In mid April the European Commission presented a package of Communications outlining its activities for further driving the Digital Single Market and the Digitisation. The package consists of four Communications: on priority setting for ICT standards, Cloud, digitisation of industry and on eGovernment and the European Interoperability Framework. They can be found on the Commission website.
The reception of these documents over the last weeks is rather broad, from enthusiastic welcomes of European leadership in key technology areas including standardisation to highly critical reactions including concerns that the Commission wants to eliminate open source and creates an environment that is unfriendly to innovation. The truth, as ever so often, is probably somewhere in the middle.
In my opinion the package, above all, puts the right focus on standardisation and adoption of new technologies for Europe. Especially the Communication on standardisation priorities identifies the key future technology areas as priorities: 5G, Cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, and cyber security. And the Communication rightly stresses that these areas are foundational for other policy priorities, as well, like smart energy, advanced manufacturing, eHealth, or Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS).
This Communication on standardisation priorities was well prepared by the Commission by gathering broad stakeholder input before with some specific advice given by the ICT Multi-Stakeholder Platform (MSP) and in a public consultation. Especially the first has been a great process of collaboration between policy makers and all stakeholders and can count as yet another example of the fruitful work that is done with the MSP.
All areas that have been identified as key priorities are largely non-regulated, market driven. Therefore the actions and activities are mainly industrial policy related, not regulation. It is the Commission's intention to set the right framework and to facilitate the uptake of new technologies for promoting a lead role of Europe within the global standardisation environment and for competitiveness on global markets.
Regarding the ICT sector more specifically the Commission should be applauded for recognising the importance of global standards development organisations (global SDOs – often referred to as “fora/consortia”). Many of the most successful and widely implemented ICT standards are developed for market use in these global SDOs like OASIS, W3C, IETF, IEEE or Ecma International and thus outside of the formally recognised international (ISO, IEC, ITU) or European Standards Organisations (CEN, CENELEC, ETSI – typically referred to as ESO). It is indeed paramount that the global SDOs and their deliverables are taken into account and are available for referencing in public procurement and in policy making in Europe. These are horizontal standards that form a basis for almost each and every new technology, and in fact they have actually been the enablers for these new technologies, making new systems and technology integration possible at all. This also shows once again how wise the European legislator was to allow for a formal identification of such global standards in Europe via the processes established and implemented with Regulation 1025/2012, Articles 13 and 14, and with the advisory role given to the MSP in this process.
The Communication moreover points at the right direction of leveraging the different available tools to implement priority setting and reach concrete actions: “The priorities selected will complement other standardisation instruments used to implement European standardisation policy. In addition to the planned Joint Initiative on European standardisation, th ese are the Rolling Plan for ICT Standardisation, and the Annual Union Work Programme. ” (COM(2016) 176 , Chapter 3.1, p. 6). In fact, new standardisation activities may not be needed much because the basic technology standard enabling the new technologies are available already and a lot of activities are already going on globally in different organisations. Well knowing about these activities the Commission also rightly puts some focus on facilitating dialogue and bringing different stakeholders players together which is clearly the right approach.
There are two major concerns I have heard being mentioned: One is that this Communication aims for too much political involvement into standardisation. I strongly agree that standardisation needs to be market driven and that policy makers should be careful not to duplicate efforts with standardisation requests and not to drive standardisation where there is no market need. But I would not interpret the Communication on standardisation priorities to be going into such a direction of increased interference of policy makers into technical standardisation in a way that goes against the market needs. Perhaps standardisation is slightly over-rated regarding its actual contribution to innovation and growth. Yet, over all, the Communication, in my opinion, takes a balanced approach towards leveraging standards and standardisation in support of policy objectives and of promoting the broad uptake of new, emerging and innovative technologies that are critical for the future of European economies and societies.
Another concerned I often heard is that the Communication on standardisation priorities is anti-open source. This claim is mainly based on the statement made in chapter 3.2 (4) of the Communication: “ICT standardisation requires a balanced IPR policy, based on FRAND licensing terms.” Indeed, this paragraph can be (mis)understood in a way that the Commission excludes Royalty free licensing models that are so important for Open Source communities being able to implement and make us of standards. People who know about the context of current debates around IPR policies, however, will well read this sentence and the entire paragraph against the discussions about possible improvements and clarifications around FRAND-based IPR policies. Yet, the Communication may well be criticised for not recognising the relevance and increasing importance of Open Source in the context of standardisation at all.
To sum up, I would take away the following aspects from the Communications as a basis for further work:
- There are key technology areas where it is important for Europe to take a leading role and to promote the uptake of new technologies as a basis for future innovation and growth.
- Standardisation plays an important role for these technologies. This is largely in the non-regulated domain with voluntary, industry-driven standards.
- Most of the standards are available already and have, in fact, been the enablers for the new technologies to evolve and to become possible at all.
- Global standards bodies, so called fora/consortia, have key impact on global standardisation and it is important to have the respective standards available for use in Europe.
- Governments can have some role in facilitating dialogue and bringing different stakeholders together in order to improve collaboration and avoid duplication of efforts.
That's my handful of take aways. Would you have the same?