The Politics of Regulatory Intermediation: European ICT Standardisation

Friday, 3 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW2.3.04 (Tower Two)
Morten Kallestrup, University of Southern Denmark, Odense M, Denmark
The Politics of Regulatory Intermediation: European ICT Standardisation

International standardisation involves public and private actors and stakeholders across multiple levels of authority and several types of principal-agent delegation. It affects public and private regulation and interaction. In other words, international standardisation processes continuously cross the boundaries of the public versus private dichotomy, the international versus domestic dichotomy, and the rule-makers versus rule-takers dichotomy. The specific field of ICT standardisation may be even more of a ‘global mind’ and privately-publicly interconnected. Today, globally leading ICT companies play a vital role in the development of public regulation. This paper analyses the case of the European Multi Stakeholder Platform on ICT Standardisation (EMSP) as a regulatory intermediary. It explores how the EMSP plays a role in the continued regulatory dialogue on ICT standardisation, and how it affects public regulation of ICT standardisation. The analysis illustrates how transnational private and public actors are increasingly intertwined in policy-making and administration of public regulation in this particular policy field.

The European Multi Stakeholder Platform on ICT Standardisation

During the last three decades transnational regulation and privately developed standards have gained importance and momentum at the global level. Standards have come to play a central role as regulatory measures, not only in the private sector, but also in public regulation, and transnational private actors have become pivotal in developing and administering such standards. Recently, transnational private actors seem to have obtained an important position, also in the decision-making process leading to the official and public recognition of privately developed ICT standards in Europe.

The principle of having formally recognised private standardisation organisations developing standards by mandate of the European Commission (the ‘New Approach’ principle) was essential in the establishment of the Single Market. During the last two decades the total number of standards in Europe has grown from approximately 4.000 to approximately 25.000, and, according to different estimates, standards count for up to 1 percent of annual growth in GDP. ICT standardisation has gained leverage and seems to dominate new standardisation initiatives: ICT standards counted for almost two out of three planned mandates for new standards for the period 2010-2013 in the EU.

With the adoption of the new regulation on the European Standardisation System in 2012 (Regulation 1025/2012) the ‘New Approach’ principle was abolished in the field of ICT policy. The new regulation allowed for a public recognition and use of privately developed ICT specifications as common European standards, i.e. ICT specifications developed outside the officially recognised standardisation organisations. The result was that ICT specifications and standards developed by transnational (global) private ICT fora and consortia can now be recognised and hence referenced in public legislation. The de facto decision on which private standards to recognize was allocated to a multi-stakeholder platform on ICT standardisation in 2011, the EMSP, which is composed of ‘global leaders’ of ICT standardisation, i.e. private companies, (public-) private organisations, private stakeholders and representatives of public authorities.

Orchestration and regulatory intermediation

Theoretically, the classical Governance Triangle relies on states, private firms, and non-governmental organisations as the three main actors in the production of transnational regulation.[1] Based on thorough empirical analysis, it is shown that the state’s role is evolving from ‘the centralized mandatory regulator of tradition, to a more subtle role as catalyst, coordinator and supporter of diverse regulatory activities’ (Abbott and Snidal 2009: 88). Levi-Faur and Starobin (2014) have developed the Governance Triangle by changing the ‘non-governmental organizations’ versus ‘private firms’ continuum to a ‘business as buyers’ versus ‘business as suppliers’ continuum, in order to shift the focus from rule-makers to rule-takers and rule-intermediaries.[2]

If taking into account that global standardisation: ‘… is rarely about reaching a compromise among different regulatory models and approaches (…) but instead about battles for preeminence of one approach or solution over another’ (Büthe and Mattli 2011, pp. 11-12), standardisation processes are thus to be considered political processes throughout which divergent interests battle for recognition from certain public and private actors.[3] Regulatory intermediaries must be assumed to be vital players in such political processes of ICT standardisation and ICT standardisation policy-making. However, in the case of European ICT standardisation policy, the European Commission may also play a vital role as the ‘orchestrator’ of the integration of a multitude of private actors into the policy-making process of European ICT standardisation policy.[4] The establishment of the EMSP in 2011 and the allocation of competences – de jure and de facto – to the EMSP (by Regulation 1025/2012) in 2012 was by all means initiated by the European Commission. As such, it is a case of orchestration, i.e. a softer and indirect mode of governance, through the delegation of advisory and decision-making power to an intermediary actor.  

Through a qualitative methodological approach, this paper analyses the ‘orchestration’, politics, and role of a regulatory intermediator in the field of ICT standardisation policy – the case of the EMSP. The paper furthermore discusses how and to which extent the EMSP and the new European standardisation legislation affects the power relations among the regulatory actors.

[1] Abbott, K. W. and D. Snidal. 2009. ‘The Governance Triangle: Regulatory Standards Institutions and the Shadow of the State’, in W. Mattli and N. Woods (eds), The Politics of Global Regulation. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 44-88.

[2] Levi-Faur, D. and S. M. Starobin. 2014. ‘Transnational Politics and Policy: From Two-Way to Three-Way Interactions’, Jerusalem Papers in Regulation and Governance, Working Article No. 62, February 2014.

[3] Büthe, T. and W Mattli. 2011. The New Global Rulers. The Privatization of Regulation in the World Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[4] Blauberger, M. and B. Rittberger. 2014. ’Conceptualizing and Theorizing European Regulatory Networks’, Jerusalem Papers in Regulation and Governance, Working Article No. 65, July 2014.