “examination procedure referred to in Article 18(3)” should be applied. In fact, this is a rather complicated procedure since Article 18(3) points back to Regulation 182/2011, Article 5, which, in turn, points back to the Treaty on European Union, Article 16(4) and (5). I did not check with any legal person, but what I understand is that the procedure would mean that for every single ICT recognition of a fora/consortia specification a formal voting process amongst Member States is required including some weighted voting and a blocking minority.
    I believe this is far too heavy a process for the actual objective to be achieved. The issue to be solved is that the global ICT specifications which are anyway used everywhere are available for public procurement and for including in policy making – not in regulation (i.e. in New Approach directives). In other words: public authorities need to be able to say that they need TCP/IP, HTML, XML, UBL etc. in their tenders. And public authorities need to be able to include such specifications in innovation policy, e.g. when wishing to push new technologies like smart grid, eHealth, eMobility, etc. There is no way to avoid such specifications, anyway. But there is a need for clear guidance regarding their recognition for use in the public sector.
    What the Commission proposes is that the new ICT Platform will provide advice to the Commission regarding the assessment of the fora/consortia specifications in question against the criteria listed in Annex II of the draft Regulation. Via this process it will ensured that all stakeholders are in involved in the consultation because they are all part of the ICT Platform – including Member States, industry, ESOs, SMEs, users. This should be sufficient to ensure an informed decision by the Commission regarding the fulfilment of the criteria of Annex II. There are enough checks and balances so that, in my opinion, an examination procedure according to Article 18(3) is not needed. I hope that ITRE will review this and reach the same conclusion. What Europe needs to be successful in ICT is a clear and lean process that will successfully be used to the benefit of Europe and of innovation.
  2. General comment: too much weight on the European Standards Bodies (ESOs):
    I highly value the ESOs and their role and work. And, no doubt, the ESOs should play a key role in consulting the Commission regarding the development of EU policy priorities and the impact and requirements on standardisation. However, the ESOs are not a government agency or a formal government institution – yet, my impression is that this is the way they are considered in a number of suggested amendments.
    The ESOs are platforms for industry and other stakeholders for developing standards and specifications in support of the harmonised common European market. And standardisation is voluntary, which is a further key principle. Therefore, in my opinion, the currently proposed amendments should be reviewed avoiding that the ESOs are pushed into a quasi-governmental role in controlling policy making. That's not what they are there for. And for consultation it should primarily be the actual stakeholders in standardisation that are considered alongside using the expertise present in the ESOs.
The discussion will definitely continue. It will be interesting to see the next steps. After all, this is an important legal proposal that needs to last for the next one to two decades. It needs to be strong enough to ensure an efficient and effective standardisation system for Europe, and innovative enough for coping with the challenges of a more integrated and global standardisation ecosystem.

See also my previous posts on the topic of the EU legal package:

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