Standards are key to Europe’s recovery

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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The COVID-19 outbreak has wreaked unprecedented havoc on the EU’s economy and society: according to estimates by the European Commission, the EU’s GDP fell by an appalling 11.4% in the EU compared to last year. To mitigate its damaging effects, a collective effort is needed to provide innovative, long-term solutions – as acknowledged by the recently approved EU Recovery Plan itself. In this context, European Standards (ENs) have proven to be an effective tool to power Europe’s recovery.

In response to a request from the European Commission, CEN and CENELEC, two of the official European Standardization Organizations (ESOs), in collaboration with all their national members, took the unprecedented step to make freely available a series of European standards for medical devices, ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) used in the fight against the pandemic. These standards, previously developed thanks to the expertise of European industry experts, with contributions from users and consumers, have helped facilitate the work of the many companies which decided to reconvert their production lines to deliver tangible results quickly and ensure access to urgently needed equipment.

This has been made possible thanks to the commitment of all actors involved, in the framework of the so-called Single Standard Model: the national members of CEN and CENELEC (the National Standardization Bodies of the EU and EFTA countries) all make identical adoptions of one single European standards and withdraw national conflicting ones. This means that one standard is adopted by 34 countries, instead of having 34 different standards!

Furthermore, in order to avoid a fragmented response across Europe, CEN, with the full engagement of its National Standards Bodies, also developed a free guideline on community masks, CWA 17553:2020 ‘Community face coverings – Guide to minimum requirements, methods of testing and use’.

The decision to make these standards freely available is evidence of CEN and CENELEC’s commitment to provide sustainable standardization solutions for the current European recovery. The effectiveness of our common standardization response during this emergency is a clear proof of the strength and agility of the European Standardization System (ESS), and of its ability to power Europe’s resilience. A well-established public-private partnership, based on trust, consensus, transparency, and a single standard model, allowed our network of National Members to respond rapidly to the urgent needs caused by the pandemic.

In the past months, in close collaboration with the European Commission, the CEN and CENELEC community has worked on actionable solutions to allow manufacturers to use the right standards at the right time in their production processes. But more needs to be done, as challenges for Europe are far from over: most of the solutions to emerge from the crisis, kick start our economy, and establish Europe as a leader in sustainability and new technologies, as in the long-term priorities of the current Commission, require a strong Single Market based on trust and commitment from all actors. In turn, a well-functioning European Standardization System is a prerequisite for a well-functioning Single Market and a resilient and sustainable recovery process.

For this to happen, one of the most relevant steps is to allow the system to work in the right way. Primarily, this calls for urgently ensuring the correct application of the New Legislative Framework (NLF), with the timely citation of harmonised standards (hENs) in the Official Journal of the EU. As technical as it might sound, this issue has very practical implications in creating clear rules for the European industry, as correct citation ensures trust and certainty, thus supporting innovation and fostering global competitiveness.

For this reason, CEN and CENELEC call for a strong NLF, with trust in European standards, to be at the core of the EU Strategy for Standardization the European Commission is preparing for the end of this year.

As the COVID-19 crisis has shown, CEN and CENELEC are committed to provide sustainable standardization solutions to power the much-needed European recovery. European Standardization can provide a strategic lever and a catalyst in the EU’s twin digital and green transition; it provides support to the market, enables market transformations, facilitates trades and creates trust from consumers.

CEN and CENELEC are part of a dynamic ecosystem, a global standardization community that is constantly evolving in response to the ever-changing needs of our societies, a fast-moving global economy and the rapid rate of technological innovation. We are determined to be at the forefront of these evolutions and take on a progressive, leading role in the global standardization community in this key moments for Europe’s future.

In order to make all this possible, we are committed and willing to work together with the EU institutions to revitalise the European Standardization System, ensuring the correct application of the NLF to allow for timely, effective, voluntary and market-driven European Standards, to the long-term benefit of the whole EU.

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