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Standardisation policy is an integral element of Germany’s economic and innovation policies. Standards define the state of the art in technology in almost all areas of our lives, and they stipulate the requirements that products and services must fulfil. They enable systems to function, they assure quality, they create transparency, and they protect consumers.

Standards are an integral component of our commercial and legal order and serve as a key reference point in important fields such as occupational safety and environmental protection. They have deregulatory and market-opening effects that serve to enhance Germany’s competitiveness as an economic power and as an exporter. Standards can also help to reduce the amount of time needed for innovations to become widely available on the market.

Standards in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic

The crisis caused by the pandemic has very clearly highlighted the importance of standards. In order for manufacturers to satisfy the growing demand for medical equipment such as protective masks and ventilators, the European standardisation organisations CEN and CENELEC have decided – on the basis of an initiative in coordination with the European Commission and with the approval of their members, including the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) – to make available free of charge a number of up-to-date European standards for medical devices and personal protective equipment with a view to supporting efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy endorses the initiative, which can encourage companies to convert their business models and product lines and thus help to ensure that safe and high-quality protective equipment is produced in Germany and across Europe, safeguarding local jobs. By ensuring the safety of medical devices and personal protective equipment, and by providing manufacturers with technical guidance, standards play a crucial role in this context. The complete list of all free standards is available on the website of the German Institute for Standardization. Interested companies and organisations can download the list in Beuth-Verlag’s online shop.

Continuing the dialogue on the future of European standardisation

By limiting government intervention to an indispensable minimum that consists in setting the policy environment, the New Legislative Framework (NLF) has for forty years been instrumental to the technical harmonisation of certain product groups, the free movement of goods and the reduction of trade barriers in the Single Market. Large numbers of experts from the industries themselves develop the content of harmonised standards, thus helping to flesh out European legislation. In recent years, however, the European system of harmonised standards has seen considerable changes, triggered in part by the ruling of the European Court of Justice in the ‘James Elliott’ case. The procedural changes that were subsequently made by the European Commission have led to considerable delays between the issuing of a standardisation request and its publication in the Official Journal. These have given rise to controversy within business, government and the European Committee for Standardization. European business takes great interest in a future-proof European system of harmonised standards. Many sectors face great difficulties in the absence of harmonised standards, or if these are made available too late. The legal opinion on the European standardisation system drafted at the request of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides in-depth analysis and can help to objectify the debate.

On 16 September 2020, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy organised a virtual European workshop entitled ‘Empowering European Standardization for a Successful Green Deal’ as part of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU. Stakeholders from the European Commission, the European Parliament, the EU’s Member States, standardisation organisations and European business discussed the status and future of European harmonised standards and proposed possible solutions to current issues. The results of the workshop provide a basis for further discussion within the European Committee for Standardization and – during Germany’s Council Presidency – within the Working Party on Technical Harmonisation.

Setting standards in the field of artificial intelligence

The strength of Europe’s economy relies heavily on a functioning Single Market with European standards that reduce costs, promote innovation, ensure interoperability between heterogeneous devices and services – particularly in the field of artifical intelligence and its applications – and thus facilitate market access for companies. At this year’s Digital Summit, the German Institute for Standardization, the German Commission for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies (DKE), and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy will release the standardisation road map for artificial intelligence, which has been financed by the Ministry. Thus, one of the key measures from the ‘Setting standards’ field of action in the Federal Government’s national AI strategy will be implemented.
The aim of the AI standardisation road map is to develop a timely framework for action to guide the standardisation of AI, a framework that is able to strengthen the position of German business and science in the face of international competition for the best AI solutions and products and that can help to create a pro-innovation environment for AI. The AI standardisation road map is to set the stage for further standardisation work at national, and particularly at European and international level.
Standardisation: the responsibility of the private sector
As the responsibility of the private sector, standardisation in Germany is basically an exercise in self-administration. In accordance with the Standards Agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Institute for Standardization, the latter, in its capacity as national standards organisation, represents Germany’s interests at European and international level and also pursues public interests as a non-profit organisation. The responsibility for electrotechnical standardisation lies with the German Commission for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies of DIN and VDE (DKE). Standardisation work involves procedures, decision-making and coordination processes that rely on the participation of all interested stakeholders and are conducted in a consensus-based, open and transparent manner. This consensus-based approach ensures the democratic legitimacy of standards and produces a universally accepted set of rules. The public sector is an interested party in standardisation work. Moreover, the state is actively involved at European level as a member of the comitology committee for standardisation. It is also represented in the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).