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EU telecoms standards institute set for new leadership

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), will elect a new leader later this month, who will be tasked with navigating the troubled relationship between the body and the EU Commission.

Founded in 1988,  it is one of three organisations supporting EU regulation, while it also works on global telecoms standards.

On 16 April, ETSI is set to hold an election in its general assembly which will determine its director general for the next five years, starting in June.

Amid a myriad of standards that need to be created under legislation passed by the previous mandate, one of the three candidates will have to steer ETSI’s relationship with the Commission.

Relations have recently cooled with the European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton, who criticised the organisation for being subject to “undue influence” from non-European companies.

Candidates for the top job are Luis Jorge Romero, ETSI director-general since 2011 and former director at Telefónica in Spain; Gilles Brégant, director of the French spectrum agency ANFR; and Jan Ellsberger, previously vice-president at Ericsson and Huawei in Germany, and now an advisor to a consulting company.

“My urgency would be to re-establish ETSI’s role in the EU standardisation system,” Ellsberger told Euractiv.

EU-ETSI relationship

Romero, the current ETSI director dismissed allegations that he frequently clashed with EU officials during his last mandate.

“We have a good working relationship with the Commission,” he told Euractiv, adding that “as any business relationship, we might have different views, but no more than that.”

Brégant told Euractiv he believes he has skills that other candidates do not, which are crucial to mending the relationship between the Commission and ETSI, highlighting his administrative career and his experience from outside of the standardisation body.

The French telecoms expert is reportedly the preferred candidate of the EU executive. The Commission is concerned about the two other candidates’ links to foreign companies, according to Euronews.

In the Euronews report, the Commission has unofficially encouraged national governments to vote for the French candidate.

Romero said that ETSI is “an independent association and therefore all political and strategic decisions are settled, agreed and approved by our members.”

Ellsberger said he was surprised by the article’s claim, explaining he has “frequent contacts with the Commission services staff,” who have never mentioned any sort of “eligibility requirements” that would disqualify someone with either former or current connections to foreign firms from running the body.

ETSI’s next areas of focus

The three candidates shared their visions for ETSI’s future with Euractiv, focusing on different technologies.

Brégant emphasized ensuring “that all recent organisational developments within ETSI are effectively implemented and integrated into the organisation’s practices.”

In December 2023, the standardisation body restructured its operations with a new version of its internal directives.

He also mentioned the need to “effectively kickstart the work on 6G” and the need to attract members who are “at the state of the art” in their respective technical domains, so that ETSI keeps on creating the best standards.

Ellsberger said he wishes to expand ETSI’s scope both in terms of projects, and membership, adding that he is “thinking of AI, data sharing, cybersecurity, and sustainability.”

On membership, Ellsberger suggested an expansion of the body’s footprint in the Middle East “related to AI and automated transportation.”

He said he wishes to position ETSI “as a platform for dissemination of EU-funded research results,” into standardisation.

For Romero, “one key element is software development groups” for ETSI to learn “processes, methodologies, tools, and ways in which these projects cooperate.”

He also stressed, there was a need to “keep liaising with R&D and academia because they are the natural source of new activities,” in standardisation, eventually becoming products.

Global membership and outlook

Unlike other EU bodies, ETSI is both legally and financially independent, reaping the benefits of its more than 850 members, including a large number of private companies.

All three candidates consider themselves able to represent the membership’s diverse interests and views.

All the candidates stressed that ICT technologies are global by essence, and called on the European institutions to embrace the benefits of having a world-class European standardisation player; ETSI.

Romero said that in the 13 years he has been running ETSI, he “managed to grow ETSI’s membership and activities” and “spread ETSI’s influence all over the world.”

He brought up as an example the work conducted to help the Indian telecom industry to create its ICT standardisation body, the Telecommunications Standards Development Society (TSDSI), founded in 2014.

That ETSI managed to develop a reputed international standard for consumer Internet of Things and was adopted by Singapore, India, Australia, Vietnam, and others, Romero considers it a success.

Ellsberger pointed out that, an organisation with an international footprint would benefit from a leader that, “understand[s] how China works [in order] to help manoeuvre ETSI in the best interest of the European industry.”

Source: Euractiv