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       Conformity Assessment 28/05/2008
Where do we stand with quality marks
CE marking needs to be reviewed – article by Dr. A. Schwab (MEP) in TÜV Times (TÜV Austria) March 2008 issue

The current discussion about the appearance of unsafe consumer products shows that in spite of various measures by the European Commission not enough has happened during the past years.

The strengthening of market supervision is a central concern of the so-called “new approach“, the horizontal instrument which is being revised at present by the European Parliament and the Council. Only with an improved market supervision can we make sure that unsafe products are withdrawn from circulation at the borders of the European Union already and will not even reach the internal market.

According to the principle of subsidiarity the member states are responsible for market supervision, in Germany even the federal states. The quality and intensity of market supervision are very low when seen from a common European perspective and very different in the individual member states. There is great need for action here. The European Parliament would like the customs authorities to perform their duties more effectively and strengthen the exchange and cooperation with the market supervision authorities. Through a central accreditation of all notified bodies and identical demands all over Europe we shall guarantee a uniform level of the accredited bodies and thus of the methods of assessing the conformity of products.

The discussion about safe consumer products has however yet another dimension: We need to re-examine the question of safety markings for the consumers in the European internal market. The present situation confuses consumers time and again since many are of the opinion that a CE marking on the product means that it is safe.

First we must make one thing clear: According to today’s standards the CE marking per se does not stand for the safety of products, as one can often hear wrongly. It states that the products, such as machines, meet the demands for the respective product in the EU directives – or that the manufacturer declares this to be so by affixing the CE marking. It is therefore purely a manufacturer’s declaration. The CE marking is therefore mainly a sign intended to help and inform the market supervision authorities. Its significance for the consumers is however limited. What we need for the European internal market is a product safety label consumers identify instantly.

Tested safety in Germany

In 1977 Germany established a functional and reliable system with the GS label, which cannot be found in this form in any other European country. Nevertheless the GS label is known beyond the German market and companies are asking for it. Why should not all European consumers be allowed to benefit from such a system? A European regulated label would offer high transparency and an important orientation guide to consumers for buying products.

Need for a review of the marking system in the EU

The European Commission however is proposing to abolish the national test labels to a large extent – and without substitution – in its proposal for a revision of the “new approach”. The European Parliament in a compromise across the political groups has now argued that the national labels must be able to continue at least until such time when there is a European solution. Furthermore the Commission is being asked to review in principle the existing systems for the marking of consumer products in the EU in a study.

We expect that the present situation will be completely investigated and that the pros and cons of the CE marking and of the national labels will be examined. In the process one must also examine how far national labels can represent an impediment in access to the internal market and whether the introduction of a voluntary European safety label for all consumer products would bring an added value.

Fake Quality Marks - article in “de Volkskrant”, published on 25 March 2008

Summary in English

Jolet Woordes, a specialist for quality marks, warns that the use of what she calls “false quality marks” in advertising can turn out to be misleading for the consumer. A real quality mark has to meet a number of requirements, says Woordes. It has, for example, to be apparent what has been tested and what has not been tested and what were the criteria for the testing (how often, etc.?). There has to be a traceable contact for potential questions and responsibilities for the content of the mark have to be laid open for the consumer.

Quality marks are above all used in sectors

An example for a misleading quality mark is the “Green Point-log” in Germany. Many people think that products bearing this logo are environmentally friendly packaged. However, the logo only means that by collecting and recycling these packages a contribution to a cleaner environment can be paid. Woordes repeats that it is nowhere explicitly said that these products are environmentally friendly packaged, but that the mark transports a specific which starts to develop its own dynamism.

The danger of these false quality marks is that they might contribute to the confusion of the consumer and loss of confidence in the worst case, says Woordes. In the Netherlands the ‘Reclame Code Commissie4 and the ‘Consumentenautoriteit’ watch that there is not misuse of quality marks at the expense of the consumer.

Read the full article in Dutch:

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