Brexit: What impact on European standardization?

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The economic and political consequences of Brexit are still hard to determine. But the European standardization system should remain largely sheltered from the institutional turmoil, at least initially.

The scope of CEN and CENELEC extends beyond the EU, so that the rules are already designed to allow members not forming part of these organizations to take part in their work. Moreover, since the European standardization organizations and those of the Member States are often private entities, they are only partially affected by the political changes to come. So the actual functioning of European standardization will probably not be fundamentally changed.

The British standards organization, the BSI, could therefore continue to take part in the work of the CEN and CENELEC in practically the same conditions. The CEN is a private organization of which the BSI, likewise a private organization, is a (founding) member. In particular, it will continue to be subject to the obligation of replicating EN standards in its national collection. At a time when the status of EU regulations, directives and other legislation is on the verge of being called into question in the United Kingdom, the standards could therefore continue to play their role of harmonization and provide economic actors with stable references in an uncertain environment.

One of the rare institutional changes which could occur in the CEN and CENELEC following Brexit concerns the voting criteria. At present, when a draft does not receive enough votes to achieve the required majority, a new count is made, taking into account only the votes of countries of the European Economic Area (EEA), i.e. the EU members plus Norway and Iceland. Countries outside the EEA are therefore not required to adopt the European standard that they have not approved. Now, only members of the EU and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) can join the EEA. Unless it joins EFTA, the United Kingdom will therefore have to also leave the EEA. The scenario of EFTA membership is plausible, however, because this organization was founded by the United Kingdom itself, before it left it to join the EU. However, if the United Kingdom chose to leave the EEA, its weight in the CEN and CENELEC would be reduced in cases where the result of a vote is touch-and-go.

It is nevertheless hard to predict how the influence of the United Kingdom will really change in the medium and long term, and its consequences for France, because many factors are involved. For example, it is possible that, to maintain their trade ties with their former EU partners, British companies may choose to invest even more heavily in standardization, the positive effects of which on exports and international trade now no longer need to be demonstrated. In that case, France would be faced with increased competition, in particular for responsibilities in work structures, in the CEN/CENELEC and in ISO and the IEC. As in many other sectors, those involved in standardization will therefore have to watch attentively the coming exit negotiations, and the reactions of British economic circles, to be able, if necessary, to adapt their strategies to this new situation.

(Source: Camille Cloître, International Affairs Department, AFNOR Normalisation)

BSI press release

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