1. What are European standards ?
Standards are documented, voluntary agreements which establish important criteria for products, services and processes. Standards, therefore, help to make sure that products and services are fit for their purpose and are comparable and compatible.
This is equally true for European standards. However, for a standard to be European, it has to be adopted by one of the European standards organisations and be publicly available.
2. Where are European standards developed ?
European standards are developed in one of the three European standards organisations.
CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) deals with all sectors except the electrotechnology and telecommunication sectors.
Cenelec (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation) deals with standards in the eletrotechnical field.
ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) covers the telecommunications field and some aspects of broadcasting.
3. Who takes part in the development of European standards ?
As a principle, anyone who has an interest in, or will be affected by, a standard can contribute in some way to its development.
Depending on the organisation, people can either work at the national level to shape their country's input to the European work or they can represent their views directly at the European level.
Experts come from a wide range of backgrounds including industry, government, academic and special interest groups. One of the key aims of the European standards organisations is that the experts participating in their work should be representative and come from a variety of backgrounds. This helps to ensure that standards are accepted and used when they are published.
4. Why are European standards developed ?
European standards are developed when there is a significant industry, market or public need. For example, industry could need a standard to ensure the interoperability of a product or service. The market might use a standard to make sure that competition was fair. The public would benefit from a standard which improved the quality and safety of a product or service. European standards are also developed to help people comply with European legislation on policies such as the single market.
In fact, most standards are developed for a combination of reasons and give many different benefits to a variety of stakeholders.
5. Why are European standards important for the European Commission ?
European standards are powerful means of enhancing the competitiveness of enterprises in the EU. They can help to protect the health, safety and environmenent of Europe's citizens. Standards offer technical solutions to problems and facilitate trade and cooperation across the European Community. They help to transfer and disseminate technology to everyone's benefit. More specifically, standards can improve the effectiveness of important Community policies on consumer welfare, environmental protection, trade and the single market.
Standards and the single market - New approach directives
Standards play a useful role in helping to create the single market by supporting a series of legislation called new approach directives. This European-wide legislation sets the key requirements that products need to meet so that they can be sold across the whole European Union.
New approach directives are special in that they do not contain technical detail; they contain broad safety requirements. Manufacturers therefore need to translate these broad 'essential' requirements into technical solutions. One of the best ways that manufacturers can do this is to use specially developed European standards.
These standards are called harmonised standards and they are said to give a 'presumption of conformity' with the directive for which they have been written.
You can find out more about these standards and the New Approach by visiting this 'New Approach' website.
6. How does the European Commission support European standardisation?
The Commission promotes the voluntary use of standards where it thinks they can play a useful role. Industry and business are encouraged to use them where they help competition and improve quality or safety. Authorities are encouraged to use them if they help to implement European or national legislation.
The Commission works with all recognised standards bodies to pursue common goals such as openness, transparency and efficiency in their systems. It also helps the European standards organisations to interpret Community and international policies, such as those governing trade, where these are relevant to their work.
The Commission gives financial support to the secretariats of the European standards organisations and can also fund special groups to take part in standardisation to represent, for example, consumer, SME and environmental views. Where necessary, the Commission contributes towards the costs of developing some specific standards and often helps to fund related research projects.
7. How are European standards developed ?
In theory, requests for new strandards can come from anywhere and anyone. Once a request has been formally made, it finds its way through the different procedures and is given to the most appropriate committee. It is there that the decision is taken on whether a standard should, and could, be developed.
The flow chart below shows all the major stages in the development of a European standard.