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Removing barriers to trade to strengthen the internal market

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Companies in the EU can call for help if they fear that new technical regulations in other Member States could hamper the sales of their products.

Under the notification procedure provided in Directive 98/34/EC, Member States are obliged to inform the Commission and other Member States about their draft technical regulations on products and Information Society services before they are adopted into national law.

In 2009 and 2010, 1 525 draft technical regulations were notified, a number which increased in comparison with the previous period which covered three years (1 979 for 2006, 2007 and 2008). In 12% of the cases the Commission found that the new regulations could have led to obstacles to the free movement of goods. But in more than 95% of these cases, solutions are found before the adoption of the texts by Member States, avoiding infringement procedures which are always cumbersome and onerous for all parties involved.

Among the sectors concerned, construction again saw the highest number of notifications over the reporting period. Many measures related to energy efficiency of buildings and labelling of construction and decoration products regarding their volatile pollutant emissions. Construction was followed by agricultural products and foodstuffs. In this sector, several measures concerned food hygiene, genetically modified organisms, the composition and labelling of foodstuffs and beverages. Notifications increased significantly in the transport sector where many notifications related to traffic signals, vehicle safety, tractors and motor vehicle devices. Several notifications were received in the telecommunication sector, mainly concerning radio interfaces, and in the environment sector (eco-contribution on plastic bags, management of waste batteries and accumulators and labelling of reusable drink packaging).

The report on the functioning of Directive 98/34/EC in 2009 and 2010, published on 7 December 2011, highlights that the directive:

  • is an effective instrument to prevent barriers to trade and to facilitate transparency and cooperation between the Commission and the Member States as well as among the Member States.
  • is an important tool for guiding national regulatory activity and improving the quality of national technical regulations in terms of increased clarity, readability and effectiveness.  
  • has also allowed Member States to ascertain the degree of compatibility of notified drafts with EU legislation and helped to implement the Smart Regulation policy and   
  • it has been an important instrument of European regulatory and industrial policy.

The standardisation part of the report consists of the information procedure on standards, the Commission requests to the European Standards Organisations (ESOs) for standardisation work (“mandates”) and formal objections against standards. On average there are more than 1700 notifications for standards every year. This information procedure has brought transparency in standards at national and European level and has encouraged National Standards Bodies to continue to take initiatives at European level, in turn promoting European harmonisation.

Known as the “98/34” notification procedure, the early warning system under Directive 98/34/EC avoids the establishment of new technical barriers to trade. Conceived to implement the well known "Cassis de Dijon" case law on free movement of goods, it is a pillar of the internal market of goods. The case concerned the sale of "Cassis de Dijon" in Germany by a supermarket chain. The German authorities did not permit the import and marketing as a fruit liqueur of "Cassis de Dijon" into Germany because it has been produced according to different technical rules.  

Through a system of standstill periods, Member States must refrain from adopting the notified draft regulations for at least three months to allow time for examination. This period can be extended up to 6 months in cases where the measure in question is likely to create unjustified barriers to trade and up to 18 months in cases of harmonisation work at EU level. All notifications can be consulted free of charge in the TRIS (Technical Regulations Information System) database, which is updated daily.

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