The JRC is a centre of reference in its key competence areas through extensive networks with the relevant organisations in the Member States and, where appropriate, international organisations. Some of the JRC's reference functions include the following:
- Develops reference materials, harmonize measurements in support of a harmonised system of measurements in the EU and/or sector-specific legislative acts.
- Validates data and measurements, particularly in the area of environment and health and consumer protection policies; JRC currently runs three European union Reference Laboratories (and their networks) in support of the implementation of various food safety control and health directives. In addition, the European Union Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing (EURL ECVAM) validates alternative methods to animal experiments in the framework of the cosmetics directive; this validation is mandatory for such alternative methods to replace experiments on animals.
- Certifies certain types of equipment (solar cells, digital tachograph).
- Establishes interoperable services in the frame of the directive on "Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community" (INSPIRE) based on harmonised data sets.
- Establishes norms for directives and/or pre-normative research which is supported by a number of experimental facilities, such as the Vehicle Emissions Laboratory, the European Laboratory for Structural Assessment (ELSA) and test facilities for hydrogen storage and fuel cells.
- Provides reference data through so-called "bureaus". For example, the European Bureau for Wine, Alcohol and Spirit Drinks supports anti-fraud in the European wines and spirits trade. Bureaux such as the European Soils one promote the establishment of harmonised data sets. Other bureaux promote best practices with reference function, for example, the European Bureau for Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control or the European Clearing House for Operational Safety Experience of Nuclear Power Plant Operators in the EU. The European Coexistence Bureau for technical measures at farm level ensures coexistence between conventional, organic and GMO-bearing crops.
- Operates two on-site laboratories for nuclear safeguards in reprocessing installations.
- The JRC operates key and sometimes unique experimental infrastructures, underpinning the scientific-technical reference function, varying from nuclear research to production of certified reference material.
- In addition, the JRC hosts a large number of unique pan-European and global environmental information systems and data centres (e.g., the Global Land Cover 2000 database).
The EU Member States are in many cases direct beneficiaries of the above activities.
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