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Priorities for ICT standards

All sectors of the economy increasingly rely on digital technologies, while cross-sector applications bring value to digital systems. ICT standards ensure that digital technologies and systems have a common language and work seamlessly together. The Commission has identified five priority areas where improved ICT standardisation is most urgent to create a Digital Single Market: 5G, the internet of things, cloud computing, cybersecurity and data technologies. The Commission will focus on these priorities when asking industry and standardisation bodies to work on standards.

In the future, many more devices will be connected to each other – ranging from cars and transportation systems, to appliances and e-health systems. The results of today’s plan will ensure that European standards are in place quickly enough to allow future devices to connect smoothly across the Single Market while avoiding vendor lock-in (which makes a customer dependent on a vendor, unable to use another vendor without substantial switching costs). A special focus on cybersecurity will ensure that safety, security and privacy considerations are built-in to new standards from the outset.

The Commission will also co-finance the testing and experimentation of technologies to accelerate standards setting including in relevant public-private partnerships. The Commission proposes further measures in the area of research, development and innovation to ensure that research and development results are better linked to new standards, as well as to improve collaboration between standard setting organisations in Europe and internationally. This will include strengthening European participation in global standard setting discussion.

Most standards are set by voluntary, industry-led consensual standard setting processes. Based on the current EU Regulation on Standards the EU can request and authorise the three European Standard Setting organisations CEN/CENELEC and ETSI to define standards for products in the Single Market. Compliance with such standards allows businesses to sell their products across the EU, which Member States are obliged to respect.

The rapid change and increased convergence of digital technology however means that in many domains the traditional standard setting process falls short. Digital businesses increasingly define standards outside traditional standard definition organisations, and typically outside Europe. This leads to much complexity: for example, there are already more than 600 closely related standards in the area of the internet of things. It is essential to clearly map the most relevant standards. The EU’s role is to ensure that the Single Market offers the right standardisation infrastructure for innovations to scale up, but also to ensure that the European approach is sufficiently well represented in global standardisation discussions.