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Protecting European enterprises and workers from unsafe products

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Effective market surveillance ensures that the rules of Europe’s Single Market are respected. This is vital for knowledge-intensive EU sectors, such as machinery, which must compete against low-cost – and sometimes low-quality – manufacturers. This was the subject of a recent conference, which also saw the launch of a Common Industry Platform for Market Surveillance.

The machinery sector is one of Europe's largest and most competitive industries, covering a wide range of products from vehicle and cycle engines, agricultural and forestry machinery to machine tools and other special purpose items. With nearly 170 000 enterprises (mostly SMEs), mechanical engineering alone employs some 3.3 million EU citizens. In fact, with more than a third of the global market, the Union is the world's leading producer and exporter of machines.

The global economic crisis, however, has led to a decline in orders, which not only threatens the survival of individual European firms but also the world-leading pool of talent upon which the industry is founded. In a global market where price competition from low-cost producers is immense, Europe's competitive advantage of world-class knowledge, skills and safety must be protected through effective and efficient market surveillance.

Focus on market surveillance

To this end, the European Commission organised a conference on market surveillance and machinery, which was held in Brussels on 24 November 2011, in line with commitments taken in the Communication on ‘An Integrated Industrial Policy for the Globalisation Era’. This Communication is a flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 strategy, which aims to boost growth and jobs by maintaining and supporting a strong, diversified and competitive industrial base in Europe.

The conference, which brought together representatives from industry, unions, academia and the EU institutions, focused on the importance of market surveillance for industrial products. Market surveillance, which aims to make sure the provisions of European legislation are enforced across the EU, is a vitally important tool in ensuring a level playing field.

Representing European Commission Vice-President Mr. Antonio Tajani, Mr. Mattia Pellegrini underlined the importance of market surveillance for a well functioning internal market and the competitiveness of European industry. He highlighted the Commission's commitment to strengthening market surveillance and pointed to future intiatives under preparation: the Multiannual Action plan and single framework for market surveillance.

Market surveillance in the EU has its legal basis in Regulation 765/2008pdf and in the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD) 2001/95/ECpdf.

Boosting growth, jobs and safety

Many European sectors are world leaders. The EU machine tool industry, for example, is responsible for one-third of world output and more than 50% of exports. However, the conference heard that the machine tool sector is often exposed to unfair competition outside the EU, due to protectionism, and within the internal market from lower quality and less safe products because of weak market surveillance.

Among different examples of imported low-quality machinery products being used to the detriment of worker safety in the EU one was illustrated during the conference where an accident at a work site was caused by the use of copied crane supports (used to stabilise cranes when lifting heavy objects). Many industry figures argued that European framework conditions need to be strengthened to enable manufacturers to create value through quality and performance, and to generate high-skilled jobs.

Furthermore, a stronger focus on machinery, better coordination among market surveillance authorities at the national level, and enhanced co-operation with customs authorities would enable the sharing of best practice, while increasing market surveillance efficiency would also have a knock-on effect on the safety of workers.

A conference panel debate discussed the role of market surveillance in protecting innovation and preventing counterfeiting, to ensure that Europe’s engineering expertise and innovation capacity are not transferred unfairly to non-European competitors. Europe’s knowledge-intensive manufacturing industries, along with its reputation for safety, remain significant competitive advantages.

For these reasons, European innovation in machinery needs to be protected against possible counterfeiting, for safety as well as commercial reasons.

Strengthening market surveillance

The New Legislative Framework (NLF), adopted in 2008, aimed to remove the remaining obstacles to the free circulation of products. It identified strengthening existing market surveillance systemspdf in order to overcome weaknesses in the enforcement of Single Market rules as a key means of achieving this. 

As part of the NLF package, Regulation 765/2008 introduced common minimum requirements for the national market surveillance authorities. These included communication by authorities of their market surveillance programmes and regular reviews of these to be sent to the European Commission and made publicly available. An NLF Decisionpdf also established obligations for importers and distributors and aimed to improve traceability by allowing a product to be identified and linked to both the manufacturer and importer.

Information exchange tools (RAPEX and ICSMS) will soon be fully operational, and a risk assessment task force has been established. The European Commission is currently working on the Multiannual Action Plan, along with the alignment of existing legislation to the NLF Decision.

Mr. Jürgen Creutzmann, Member of the European Parliament, also called for greater coordination at the EU level to ensure better co-operation across the Member States, to enable the exchange of best practice. In addition, the MEP called for a task force to support the European Commission and Member State authorities in their work, and for banned products to be made public in order to deter criminal market operators and to keep citizens better informed. In this context, consumer complaints should first be dealt with by experts in the market surveillance field before being published to avoid unfounded complaints damaging business reputations.

Towards a stronger framework

Some examples of best practice were also shared at the conference. One national market surveillance authority explained how it carried out reactive market surveillance in response to reported cases. The level of intervention by the authority depends on the nature of the risk to the end-user. This system allows for transparency, and the cost of the measure is proportionate to the risk.

Based on the NLF, the European Commission has developed guidelines on import controls to help market surveillance authorities in their work. These clarify aspects of the legislation and scope of the border controls and operational procedures, as well as containing detailed information on 26 product groups. The next step will be to translate the guidelines into the 23 official EU languages and to circulate updated information to the Member States, focusing on implementation at the national level.

The conference concluded with the launch of a Common Industry Platform for Market Surveillance, accessible online at http://machinery-surveillance.eu. This platform contains valuable information to help market surveillance authorities in their daily work. Representatives from the industry associations present also signed a common manifesto, listing ten key actions for an effective market surveillance system.

Contact

‘Mechanical, Electrical and Telecom Equipment’ Unit
Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry

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