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What are standards?

The formal definition of "standards" from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and its sister organization, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is "a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, that provides, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context.”  

Standards in Europe

There are mandatory standards which are enforced through a regulation or a directive (where “shall” is typically employed).  They represent about 20% of standards produced.  Products being put on the EU market must undergo conformity assessment by an EU Notified Body to demonstrate that they comply to the harmonised standard, examples would include Medical Devices as all medical devices are currently required to have a CE Mark on their product.  There are also voluntary standards which represent the bulk of current standards.  

Broadly speaking, there are 4 types of standards:

  • International standards
  • European standards
  • Harmonised European standards
  • National standards

Why are standards so important in the EU?

In the EU, a common regulatory framework ensures a level playing field.  Member States implement common rules and work to put in place a comon European standard framework which guarantees that no Member State can gain a competitive advantage by undercutting a common set of standards or regulations.

Brexit impacts on standards

Looking long-term, it is likely that internationally recognised standards will continue to be acknowledged and trusted all over the world as a mark of value, transparency and an assurance that a level of quality has been reached.  As trade becomes increasingly global, national standards will have less influence on trade with the emphasis moving to internationally recognised standards when agreeing trade deals.

No matter what form the final Brexit agreement takes, there will likely be repercussions on regulations and standards.  Impacts in regulations and standards will also be affected by changes in the overall trading environment and both products and services will likely be impacted.

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Harmonised standards are produced in response to a mandate from the European Commission to the European standards organizations, the Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).  When adopted, they are listed in the Official Journal of the European Union. Products within the scope of the relevant Directive produced in accordance with harmonised standards will enjoy a presumption of conformity with the relevant essential requirements (ERs).

European standards are voluntary recognised standards issued by one of the three EU standardization bodies (the Comité Européen de Normalisation [CEN], the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation [CENELEC] and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute [ETSI]) and are developed in conjunction with interested parties such as manufacturers etc.  They impose no obligation but indicate a recognised standard to which certain products should conform.  

International standards are standards adopted by an international standardization body such as International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).  

A national standard is a standard adopted by a national standardization body.

All standardisation organizations in Europe are obliged to not only withdraw national standards if a European standard is being developed but if they want to develop a particular national standard they must first ask the other European standardization organizations it they are interested in making
a European standard before they start the work at national level.

Need to learn more? 

Contact brexitunit@nsai.ie