Myth: From January 1 1993, our markets will be invaded by products which will either be dangerous or of poor quality: furniture will be made of polyurethane foam (which is highly inflammable), fireworks will contain more explosive powder, prams and chairs for children will not be very reliable, safety hats will not be as safe as they might be, ooker doors will burn children’s hands…In other words the Single Market will be responsible for bringing about poor safety standards.
Response: There is no need for concern. All goods must still comply with existing safety requirements.
The celebrated “Cassis de Dijon” judgement by the European Court in February 1979 is the foundation of the new approach to the free movement of goods in accordance with the essential requirements needed for consumer protection. It specified, indeed, that a product which has been legally produced and marketed in one country can, normally, circulate within the Community. Nevertheless it is specified – and this is the crucial point – that the product must comply with the existing safety requirements, which have been determined either by the importing country or by the Community. In accordance with this double principle, Articles 100A and 100B of the Single European Act specify very clearly that:
(a) the Council of Ministers adopts, on a proposal from the Commission, legislative and administrative provisions based on a high level of consumer, as well as environmental protection for the whole of the Community.
(b) national standards in force before 1.1.1993 will remain valid and will not be systematically harmonised, unless the Council specify otherwise. It is therefore wrong to say or to believe that the safety requirements which had been established by the various Member States in the past will systematically be replaced after 1.1.1993. It is also wrong to believe that national authorities will not not be given the means to face new problems as of 1.1.1993. The Single European Act clearly states that the Member States may still evoke Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome, each time it is justified, whether EC harmonisation measures already exist or not.
The given example of fireworks highlights the current misunderstanding. There is no EC legislation on fireworks. Nonetheless European standards are currently being established by the manufacturers on their own initiative and within the framework of the European Standardisation Committee. At the end of the process, if everyone is satisfied, voluntary standards will apply, which manufacturers may choose to adopt or not. If, on the other hand, a Member State feels that consumer safeguards are insufficient, Article 36 enables the Member State to make legislation; and the European Commission will endeavour to develop a directive. The same procedure applies to the other aforementioned examples (prams, chairs for children, furniture with polyurethane foam), for which there are, at the moment no Community legislation. The Member States may also withdraw from their market, for valid reasons, products which they believe are dangerous for their consumers.
The same applies for products for which there is exiting Community legislation (for example safety hats and cookers). The legislation is adopted by the Council of Ministers, in cooperation with the european Parliament, after having received a proposal from the Commission. Community legislation dictates the essential requirements that products must attain to, and this is set to a high standard; these requirements specify manufacturer’s responsibilities. Voluntary standards are then established, at the request of the Commission, by the European Standardization Committee. These standards are presumed to comply with the esential requirements. Manufacturers who do not produce to these standards must, nevertheless, show compliance with the essential requirements. Article 100A of the Single European Act carries an additional safeguard: “If, after the adoption of a harmonisation measure by the Council … a Member State deems it necessary to apply national provisions on grounds of major needs referred to in Article 36 … it shall notify the Commission of these provisions. The Commission shall confirm the provisions after having verified that they are not a means of arbitrary discrimination”.
All precautions have been taken to ensure that the operations of the Single Market do not constitute health or safety hazards for the E consumer, but that, on the contrary, thry reinforce health and safety protection. National authorities, of course, have an essential role to play in the protection of their consumers, as well as of other consumers in the Community.