What Brexit would mean for European Standards

With an EU referendum set for June, organisations must now consider the implications of a Brexit seriously. Hywel Davies looks at what a ‘No’ vote would mean for the implementation of European Standards in the UK

Some readers may wonder what difference a vote to leave the EU will make to European Standards (EN) in the UK. The short answer is, not a lot. ENs will still apply in the UK even if Boris Johnson and Michael Gove lead the country towards Brexit.

The UK is a full member of the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) and adopts ENs as national standards. If Britain votes to leave the European Union, UK organisations will still be subject to European Standards, in the same way as other non-EU members of CEN.

The British Standards Institution (BSI) will still be a voting member of CEN, like European Free Trade Association (EFTA) members, and there is no suggestion this will change.

Leaving will mean the UK won’t be party to any discussions between CEN on the specific needs of the EU in relation to a given standard, nor to the discussions about mandates or decisions about harmonised standards.

CEN is responsible for developing standards across its 33 members. (See panel, ‘Who sets the standards’.) These include Iceland, Norway and Switzerland – the three non-EU members of EFTA – and potential members of the EU Macedonia and Turkey. CEN also has 17 affiliate members in eastern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East, and three partner organisations, including Standards Australia.

Standards approved by CEN by qualified majority voting must be adopted as national standards by all 33 members, who must also withdraw all conflicting national standards. This also applies to the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (Cenelec).

Since the Single European Act in 1986, CEN and Cenelec have had an increasing role in the development of European Standards to support the Single Market. The Construction Products Regulation  (CPR) – which replaced the Construction Products Directive (CPD) in 2011 – is a good example. This provided for CE marking of products that conformed to a harmonised technical specification, which is either a harmonised European Standard (hEN) or a European Technical Assessment (ETA).

The word ‘harmonised’ is important here; a European Standard is a single standard for the 33 CEN/Cenelec members, but it is only harmonised if it meets certain criteria. It has to have been prepared in response to a specific request by the European Commission (EC), and the EC has to be satisfied that the result meets its requirements. There must also be a reference to the EN in the Official Journal of the EU.

Under the CPD, CE marking of construction products was voluntary, and this was a point of disagreement between the UK, and others, and the European Commission for 20 years. Since 1 July 2013, however, the CPR has required manufacturers to CE mark any of their products covered by a harmonised technical specification.

Where this specification exists, and a reference to it has been published in the Official Journal of the EU, compliance with the European Standard or the European Technical Approval is the only way to meet the requirements of the CPR for CE marking of the product (see Article 1.11), and a Declaration of Performance must be drawn up for the product (Article 4).

This is possibly the most significant change in requirements for the marking and marketing of construction products in Europe for more than two decades. Article 8.6 goes on to stipulate: ‘The methods used by the member states in their requirements for construction works, as well as other national rules in relation to the essential characteristics of construction products, shall be in accordance with harmonised standards.’

In other words, harmonised standards and technical approvals are the only acceptable way for member states to specify national requirements, and for manufacturers to demonstrate that products are suitable to be placed on the EU market.

Any product intended for sale within the EU must meet the relevant European Standard or Technical Approval. A full list of standards already referenced in the Official Journal was published on 13 November 2015, and can be accessed here

Recital 18 of the CPR states: ‘The European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (Cenelec) are recognised as the competent organisations for the adoption of harmonised standards in accordance with the general guidelines for cooperation between the Commission and those two organisations, signed on 28 March 2003. Manufacturers should use those harmonised standards when the references to them have been published in the Official Journal of the European Union.’

The Recital goes on to say that ‘once a sufficient level of technical and scientific expertise on all the relevant aspects is attained, recourse to harmonised standards with regard to construction products should be increased, including, where appropriate, and after consultation of the Standing Committee on Construction, by requiring, by means of mandates, that those standards be developed on the basis of existing European Assessment Documents.’ Article 17 sets out the legal basis for the Commission to mandate production of standards to support the CPR.

It is not just the CPR that uses standards. Various other EU measures, including those under the Boiler Directive, the Eco-design Framework and the Lifts Directive, rely on ENs to provide the technical details. So the role of BSI in CEN/Cenelec, and the requirement for BSI to adopt European Standards, are vital to UK-based manufacturers.


1 Full text of CPR