On 25 October 2012 the European Parliament and Council of Ministers adopted a new Regulation on European Standardisation (Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012).
ANEC welcomes the commitment of the Regulation to support the continued financing of the representation of the public interest - including consumer protection - in the European Standardisation System, and to set political expectations for the strengthening of the voice of societal interests in the standards development process.
Why is it important?
Although European standards are the foundation on which the Single Market for products has been built over the past 20 years, CEN, CENELEC and ETSI are private associations in whose work the societal interest may not be naturally represented. Through the Standardisation Regulation, the European Institutions have recognised the value that societal stakeholders can bring in the development of European standards, especially noting the will of the first and second Single Market Acts to extend the formal use of European standards to the field of services, and to broader European public policies.
Despite the national delegation principle in CEN and CENELEC bringing a strength to the European Standardisation System, consumer representation in standardisation is weak or fragmented in many countries, as confirmed by the Access to Standardisation Study done for the European Commission in 2008/2009. ETSI does not provide a special category for consumer representation and, although ANEC is a full member, it is considered an ordinary Belgian member with a single vote in the ETSI process (compared with the 45 votes awarded to the largest multinational companies).
In its Annex III, the Standardisation Regulation recognises categories of European association that represent stakeholders often absent from the process at national level, or who have special economic and political value. Consumers, as represented by ANEC, are one category. This recognition enables the continued public funding of these associations by the European Union, and their participation in European standardisation directly at the European level.
What are its implications?
The Standardisation Regulation also sets an expectation that the participation of the experts of these associations in the standards development process be made “effective”. This follows some orientations of the European Parliament’s Resolution of 21 October 2010 on the future of European standardisation which we helped to shape.
Such a strengthening is long overdue given that our participation has always helped to achieve the broadest possible relevance of European standards. In anticipation of the adoption of the Regulation, ANEC, ECOS and ETUI have been working with CEN and CENELEC to define what “effective participation” could comprise.
What do we expect?
Without effective consumer representation in the writing of standards, products will not be as safe, as interoperable, as accessible or as sustainable as they could be. Of course, it is not the interests of business to ignore the needs of consumers if it wants to sell its products and services, but our experience is that business tends to focus on the needs of the mainstream or “average” consumer - where costs are often lowest and profits highest - to the detriment of vulnerable consumers: those who are young, old or disabled. When standards are used for legislation or other public policy objectives, it is essential they take account of the needs of all consumers.