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Preventing obstacles to trade before they arise

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Although we enjoy the free movement of goods in the internal market, more than 15 000 national technical regulations can make it difficult for enterprises to sell their products – from bicycles to foodstuffs – in other Member States. However, there is a preventive tool which enables enterprises to anticipate the creation of such barriers to trade: the notification procedure under Directive 98/34/EC, which requires new technical regulations to be put on hold before being adopted in order to avoid obstacles to trade.

National technical regulations are adopted to ensure the safety of products. Nobody wants their sofa to go up in flames, or their ladder steps to snap – such risks are mitigated by national technical regulations.

But technical regulations should not create obstacles to trade. Therefore, the notification procedure under Directive 98/34/EC gives the Commission and Member States the opportunity to examine such draft regulations during the standstill period to prevent obstacles to trade. Businesses large and small have the opportunity to make their voices heard during the procedure.

More than 15 000 draft regulations

Since 1984, more than 15 000 draft regulations have been notified and adapted to the rules of the internal market. Foodstuffs and agricultural sectors, as well as construction, telecommunications, transport, environment and mechanical engineering, are the major areas in which the 98/34 procedure has been applied.

In 12 % of cases, the Commission found that the new regulations could have hampered trade. However, in more than 95 % of these cases, solutions were found before Member States adopted the new regulations, thus avoiding the need for infringement procedures which are cumbersome and onerous for all parties involved.

Important gains for small enterprises

This procedure is particularly important for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which often offer only a few, highly-specialised products for different market niches.

Importantly, Directive 98/34/EC enables companies to call for help if they fear that new national regulations in other Member States could hamper the sale of their products.

TRIS provides information on all 98/34 cases

Updated daily, the Technical Regulations Information System (TRIS) database gives access to draft legislation. Through the TRIS database, stakeholders can check legislation proposed by Member States which may impact their business. They can also subscribe to the free mailing list and receive an automatic alert when a new notification is published. Notified drafts are classified according to their aim and area of activity.

Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani: ‘This revolutionary system prevents the emergence of new barriers to the internal market by placing the emphasis on transparency, prevention, dialogue and reciprocal control. The procedure eliminates obstacles to the smooth functioning of the internal market before they even appear, thus avoiding retroactive action, which is always detrimental.

Examples of cases under the 98/34 procedure

Bicycles

In EU Member States, front and rear brakes can be positioned either on the left or right of the bike handlebar; there are also different rules for bicycle lights. Under the 98/34 procedure, a solution was found whereby Member States accepted the marketing of bicycles from other Member States as long as they offered the same safety level as in the country of destination.

Foodstuffs

A draft law on labelling, presentation and advertising materials required foodstuffs to display a label indicating the location in which the agricultural raw material used was cultivated or reared. The draft was not in line with a Commission proposal for the provision of food information to consumers. After a reaction from the Commission and from some Member States, the draft law was withdrawn.

Mineral water

A Member State had signalled its intention to introduce regulations on minimum water hardness which would affect the treatment of bottled waters. If adopted, the draft would have meant that the most frequent treatment process could not be used. Following the Commission’s intervention, the notifying Member State agreed to amend the draft, thus allowing companies from the sector to continue marketing their mineral waters in that state.

Contact

More information available online at:

http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/tris/

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