Everything you always wanted to know about standards, their impact on European SMEs and their role in the economy (but were afraid to ask).

Small Business Standards (SBS) is an association representing the interests of SMEs in the standardisation process at the European and international levels. By engaging SMEs in standard-setting activities across various sectors, SBS aims to enhance the competitiveness of small businesses, facilitate market access, and promote innovation. SBS is a European non-profit association partly co-financed by the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) EFTA.

SBS members are national and European sectoral and inter-professional associations representing craft enterprises and/or SMEs). The membership is open to associations representing craft enterprises and/or SMEs in at least one country Member of the European Union (EU), EFTA (European Free Trade Association) or an EU candidate country.

Other organisations with a link to craft/or SMEs but that are not eligible to become an SBS member (e.g. European associations of young entrepreneurs or contributing spouses, SME associations from countries that are neither members of the EU, EFTA nor candidates for EU membership) may have the possibility to become a partner (without voting rights).
For more information about our current members and SBS membership, please visit the relevant page: Member Organisations

Standards are indispensable tools that ensure interoperability, quality, safety, and innovation across various industries and applications. By providing common criteria and guidelines, standards enable products, systems, and services to work together seamlessly while assuring reliability and performance. They promote safety and security by establishing best practices and mitigating risks, facilitate market access and international trade by reducing technical barriers, and foster innovation by providing a benchmark and supporting the development and acceptance of new technologies.

Yes. We are surrounded by standards and therefore they impact SMEs too. Standards have great importance for trade as SMEs often deal with larger industry actors that often define and require standards.

Standardisation offers considerable benefits to all, and in particular to SMEs. Contrary to larger companies, SMEs have more limited financial and other resources to show the conformity and performance of their products and gain the trust of the market. Standards can help them comply with legal requirements, reduce costs, allow them to demonstrate the quality of their products and open up markets, both domestically and internationally, as it demonstrates a commitment to best practices and regulatory requirements. To achieve these benefits, however, standards must meet SME needs.

A standard is a reference document established by consensus and issued by a recognised body that provides a repeatable way of doing something. Standards may contain requirements, specifications, test methods, guidelines or characteristics that can be used to ensure that materials, products, processes and services meet certain criteria and are fit for purpose. Standards help to ensure that products and services are safe, reliable and of good quality. They cover a wide range of subjects, from construction to Artificial Intelligence to funeral services and can be developed at the national, European or international level. Standards are for voluntary use but, in some cases, they can become mandatory, if regulators decide to adopt them as legal requirements or when they become part of a contractual agreement between parties.

Standards are developed by various entities including international standardisation organisations (ISO , IEC , ITU), European standardisation organisations (CEN , CENELEC, ETSI ), national standardisation organisations, industry consortia or individual organisations. Standards adopted by recognised organisations like CEN, CENELEC, ETSI (at the European level) or ISO, IEC and ITU (at the international level) typically undergo a rigorous process of development involving consensus-building among experts and stakeholders from various countries and also normally have a higher level of harmonisation and regulatory acceptance associated to them.

A harmonised standard is a standard adopted by one of the European Standards Organisations (CEN, CENELEC or ETSI) following a request from the European Commission for the purpose of supporting the implementation of specific EU legislation. The references to harmonised standards are published in the Official Journal of the EU (OJEU). Once referenced the standards provide a presumption of conformity with the relevant requirements of the legislation. The list of harmonised standards published in the OJEU can be consulted on the following website

A standardisation request, also commonly known as a Mandate, is a request issued by the European Commission to the European Standards Bodies (CEN, CENELEC and/or ETSI) to develop and adopt European standards or other documents in support of European policies and legislation. Standardisation requests are submitted to the Committee on Standards established under Regulation 1025/2012 on European standardisation, for approval by the Member States. Once approved, they are officially transmitted to the European standards bodies for acceptance and execution. The text of standardisation requests issued can be consulted in the database of mandates of the European Commission.

