Harmonisation opportunity

18 March 2008

The free movement of goods forms a central pillar of the Single Market. Community technical legislation ensuring the free circulation of products has contributed considerably to its completion and proper functioning.

However, barriers do exist as a result of different national technical standards and regulations. In order to achieve this, the EU has developed original and innovative instruments to remove the barriers to their free circulation.

Of these, the so-called "New Approach" to product regulation and the "Global Approach" to conformity assessment take pride of place.

The common thread between these approaches is that they limit intervention in essential areas and leave business and industry as much flexibility as possible to meet their public obligations.

Some 20 Directives have been developed in this way since 1987. They include the so-called "New Approach" Directives that in turn consist of legislation setting out the basic rules for ce marking and the application of harmonised conformity assessment procedures, as well as legislation on recognising the role of the European standardisation organisations, and the high importance of European standards and legislation when it comes to product safety.

However, despite experience, it is clear that obstacles to the free movement of goods remain. The obstacles have been identified as:

• a distortion of competition due to differing practices in the "designation of conformity" by the national assessment bodies;

• an unequal treatment of "non-complying" or dangerous products on the market through the use of different national market surveillance regulations, rules and means;

• a certain lack of trust in conformity marking;

• a lack of coherence in the implementation and enforcement of EU legislation.

It is also pertinent to add - as confirmed by the European Council conclusions of 10 November 2003

• that confusion remains over the true meaning of the "ce marking" and its implications for users of products. The present reworking of this legislation therefore offers an opportunity to address this shortcoming.

Proposals

The response of the Commission has been to propose two new legislative instruments of the European Parliament and Council.

A decision on a common framework for the marketing of products that will set out:

• the general framework for future sectoral legislation;

• provide guidance on how to use common elements;

• ensure as much coherence, in future sectoral legislation, as is politically and technically feasible.

A regulation setting out the requirements for accreditation and market surveillance relating to the marketing of products will set out:

• harmonised definitions;

• a single definition for ce marking;

• common rules of responsibility for those who affix the ce marking to their products;

• a proper information and market surveillance procedure

Taken together the two proposals seek to complete existing legislative tools and to reinforce EU policies on market surveillance and accreditation. They also seek to bring coherence to existing instruments such as the Construction Products Directive (CPD).

Construction's Needs

In the context of the CPD, FIEC's concerns in reviewing the Commission's legislative proposals has been to put forward to the Parliament draft amendments in order to ensure that the ce marking appearing on construction products:

• provides unambiguous and reliable information on the product's characteristics and performances responding to the legislation in force at the building site;

• the ce mark is underwritten by an effective and adequate system of market surveillance.

On the issue of surveillance FIEC believes 'pre market access checking' of products is far more effective than 'post market checking'. The market conditions for construction products, often their immediate use upon delivery to site, means in many cases it is impossible to return faulty products to the manufacturer if defects are found.

In many cases it is impossible to check the integrity and performance of construction products bearing the ce marking once they are on the market, especially where there is a discrepancy between the actual and declared performances. Rectifying this is clearly of fundamental importance for general confidence in ce marking.

The 'exchange of information' regarding construction products, FIEC believes, should not be limited to products that are unsafe, but must include products performing below the declarations on the ce marking. A Europe-wide system for market surveillance of construction products is being developed, which should help in this area.

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