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Public consultation on Standards in the Digital Single Market

On 5th February 2016 the European Commission (EC) published the results of the public consultation on Standards in the Digital Single Market: setting priorities and ensuring delivery. A total of 156 replies were received from individuals, SMEs, large enterprises and industrial associations, global and regional standardisation organisations and technical standard setting fora, public authorities, research centres. 

In its Analysis of the role of standards in meeting the goals of the Digital Single Market Strategy (DSM), the Commission invited stakeholders to provide input on priority areas for standards development, having already identified 10 key domains and a set of subdomains. Most importantly, the public consultation sought to understand what “concrete actions” stakeholders expected to be taken by the Commission in addressing ICT standardisation. The envisioned actions included, among others, mandate to European standardisation organisations (ESOs) for fast delivery of needed standards and specifications, foster cooperation among standard development organisations (SDOs), support research to contribute to standardisation, support public-private partnerships, increase strategic coordination, ensure consistent applications of existing standards. 

As a result of the consultation, the Commission reported that “the need to define priorities to organise standardisation work effectively [was] clearly supported by stakeholders” and that “[t]he majority of respondents also agreed on the importance of setting priorities to pursue European global leadership and on the need of reinforcing European presence in global standardisation.” In particular, the EC highlighted the responses received to question 1.5 which asked what would be the most effective intervention instrument (Regulation, Mandate, Communication, Recommendation, Rolling Plan) at the EU level to ensure the development of standards and specifications in identified priority areas. An EU mandate received the highest number of respondents, according to which 34 thought that this would be very important instrument, while another 34 ranked it as important, and 13 as useful. 

While internet standard setting organisations such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) both agreed on the crucial role of ICT standardisation for the EU DSM Strategy and the economy as a whole, they were cautious about the establishment of mandates and time-tables for standard development. In line with the nature of decision making in these organisations, the W3C noted that time-frames should be kept “flexible as normally, deadlines don’t work well in a consensus driven process.” Moreover, the IEEE did not specify any preferred instrument for EU involvement and instead noted that “[a]n effective instrument would be to define and publish the European Requirements so that ICT standards setting organisations can determine if and how they may be able to contribute.” In addition, the organisation refrained from listing priority areas for standards development. Similarly, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), refused to prioritise any particular sub-domains, reasoning that a selection between 800+ members’ priorities and agendas would not be appropriate.

Having said that, the W3C found EU support useful. The organisation noted that without the EU support the international standard setting fora’s “priorities [would] be mostly set by the industry, with no guarantee of alignment, either in technical functionalities, or in timing. Support [would] enable W3C to “herd the cats” and encourage, create discussion platforms, workshops to build momentum around a certain objective.” In relation to this, the W3C pointed out the “decisive influence” of the Commission in the Do Not Track specifications and their use in the EU. The W3C urged the EC to promote further participation of the EU SMEs in global standard setting fora.