What is accreditation?
Accreditation is the last level of public control in the European conformity assessment system. Accreditation is designed to ensure and attest that conformity assessment bodies (e.g. laboratories, inspection or certification bodies) have the technical capacity to perform their duties adequately.
Accreditation is used in both the regulated sector to meet the requirements of certain legislation and the voluntary area where there is no specific legislation.
Accreditation aims to increase trust in conformity attestation and thus reinforces the mutual recognition of products, processes, services, systems, persons and bodies across the EU.
It is based on a peer evaluation system that ensures the proper functioning of accreditation across the EU.
How does accreditation work?
Accreditation of conformity assessment bodies is based on harmonised standards, which define competence criteria for the national accreditation body and for each category of conformity assessment body (such as laboratories or certification bodies), sector specific requirements and guidance documents drawn up by regional and international organisations of accreditation bodies.
Accreditation in the EU
Regulation 765/2008, which sets out requirements for accreditation and market surveillance relating to the marketing of products, establishes the legal framework for accreditation in Europe.
The Regulation promotes a uniformly rigorous approach to accreditation across Member States – so that ultimately one accreditation certificate will be enough to demonstrate the technical capacity of a conformity assessment body.
The main principles of accreditation in the Regulation (which complement the relevant international standard for accreditation bodies) are:
- One accreditation body per Member State (but it is possible to have recourse to another Member State's national accreditation body, should a Member State decide not to set up its own).
- Accreditation is a public sector activity.
- There is no competition between national accreditation bodies.
- Accreditation is a not-for-profit activity.
- Stakeholder representation is ensured.
- Accreditation is the preferred means of demonstrating technical capacity in the regulated area - in the appointment of notified bodies.
The European accreditation infrastructure
Furthermore, Regulation 765/2008 recognises a body known as the European co-operation for accreditation, the EA, of which national accreditation bodies are members and which cooperates with the European Commission.
It is EA's task to set up and manage a sound peer evaluation system of national accreditation bodies – to ensure that each accreditation body functions properly and has the competence needed to perform its tasks.
EA also provides technical assistance to the Commission in the field of accreditation.
For this purpose, in 2009, the Commission, European Free Trade Association (EFTA), Member States and EA signed general cooperation guidelines that mark their political commitmet to work closely together and prepare for the successful implementation of the accreditation chapter of the Regulation.
In June 2014, the Commission and EA signed a framework partnership agreement for the period 2014-2017. This framework partnership agreement allows financial support for EA in fulfilling its tasks under the Regulation and meeting the objectives set out in the guidelines.
When implementing the Regulation's chapter on accreditation, the Commission and Member States seek a common understanding concerning specific questions related to the new legislative framework and to accreditation. This consensus is normally reflected in a CERTIF document on a specific topic. A consolidated paper of all CERTIF documents adopted until summer 2014 can be found here.
Furthermore, in the framework of the report on the implementation of Regulation 765/2008, the CERTIF documents on accreditation that have been published since the adoption of the Regulation have been compiled in a Commission staff working document.
UK Study on the ‘Economics of Accreditation’
The UK government commissioned a study to assess the economic benefits derived from the accreditation of certification, measurement and inspection services. Researchers from Birkbeck, University of London, surveyed a selection of businesses, and other independent analysis, to create the report. Its aim was to provide a financial evaluation of accreditation’s contribution to the UK economy, which it valued at more than £600 million per annum. A summary of the main findings [26 KB], as well as the full report [910 KB], can be found on the website of the UK national accreditation body.
German Study on the 'Development perspectives for conformity assessment and accreditation in Germany'
The German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology commissioned a study by Technopolis Deutschland GmbH and DIN Deutsches Normungsinstitut e.V. to assess the wider economic impact of conformity assessment and accreditation for the German economy.