The role of standardization in supporting Europe’s digital transition

According to Stephan Grabmeier, at the German Zukunftsinstitut, in 2020 we moved from a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) into a BANI world (Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, and Incomprehensible), shaped by climate and global systemic changes. Along the same lines, Economist Adam Tooze has described the current situation as “polycrisis”: a moment of many disparate shocks tangled together, to overwhelming effects.

Even in this confusing context, there are reasons to be optimistic.

The European Union has seized this challenge as an opportunity: within the framework of the Green and Digital transition, its vision for the future aims to make Europe more sustainable, resilient, innovative, and competitive. A vision that for Europe we can all subscribe to.

At the very heart of the EU’s ambition lies the digital world. In fact, for this vision to succeed, it relies on the digitalisation of all processes underlying our societies and economy, accompanied by a forward-looking support and regulatory framework. After all, new technologies fuel economic growth and help increase efficiency. But at the same time, they multiply concerns related to safety, security, and privacy.

The EU’s ongoing and wide-ranging plans in the digital arena, going under the label of “Europe’s Digital Decade”, testify to the size of the ambition.

The new year 2023, which coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Single Market, provides us with a golden opportunity to build on success stories and address existing gaps to the establishment of a fully functioning Digital Single Market by 2030.

In this, European standards play a key role. As recognised by the new European Standardization Strategy, they are ideal tools to improve security and safety, ensure interoperability, support climate neutrality and build trust in emerging technologies.

Based on this conviction, CEN and CENELEC, two of the official European Standardization Organizations (ESOs), are on the frontline to enable a successful digital transition in Europe. This commitment has guided us in the thirty years of the Single Market, working side by side with the industry, societal stakeholders, academia and European institutions. Now, it inspires our Strategy 2030, where we set the path to make our system future-proof.

There are many ways standards can help – and are already helping – the EU’s digital transition. Allow me to illustrate a few of them.

The first priority is cybersecurity, a prerequisite for the uptake of new technologies. To help confront cyberthreats, CEN and CENELEC rely on Joint Technical Committee 13, devoted to the development of standards for cybersecurity, privacy, and data protection.

Another decisive area is Artificial Intelligence. The recent establishment of Joint Technical Committee 21 shows the commitment of our community to supporting the development of trustworthy and human-centred AI systems, in line with the AI Act.

A third relevant issue is automation and industrial data. It is particularly strategic because it supports the transition to Industry 4.0 as set out, among others, in the Resilience and Recovery Plans. Hundreds of experts contribute by working in technical committees such as CENELEC/TC 65X, which adopts standards for industrial process measurement, control, and automation.

These are just some examples of our work. Our community is involved in many more sectors, reflecting the distinctively horizontal, cross-sectoral character of digitalisation, to power the digital transition with actionable and up-to-date solutions.

At the same time, we are currently working hard to make our own processes fit for the digital transition. We are involved in two projects to develop “standards of the future”. The first one, Online Standards Development (OSD), provides an online tool for experts to improve efficiency, collaboration, transparency and quality throughout the development process; the second one, Smart Standards, aims to deliver machine-readable standards, thus meeting the industry’s digital needs.

For the promises of the digital transition to become reality, CEN and CENELEC will continue engaging with organizations like ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standardization Institute, the third official European Standard Organization.

As ESOs, we have a shared responsibility to deliver market-driven European Standards that support European Policies and legislation.

Furthermore, some of the most urgent emerging challenges from digitalisation – from AI to semiconductors – are global. Consequently, we are committed to leveraging our strong agreements with the international standardization organizations ISO and IEC to work on global solutions and ensure Europe’s leadership in defining future rules for the digital world.

Finally, attracting interested stakeholders is fundamental to deliver standards that are fit for purpose. The European Standardization System is as strong as it is inclusive: for standards to be effective and meet the industry’s needs, we need the support of as many stakeholders as possible. For this reason, we invite all those interested in the industry to engage with us.

2023 is ripe with opportunities to work towards a fully functioning Digital Single Market. Let us work together to achieve a sustainable, digital and resilient Europe!