Brexit and standards update

It looks like we have more of an idea where we are heading, than the last time we looked at Brexit and Standardisation (here) and (here) so time for a quick recap.

We will start with something easy – on the 25th November 2016 – since our post on CEN voting maths – ISS, the National Standards Body of Serbia joined as full member.  (This comes in direct support of the negotiations for Serbia’s accession to the EU).

As a reminder of the main points, CEN (European Committee for Standardization) is an association that brings together the National Standardization Bodies of (now) 34 European countries. It is a private non-profit organisation – outside the European Union, but with a mission to support the economy of Europe in international trading.  The full members of CEN are the National Standardization Bodies of the countries that are member states of the European Union (EU) and other countries that are part of the European Single Market, or are well on the way to being so in future. So Switzerland, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey are full members, but not with the same voting power as European single market (EU and EFTA) members for the harmonized standards.

There is such a thing as affiliate membership, which grants participation in the General Assembly and in technical bodies, but no voting power.  These are countries recognized as a candidate for potential EU membership by the European Council so the UK, after Brexit, would not easily fit into that category. The affiliate members currently represent: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Moldova, Republic of Montenegro, Morocco, Serbia, Tunisia and Ukraine.

The National Standardization Body of the UK is the British Standards Institute (BSI) – without a change in the statues of CEN we are looking at having less influence on European Standards than Azerbaijan and Egypt.

This is pretty important for at least three reasons. Firstly, these European Standards are useful and, effectively, unavoidable if you are selling onto the European single market – and indeed for may aspects of trade within the UK thanks to factors like contractual requirements, insurance terms, industry codes of practice and compatibility with other products and services.  We can’t just “go back to using British Standards” because the British Standards are, by and large, the European Standards.

We can pick a few bits of informative text from oral evidence submitted to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, on 10 January 2017.  You can watch video here.

Dr Scott Steedman CBE is Director of Standards, British Standards Institution (BSI), and here are some of his words.  The full context is lost by having cut out the quotes, but you can check the full transcript here (but please note this is the “uncorrected transcript”).

“One of the critical points I would like to make this morning is that the concept of  voluntary consensus industry standards is not well understood in the UK. Lord Livingston of Parkhead has described standards as “soft power”, but in the UK standards are frequently confused with regulation, and their true potential for stimulating economic growth, trade and innovation is generally not recognised.”

“I like to say that standards are written by people for people. BSI does not write standards; we maintain the neutral, independent platform for those standards to be written and for the UK to exert international influence. We publish around 2,500 codes, guides and specifications every year. Critically for any discussion about Europe, we withdraw around 1,500 standards every year that are no longer needed by the market or are conflicting with existing standards.”

“The essential quality of the international standards that the UK seeks to influence is that they are respecting the WTO principles of full stakeholder engagement, open public consultation and consensus. They are used in a small proportion by Governments and regulators to support regulation through co-regulation or as an alternative regulation for a compliance function, but their most important function in the vast majority of the international standards landscape is defining what “good” looks like and supporting industry and business to work better. Standards are a cornerstone of global trade and they underpin the UK economy—a fact that is not widely understood. The independent economic report by the CBI a couple of years ago recognised standards, in the general sense, as contributing 28.4% of UK GDP growth; a significant chunk that we need to be exploiting more fully. So they provide an underused tool for the UK science community to project their work internationally”

 “[CEN and CENELEC] are private organisations that co-ordinate the activity of the 34 member nations and they are not controlled or owned by the EU. The EU uses the European standards system from time to time to invite industry to develop voluntary standards that it may use in connection with the delivery of policy through co-regulation or as a means of compliance in the European system, but the critical point is that the UK, along with many countries of the world and certainly European countries, is committed to what we describe as a single standard model. I mentioned earlier that we withdraw standards in the UK that are no longer needed by the market. That is because we have a single standard model on any business or industry issue, and this is the global system of the adoption of international standards. It is very important to encourage countries all around the world to use an international standard.”

“The relationship between the UK and the European institutions is through our role in the governance of the structures of CEN and CENELEC and our membership of ETSI and the relationship of them as private industry organisations, member-led, with the European Commission in participating in, supporting and delivering European policy through the medium of industry standards.”

“Over the past 30 years, the number of national standards in use by industry and business in the European area has reduced from about 160,000 to under 20,000. That is a remarkable simplification of the business landscape that has been achieved through those co-operative mechanisms. About a quarter of those 19,000 or 20,000 European standards are used in association with European regulation—but only about a quarter; the vast majority are simply business-to-business activities.”

“In terms of the future relationship and our influence within CEN and CENELEC in particular, our membership of CEN and CENELEC depends on continuing to meet the requirements set out in the statutes. There is no requirement set out in the statutes for membership of a country in the UK’s position post-Brexit, so there will be some work to do, potentially. UK industry and consumers tell us that they want to continue to work in the single standard structure, the international model. The risk is that moving away from that into any fragmentation of standards within the UK would make our position within the CEN and CENELEC organisations very difficult to sustain. That would not be in industry’s interests or consumers’ interests, either, so one hopes that that would be obvious to everybody.”

“In that situation, our expectation is that BSI will continue to maintain full membership of CEN and CENELEC on behalf of the UK so that UK experts can continue to participate in the European standards committees and in the influence that brings on the European Commission activities in the early stages, where there is often quite considerable dialogue about new directives and new policy directions and the role of standards in supporting or providing alternatives to future European policy direction. So full membership of the UK in CEN and CENELEC, for me, is absolutely critical, and all the stakeholders we have talked to since June have emphasised that very strongly with me, and I look forward to continuing on that path.”

Lord Mair asked “Are you saying that, in the worst case, and there might be a worst case, BSI would not be permitted to be a member of CEN?”

Dr Steedman replied “The statutes of CEN refer to members being members of the European Union, EFTA or members that are, in the French word, “susceptible”, which is alternately translated as “likely” or “capable”. I would not like to rely on either of those words to defend UK membership; I would like the full support of our European partners. We will have an advisory committee that will be launched fairly shortly within the CEN and CENELEC community. I will be part of that committee and I would like to discuss with them what the options are for the UK in the future. It may be that no change is required to the statutes, but, in any event, the relationship is such that, when a member changes status—Spain recently changed its standards structure and Serbia recently joined the system, so there are 34 countries in the CEN and CENELEC system: the EU countries, and EFTA, Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey—the European Commission has a factual check to carry out that the CEN and CENELEC organisations can still comply with Regulation 1025 because, otherwise, that would be a breach. The UK is clearly extremely pre-eminent in its obligations under Regulation 1025, and we would continue to be so anyway, but the Commission would need to satisfy itself that the new status of the UK did not present a risk of breach of the CEN and CENELEC organisations against Regulation 1025. So there is a little bit of work to do there.”

Lord Mair asked “Is there a possibility that that all might fall on stony ground?”

Dr Steedman replied “I think it is a very low possibility, frankly, because we are not only a leading player in the European system, along with our colleagues, particularly France and Germany, but we are a leading participant in the European system and we bring a lot of expertise, permanent membership and so on. I do not think it is in our colleagues’ interests from an industry and science perspective that we are excluded from that group. UK science would continue to need to use all these European standards, and I would need to continue to provide them through BSI for UK industry to use. Bearing in mind that we work together at the international level, it would seem pragmatic to find a solution to maintain the UK’s membership of CEN and CENELEC, but it is not a definite.”

It looks more certain now that we will need this pragmatic solution – but in any regard it is inevitable that we lose some of the (significant) power we currently have when it comes to harmonized standards for our main trade partners.


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