Set up in 1961, CEN is a private, non-profit organisation that brings together, within the European Union, the national bodies concerned with laying down technical specifi­cations for goods and services in all fields except electrical goods – for which the equivalent body is CENELEC, the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation, established in 1973. The national standards bodies of the 27 EU member states, together with those of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, are the full members of CEN and CENELEC. In addition, the comparable bodies in 13 other countries are affiliates or associates. CEN and CENELEC are jointly based in Brussels and financed by national membership fees, as well as grants from the European Commission and EFTA. The acronyms CEN and CENELEC derive from the French titles Comité européen de normalisation and Comité européen de normalisation électrotechnique, respectively.

Since 1983, the CEN/CENELEC system has dovetailed with the process of harmonisation of technical standards within the European Community, now Union, in several ways. First, CEN and CENELEC were recognised in EU law as pan-European standards bodies, alongside one national body for each member state. Second, since the Commission’s adoption of the ‘new approach’ to the process of standard-setting in 1985, they have taken over much of the detailed negotiation in areas where full harmonisation, as opposed to simple mutual recognition of national standards, is still thought necessary. As a result, over the last quarter century, CEN and CENELEC have played an important part in the on-going completion of the single market. Third, many new European standards, once agreed by CEN or CENELEC, are often automatically or subsequently incorporated into EU law, thus becoming legally-binding across the Union in their own right.

Conventionally, CEN and CENELEC operate by consensus, with each national body committing itself to replace the relevant domestic standard by the new European standard once agreement is reached. However, the EU Council of Ministers adopts legislation in such fields by qualified majority voting (QMV), so it is possible for the Commission to propose and for the Council and European Parliament jointly to enact a particular standard, at any time, whether or not there is unanimous acceptance of it within the CEN or CENELEC systems.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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