In the James Elliott case in October 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) shed some light on the legal nature of standards: standards are part of EU law. What are the implications of this ruling for the European standardisation system and the way policy-makers use standards to support legislation and policy? While the ruling has already had some minor implications, it is likely to have other impacts – direct or indirect – on the standardisation system in the longer term.
Standards are increasingly used in support of legislation and policy in the EU, across an increasing number of areas, including areas of public interest. In this context, the distinction between political and technical issues is becoming blurred and policy-makers risk delegating political decisions to the standardisation organisations. Moreover, when standards are developed in public interest areas such as health services and environmental protection, it requires that all those concerned and impacted by standards are involved in their development. This is not always the case today, and the fact that more and more European standards are developed at international level represents a threat to inclusiveness.
Combined with the growing evidence that harmonised standards produce legal effects, also confirmed in the CJEU James Elliott ruling, the increasing use of standards in policy-making requires the review of the political approach to standards, and the standardisation development process. The present paper offers a new vision for this political approach to ensure that standards serve the needs of all. In particular, ECOS argues that the development of standards should be carefully triggered and observed by legislators and be transparent and as inclusive as possible.