Beefed-up standards good for competitiveness

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Series Details Vol.10, No.44, 16.12.04
Publication Date 16/12/2004
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By Peter Chapman

Date: 16/12/04

PAN-EU standards should be bolstered to help Europe bridge the competitiveness gap with its faster growing rivals.

EU ministers will drum home the message at next week's Environment Council (20 December), endorsing plans drawn up by the Dutch presidency.

Ministers will call for "more extensive use of standardization in European policies and legislation".

"European standardization can make a valuable contribution to the implementation of the Lisbon [Agenda] objectives, particularly in improving the competitiveness of European industry and businesses," the document prepared by the Dutch says.

The European Commission calculates that EU-wide norms already add 1% to the EU's gross domestic product. But the governments will not promise at this stage to stump up extra cash for EU recognized standards, which allow companies and their products to cross borders easier.

Instead, they ask the Commission, EU and national standards bodies to look at ways to improve efficiency in delivering standards that industry needs on time "and to ensure viable financing".

European employers' organization UNICE recently criticized standards' bodies for failing to respond to industry needs rapidly enough.

Currently, EU standards groups - such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) or the European Standardization Committee (CEN) - draw much of their budget from EU coffers. They carry out work in areas where EU norms help companies to comply with the Union's legislation, for example to ensure products are safe and can work together.

If firms meet the standards they are deemed to be in conformity with EU legislation. Standards are also being rolled out as a way of avoiding detailed legislation.

Despite their pledge to boost the role of standards, governments say they do not want to make EU norms compulsory. Instead, the service sector, should be encouraged by the market potential that they offer.

Services make up 70% of the EU's economy. Yet, a Commission report on standards shows that the availability of standards in the service sector "lags considerably behind the economic importance and potential of this area".

Preview of a Council meeting taking place on 22 December 2004 where ministers are expected to agree on the extension of EU-wide norms in a move to increase competitiveness.

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