The European Parliament has approved a new system for standards, including IT specifications, across the EU.
The regulation, which modernises the EU standardisation system, was passed by a huge majority - 639 votes in favour, 18 against and 17 abstentions.
Standards are voluntary guidelines that provide technical specifications for manufacturers to ensure interoperability. Although companies are not required by law to work to standards, doing so gives them faster and wider access to the market.
In Europe, cooperation on standards is managed by three independent organisations, CEN (European Committee for Standardisation), CENELEC (European Committee for Electro-technical Standardisation) and ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute), national standardisation bodies and the European Commission.
However, the new regulation will open up the system to technical specifications developed by private fora and consortia outside Europe, such as the World Wide Web Consortium, in areas where there are no European standards or where existing standards have not been taken up by the market.
Only 34% of all European standards have been mandated by the European Commission, meaning that most are initiated by industry and privately driven.
This will be a huge boost for IT companies wanting to work with government agencies and ministries. Until now, all public procurement projects could only reference standards agreed by formal standards bodies. The move will also be good for governmental agencies, according to Openforum Europe, a policy organisation supported by IT companies, among other organisations. "Governments can benefit from huge efficiencies if they apply technologies that are spurring on the private sector so dramatically," said OpenForum chief executive Graham Taylor. "In return, they can inspire European ICT firms, large and small, to compete with the best in the world."
The regulation also lays down rules on cooperation among the various players in the standardisation system at national and EU levels to ensure a clear division of responsibilities, avoid administrative snags and prevent the emergence of incompatible or contradictory standards.
According to the European Commission, standards contribute with more than €35 billion (£28 billion) annually to European growth. The new rules come in to force on January 1, 2013, and will apply directly in all member states.