EN301549 is harmonized!
Just before Christmas, the European Commission published the latest version of the EN standard for ICT accessibility in what is called the Official Journal. The fact that the standard is harmonized means that it now functions as a technical specification to meet the minimum requirements in the Web Accessibility Directive. Complicated? Not really.
In the EU, harmonisation is an important concept. It aims to create consistency between member states, in order to facilitate the internal market. When all EU countries have common regulations, it becomes easier to trade across borders. With a little luck, it also fosters innovation and healthy competition.
It is not always easy to get 28 independent governments to make joint decisions, and when it comes to technical specifications, these are often implemented through directives.
The Web Accessibility Directive is an excellent example of how EU directives work; the same basic rules apply throughout the Union, but each Member State has certain opportunities to decide on details how to implement the regulations nationally. Flexibility only applies as long as the result - in this case web accessibility in the public sector - is achieved. As the Web Accessibility Directive is a minimum harmonization directive, Member States may choose to impose more, higher or broader requirements than the directive, but not less.
The requirement for accessibility is thus in the directive, but the technical specifications are in the standard.
The EN standard makes it easier to meet the requirements
Standards can be created in different ways, often it is an industry or consumer organization that sees the benefit of standardizing an area and initiates the work. A harmonized standard, on the other hand, is created by the European Commission calling on or requesting one of the three European standardization bodies (CEN, CENELEC or ETSI) to develop a standard with specifications that can be used to support compliance with the law's requirements.
As far as the Web Accessibility Directive is concerned, the European Commission instructed all three standardization bodies to produce a harmonized standard, which would also be in line with the regulations in the United States. The result is called EN201549, Accessibility requirements for ICT products and services.
EN301549 version 2.1.2 which is now harmonized is a tool, a help to meet the requirements of the law. By following the harmonized EN standard, you meet the requirements of the directive harmonized with the standard, in this case the Web Accessibility Directive. You can choose to fulfill the requirements in another way, but by following the standard you know that you are following the law and the burden of proof in case of any dispute lies with your counterpart.