Standardisation within Europe is a voluntary cooperation amongst consumers, industry, public authorities, social partners and other interested parties, organised by independent organisations recognised under European Law (Directive 98/34/EC). European standardisation has made great contribution to the implementation of European policies and legislation over several decades, referring to the European single market legislation based on the “New Approach”, a concept that covers major part of industry and consumer goods. The role of European Standardisation in support of EU legislation has been confirmed in the legislative package (Decision No 768/2008/EC, Regulation (EC) No 765/2008) providing for the marketing of products, and the new proposal by the European Commission designed for a modern, integrated standardisation policy (planned to come out in April 2011) will consolidate the existing legislation and, for example, extend it to service standardisation.

The European Commission proposal for a new Europe 2020 economic strategy emphasises the importance of innovation for achieving EU’s strategic objectives of smart, inclusive and sustainable growth, and in this context indicates that ‘speeding up setting of interoperable standards’ is a crucial factor in order to improve framework conditions for business innovation.

Standards thus enable dissemination of knowledge, interoperability between new products and services and provide a platform for further innovation. For example, the opening of the telecommunications market combined with the GSM standard laid the foundation for Europe's success in mobile phones. But standards can play this useful role only if they keep pace with the development of new technologies. The rapid shortening of innovation cycles and the convergence of technologies across the boundaries of the three European Standards Organisations are a particular challenge. If not able to adapt, the European standardisation system risks becoming irrelevant with companies turning instead to other instruments (as could be seen in the ICT sector) or worse could start to work as a brake on innovation. The crucial questions that were raised during the debate are:

  • What are the most serious barriers to the use of Standards by enterprises? Costs of operational implementation? Access to Information? Knowledge of existing standards?
  • What are the standards organisations doing to help facilitate access to their products and processes by all, including SMEs and societal stakeholders? Can they improve further? How can European standardisation collaborate better with standards consortia and industry groups, to reduce fragmentation and provide standards usable in cross-border contexts?

The K4I Forum dinner debate on “European Standards in Support of Innovation” was a unique opportunity to bring together the representatives from the EU institutions, member states, industry, and the academia to raise crucial questions and awareness of the European Standards in support of innovation.