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Health and Consumer Protection

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Commission to improve product safety and increase consumer protection

The European Commission has today adopted a proposal to improve the rules governing product safety in Europe , revising the Directive on General Product Safety (92/59/EEC) . The proposal introduces new and more straightforward rules designed to ensure that only safe products are put on the market. Key features of the revision are increased transparency, more active market surveillance and simpler rules for rapid intervention to remove dangerous products from the market. A new element is the prohibition on the export of products banned in the EU to third countries. The proposals also strengthen the operation of the EU’s Rapid Alert System.

"It is essential to have a reliable product safety net for protecting consumers young and old", said David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, "We are trying to make sure that consumers can have utmost confidence in the system, especially as cross-border trade is increasing. We need to tighten up the loose ends in current surveillance practice and be ready to quickly close any remaining gaps by rapid market intervention. My new proposals are firmly geared to protecting consumers against shoddy, unsafe products."

Products Covered

The proposal clarifies which products are covered by the Directive. The consumer health and safety protection rules of the directive will in future apply to all consumer products. Products "migrating" from the professional sector to the consumer market, as has been the case for example with laser pens, will equally be concerned. And products used or made available to consumers by service providers such as beauty centres, hotels or gas and electricity suppliers are also explicitly included in the scope of the directive.

Active and effective market surveillance

Under the proposals adopted today by the Commission, more active and effective market surveillance will be achieved by strengthening the obligations and powers of national surveillance authorities, and by stronger sanctions at national level. Consumer organisations have repeatedly drawn attention to unsafe products on the market, in spite of the existing safety rules. Businesses marketing unsafe products have an unfair competitive advantage over those who respect safety rules. Both industry and consumer organisations have sought stronger surveillance and sanctions.

Rapid action for cases of 'serious risk'

The Rapid alert system operated at the EU level is being improved. The Commission will be informed immediately if a product poses a serious risk and will alert Member States. If necessary, emergency measures can be taken at EU level. The possibility to link the Rapid alert system (RAPEX) which is monitored by the Commission to third countries is also envisaged for the future to minimise risks for consumers.

Emergency procedures to ban the marketing of certain products or to withdraw products from shops or to recall products consumers have already bought are simplified and made more efficient under the new Directive. Rapid market intervention measures can be taken by the Commission in cases of a 'serious risk requiring rapid action' for up to a one year period as opposed to the current three- month limit. If an individual product or product batch is concerned, such emergency measures can have unlimited validity. The export to third countries of products prohibited or withdrawn from the market by Community emergency measures is also banned under the new Directive.

Producers and distributors need to inform authorities of unsafe products

The revision adds the obligation for producers or distributors to inform the authorities when they conclude that a product that they supply is dangerous. In addition they must collaborate with the authorities, in particular in tracing and recalling dangerous products. As economic operators are not presently obliged to inform competent authorities about dangers the authorities in many cases remain unaware of these.

Similar information requirements already exist in, for example, the United States. "This has led to the bizarre situation that the US administration has taken the lead in informing us about product withdrawals there, in the absence of a legal requirement on EU industry to inform European authorities of a withdrawal of a product," said Commissioner Byrne.

Public information on dangerous products

To increase transparency, the proposal introduces new obligations on producers and distributors to inform and collaborate with authorities if products are found to be dangerous. It establishes the principle that all information on dangerous products should be notified to public authorities and is exchanged freely between national enforcement authorities. Additionally, consumers have the right to know which products are dangerous and what has been done.

The proposed revision has been developed on the basis of the experience gained with the implementation of the directive since 1992 and extensive consultations with Member States, consumer organisations and industry. It will be subject to a co-decision procedure in the Council and the European Parliament.

Beate Gminder : 02/296.56.94
Catherine Bunyan : 02/299.65.12

Released on 03/04/00

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