Prior to the harmonization of standards under the New Approach, each European country developed its own standards through a national standards body. The new system provides for three standards bodies to create standards on a Europe-wide scale:
CENELEC activities are in the electrotechnical sector, while ETSI specializes in telecommunications. CEN covers all other sectors.
CEN and CENELEC's principal members are national standards bodies, while ETSI's membership incorporates a wider range of interested parties. These three are the only bodies that can develop a European standard (EN). When work on a European standard begins in one of these standards bodies, work on a corresponding national standard must stop. European standards, like European laws and European conformity assessment procedures, preempt and replace national (member state) standards.
The European standards (ENs) that play a role in New Approach Directives are known as "harmonized standards." These standards supporting European legislation:
There is a vast body of European standards that is not mandated by the European Commission. These standards are not directed towards either the Old Approach or the New Approach Directives. While the use of these standards is in theory voluntary, they can support claims of a product's quality either for marketing or legal purposes. These standards cover such products as furniture, household appliances (non-electrical), sports equipment, carpeting, footwear and small hand-held tools (which are not covered by the Machinery Directive). They define characteristics such as durability, appearance, and quality.