The Historical Evolution of European Telecommunications Standards Institute: Legitimacy Strategies and Dynamics

This workshop brings together academics, practitioners, policy makers and experts in standard setting for a retrospective discussion about the European Telecommunications Standards Institute’s (ETSI) origins and historical evolution, and in particular how specific events or turning points in ETSI’s regulatory environment have impacted the organization in the past. The aim is to identify and assess legitimacy strategies that ETSI enacted that helped it overcome such critical episodes, in order to draw lessons and to improve the understanding of ETSI’s objectives and governance mechanics. This workshop is organized in light of the new EU Standardization Strategy Communication and seeks to inform current discussions about its implications for ETSI, governance principles and issues connected to its legitimacy, and the changes ETSI can and should enact in response to this new strategy.

Are you a PhD student with a focus on the European Standardisation System? We invite two (2) PhD students to present at a small-scale poster session, during lunch break, to experienced researchers in the field. Do take a look at the program below for examples of workshop-relevant topics.

Please get in touch with Stephanie Bijlmakers s.m.j.bijlmakers (at) tilburguniversity (dot) edu or Olia Kanevskaia o.s.kanevskai (at) uu (dot) nl if you’re interested.

In February 2022, the EU Commission adopted a new EU Standardization Strategy Communication (COM(2022) 31 final) with the aim of strengthening Europe’s leadership in setting international and European Standards. Impetus behind the strategy is a growing concern about actors from outside the EU and EEA, and especially China, exerting undue influence over the substance of technical standards for new and emerging technologies. Technical standards have taken on strategic significance in an increasingly competitive global context. The EU depends on technical standards for the realization of its ambitions for a resilient, green, and digital EU single market. The European Commission has identified certain areas as urgently in need of standards to avoid strategic dependencies (so-called standardization urgencies), including COVID-19 vaccine and medicine production, chips certification and data standards and the clean hydrogen value chain. The Commission aims for technical standards in these areas to be prioritized, and the European standardization system to become more assertive and faster in developing them, while ensuring their quality. The Commission seeks to optimize the standardization system to ensure Europe’s competitiveness and to secure a competitive ‘first-mover’ advantage for EU companies. The EU also finds use in technological standards to project its democratic values into the world.

Against this background, the new EU standardization strategy presents a set of actions to improve the governance and integrity of the European Standardization System. As one of the main action points, it calls on European Standards Organizations (ESOs), and ETSI in particular, to revisit their voting rules in relation to standards that are developed upon the EU’s request (“harmonized standards”). More specifically, the Commission seeks to restrict voting rights for these harmonized standards to representatives of National Standard Setting Bodies (NSBs) of the 27 EU Member States and the three EFTA/EEA countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). These reforms have the potential to ensure that European NSBs have the decision-making power when the ESOs develop these standards, and that these standards reflect European interests and values. The EU expects the ESOs to have administrative and good governance principles in place. The ESOs are asked to ‘make proposals by the end of 2022 to modernize their governance to fully represent the public interests and interests of SMEs, civil society and users and to facilitate access to standards’. If these reforms are unsatisfactory, the EU may propose a revision of the Standardization Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012.

This new EU Standardization Strategy will have implications and pose legitimacy challenges especially for ETSI, whose unique governance model allows industry players from non-European countries to join with multiple entities. For instance, ETSI’s Board, which decides on governance and administrative matters, consists of members whose voting rights and influence are proportional to their membership fees; non-European multinationals hold a majority of these voting rights. These actors may also exert significant influence in ETSI’s standard setting work through their direct participation as members. At the same time, ETSI has a number of procedural and substantive guarantees in place, including the Board Members’ fiduciary duty to ETSI, which could mitigate concerns arising from the ETSI’s governance structure.

Paper presentations by academics providing a retrospective and evolutionary perspective on ETSI, its governance principles and issues connected to its legitimacy are followed by a moderated roundtable discussion about the implications of the new EU standardization strategy communication.

Workshop Program **Workshop Program**

*This is an invitation only event. If you would like to receive an invitation, please contact us: project.reveal (at) tilburguniversity (dot) edu