In some cases, the assessment of the compliance of a product with the requirements of EU legislation may require intervention by a third party (Notified Body) to have the product tested or certified before it is placed on the market. The need to involve a Notified Body in the conformity assessment procedure depends on the type of product and the specific provisions of the applicable EU Directive or Regulation.

Notified Bodies are independent organisations designated by relevant authorities of each EU, EEA Member State and countries with whom the EU has concluded Mutual Recognition Agreements as competent to assess the conformity of specific products. A list of Notified Bodies from each country, by directive and/or product, can be found in the European Commission NANDO database. Manufacturers are free to choose any suitable Notified Body from any EU country. It is, however, important to take into consideration the technical competence of the body in relation to the specific product and the service needed. You can also find more information about Notified Bodies on the following website.

A CE marking is neither a marketing tool nor an indication of the product’s origin. The CE marking indicates that a product meets all the applicable EU legal requirements, and can be legally sold in the European Economic Area (EU member states, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) and Turkey. Not all products need a CE marking. It is compulsory only when established in the relevant European legislation covering the product. It is forbidden to affix a CE marking to other products.

By placing the CE mark on a product, a manufacturer is declaring, on his sole responsibility, that the product meets all the legal requirements to achieve the CE marking. A CE marking does not necessarily require the involvement of a third party (e.g. a notified body) to assess the conformity of the product with applicable legislation. This depends on the product and the specific conformity assessment procedure(s) set out in the applicable legislation. EU legislation does allow for the self-declaration of conformity by the manufacturer in certain cases.

Regarding the link with standards, European harmonised standards support manufacturers and conformity assessment bodies to assess the compliance of a product with the essential requirements of EU legislation. Harmonised standards establish a presumption of conformity with the essential requirements they aim to cover if their references have been published in the Official Journal of the European Union.

Absolutely! SMEs need to make their voice heard in the standardisation process to avoid monopolisation by big industries and ensure that standards support growth and innovation and are not detrimental to SMEs.

Standards developed in CEN and CENELEC (and also ISO and IEC at the international level) are developed according to the National Delegation principle. This means that each national standards body (NSB) sends a national delegation of experts (normally three) to these organisations’ technical committee meetings to represent the national standpoint previously agreed upon by national stakeholders. The members of the national delegation therefore represent the common national position and not their own organisation or personal position. This standpoint is discussed and defined in “national mirror committees”, which gather all interested parties (industry, SMEs, consumers, public authorities, NGOs, etc.) on a specific topic or area at the national level. This is why the participation of SME representatives in national mirror committees is vital.

ETSI does not operate based on the national delegation principle. Instead, it uses the principle of direct industry participation (without NSBs or other intermediaries). The ETSI’s work is carried out in committees and working groups composed of technical experts from the institute’s member companies and organisations.

CEN, CENELEC, ISO and IEC are organisations made up of national standards bodies. The development of standards in these organisations is conducted in Technical Committees composed of delegations from these national standards bodies. When a European or international technical committee is created, the national standards bodies create so-called “national mirror committees” (reflecting the European or international technical committee at the national level). The national mirror committee gathers all parties interested in that topic (businesses, SMEs, consumers, public authorities, NGOs, etc.) at the national level. The stakeholders participating in the mirror committee determine the position that will be defended by the delegation of the national standard body to the European and/or international committee meetings. National mirror committees allow stakeholders to deliberate and work together in their national language, which is an advantage for SMEs.

The time it takes to develop a standard can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the complexity of the subject matter, whether it is a new standard or a revision of an existing one, the level of consensus among stakeholders, the availability of resources, and the standardisation process followed by the organisation or committee responsible for its development. Normally a new standard is developed within three years but this may take longer or shorter depending on the above-mentioned factors. To learn more about how standards are drafted check the following SBS publication.

At the European level, CEN and CENELEC standards are not free of charge. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) provides free access to its standards in the sector of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT).

At the international level, ISO and IEC sell their standards. Concerning ITU-T, most of its standards are available in electronic form and free of charge.

