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Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Free movement in harmonised and non-harmonised sectors

Liability of defective products

In the EU, consumers can claim compensation for damage caused by defective products. Since 1985, product liability rules aim to maintain a fair balance between the interests of consumers and producers.

Return of cultural goods

Since 1993, the EU has had legislation providing for the physical return of cultural objects that have been unlawfully removed from EU countries' territory. This legislation aims to reconcile the fundamental principle of the free movement of goods with the protection of national treasures.

Enforcement of single market for goods rules - infringement procedure

The Commission monitors whether EU countries comply with EU law and whether their national rules hamper the free movement of goods. If EU countries fail to comply, the Commission may initiate infringement proceedings. The procedure ensures that single market rules are respected and applied correctly

Many products on the EU market are subject to harmonised rules that protect consumers, public health, and environment. Harmonised rules preclude the adoption of possibly divergent national rules and ensure the free circulation of products within the EU. Some sectors are still governed by national provisions however. The principle of free movement of goods ensures that these provisions do not lead to the creation of unjustified barriers to trade. 

Harmonised sectors

Harmonised sectors are subject to common rules across the EU. They provide a clear and predictable legal framework for businesses. If manufacturers follow these rules, their products can be sold freely in the market:

  • in the majority of sectors (e.g. electronic and electric equipment, machinery, lifts, medical devices), EU legislation is limited to essential health, safety, and environmental protection requirements. To demonstrate compliance with these requirements, manufacturers may voluntarily use standards or other technical specifications;
  • in other sectors (e.g. automotive, chemicals), legislation provides detailed requirements obliging certain types of products to have the same technical specifications;
  • the EU harmonisation legislation that provides for the free movement of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment is managed by Directorate-General for Environment.

Non-harmonised sectors

Non-harmonised sectors are not subject to common EU rules and may come under the national rules. These sectors should still benefit from Treaty provisions governing free movement of goods according to Arts. 34-36 TFEU. National rules on these products are subject to a notification procedure that ensures they do not create undue barriers to trade.

To ensure the free movement of goods in non-harmonised sectors, the principal of mutual recognition, the 2015/1535 notification procedure, and the application of Arts. 34-36 TFEU are essential.

For further information you may consult the Commission’s Guidance on Articles 34-36 TFEU and the Guidance on the principle of mutual recognition.