The European Member States have approved a package of new measures intended to remove the remaining obstacles to intra-EU trade in goods. Omar Bucchioni explores the new major step forward in the completion of the single market.
Who: European Parliament
When: June 2008
Law stated as at: 11 August 2008
In June 2008, the European Member States approved a package of new measures intended to remove various obstacles to intra-EU trade in goods. It is expected that these new provisions will have an impact on a large number of industrial sectors such as foodstuffs, furniture, bicycles, ladders and precious metals, representing more than 15% of intra EU trade in goods – a market volume of around €1,500 billion a year.
Relevant information can be found at the RAPID Press Release: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/08/992&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en, which also explains how the new measures should help ensue a smoothening of the internal market and strengthen opportunities for placing a wide range of industrial products in the EU market.
The package is intended to address several obstacles in the internal EU market which have led to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) being discouraged from doing business outside their domestic markets. Many products have been subject to different national rules and the differences between these rules have discouraged companies from venturing outside their domestic market because they had to prove their products complied with the technical rules elsewhere. Other companies have had to make adjustments – often expensive and unnecessary – to their products, so they also became more expensive for consumers. As a result, in one survey, about 35% of enterprises reported problems with technical rules in another Member State and about 50% of enterprises decided to adapt their products to these rules (Second Biennial Report on the Application of the Principle of Mutual Recognition in the Single Market – COM(2002)419 final of 23 July 2002).
Why the need for a change?
The results of another recent public consultation on the future of the internal market (SEC(2006)1215 of 20.09.2006) revealed a number of outstanding weaknesses in the internal market for goods, which continue to have a negative effect on both businesses and consumers. A need to improve the quality the quality of EU legislation on goods was identified, along with a strong need to pay more attention to citizens’ needs and interests in the Internal Market for goods (i.e. many citizens are still facing needless paperwork and extra costs for registering their car in, or transferring it to, their home country).
What has changed: “The shifting of the burden of proof”
The new rules are intended to eliminate many technical obstacles and to make the marketing of goods in other Member States easier. As described in the RAPID Press Release (at the above link), a national technical rule should no longer prevent a product already lawfully marketed in one Member State from being sold on the market of another Member State. In fact, when a Member State intends to refuse market access, it will have to give precise and detailed objective reasons for doing so and it will have to give the importing company the opportunity to respond before a final decision can be taken. The burden of proof is thus shifted onto Member States, with the intention that this should save companies from unnecessary high costs – and ultimately benefit consumers.
The new package is also described as introducing:
- better rules on market surveillance to protect both consumers and professionals from unsafe products, including imports from third countries;
- reinforced and clearer rules as to conformity assessments (testing, certification and inspection laboratories) including the increased use of accreditation;
- additional guidance on and protection of CE marking, which will be protected as a community collective trade mark, giving authorities and competitors additional means to take legal action against manufacturers who abuse it;
- to help future sectoral legislation be more consistent and easier to implement a common legal framework for industrial products in the form of a toolbox, setting out simple common definitions of terms – which are sometimes used differently – and procedures; and
- “Product Contact Points” in all Member States where enterprises can find reliable and precise information on national legal and technical rules in the Member State where they intend to sell their products.
Why this matters:
This has been billed as a major step forward in the completion of the single market, which is a fundamental aspect of Europe’s competitiveness. It remains to be seen whether the package will live up to its billing or whether it will simply result in even greater bureaucracy and even longer and more difficult-to-search Euro-databases of information.