– All European Standards (ENs) and drafts (prENs), as well as Harmonisation Documents (HDs) or any other approved documents (Technical Specifications (TSs), Technical Reports (TRs) and most CEN or CENELEC Workshop Agreements (CWAs), are directly available for purchase at varying prices from:

Certain CEN and/or CENELEC Workshop Agreements (CWAs), mainly in the ICT field, are available free of charge under special arrangements – see which CWAs can be freely downloaded here.

Concerning ETSI standards, they are freely available on its website.

You may purchase ISO and IEC standards and publications via the ISO Store and IEC webstore or buy them from the ISO or IEC national member in your country. Regarding ITU-T standards (‘Recommendations’ in ITU parlance), you may have free access to these through its website.

No, they are not. Certification is a type of conformity assessment involving a third party but there are also other types of conformity assessment. Conformity assessment is the name given to the processes used to demonstrate that a product, service or body meets specific requirements.

Conformity assessment can be carried out by first, second or third parties:

  • First-party conformity assessment or self-declaration is carried out by the person or organisation (e.g. manufacturer) that produces the product or service which is being assessed.
  • Second-party conformity assessment is carried out by a person or organisation that has an interest in the product or service (user/consumer)
  • Third-party conformity assessment or certification is carried out by a body that is independent of the person or organisation that provides the product or services and from the interests of the user of the product or service.

Conformity assessment is usually based on standards or regulations with which the product, process, service, etc. is claimed to comply. Not all pieces of EU legislation require third-party conformity assessment to be able to affix the CE marking and put a product in the market.

This expression is related to the European Regulation on European standardisation (1025/2012). One of the aims of the Regulation is to facilitate the participation of stakeholders that are generally underrepresented in the European Standardisation System. Annex III of the regulation says that the European Union will support financially the activities of a European organisation representing the interests of SMEs, an organisation representing consumers, an organisation representing environmental interests and a European organisation representing social interests, fulfilling a series of criteria. The term Annex III organisations is therefore used to designate the organisations that have been recognised by the European Commission to represent the interests of these underrepresented groups of stakeholders in standardisation, namely:

  • SBS, representing the interests of SMEs
  • ANEC, representing the interest of consumers
  • ECOS, representing the environmental interests
  • ETUC, representing the interests of workers

The main goals of SBS are to represent and defend SMEs’ interests in the standardisation process at the European and international levels, to raise awareness about standardisation and to motivate SMEs to get involved. To achieve these objectives, SBS organises training, national seminars and events, and disseminates information on standardisation through various channels. One of its main activities is the appointment of SME experts to relevant technical committees and working groups at the European and international levels. SBS also promotes favourable measures for European SMEs among standards bodies at the national, European and international levels and also among the European institutions.

There are several ways to take part in the standardisation process:

  1.  You can contact your National Standards Body (NSB) to participate in national committees and contribute to the development of national, European (CEN, CENELEC) and international (ISO, IEC) standards.  To get involved in the drafting of ETSI standards, SMEs need to become ETSI members. 
  2. For European and international standards, there is a “public enquiry period” lasting 12 weeks. During this period, the NSBs launch a consultation at national level to gather input from stakeholders. Many NSBs have a free online portal where stakeholders can view the drafts under consultation and submit comments, even if they are not members of the relevant national committee. 
  3. Participate in consultations through your national or European association. In many cases, companies agree to send an expert from an association to represent their common interests in national, European or international technical committees. Membership of an association is not always necessary to participate in these consultations.
  4.  Small Business Standards (SBS) can provide financial and technical support to SMEs wishing to get involved in the standards development process. SBS publishes an open call (check our Latest News section) in summer every year, to select experts to represent the interests of SMEs in European and international standardisation work. You may also participate in the activities of SBS through its member associations.
Views and opinions expressed are those of Small Business Standards (SBS) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or EFTA. Neither the European Union nor EFTA can be held responsible for them.