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       Events 16/03/2011
 
Can consumers feel safe in Europe?

More than 120 participants and the high-level panellists unanimously agreed that safety for European citizens should not only be a theory, but also a truly implemented reality. This was the predominant collective message voiced during the 2nd CEOC International Safety Seminar that took place in Brussels close to the European Parliament on 16 March 2011.

 

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Key-note speaker Malcolm Harbour, chair of the European Parliament Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), underlined the importance of streamlined European legislation in support of optimising the safety of products traded in the EU. He referred to the resolution on tighter product controls adopted by the European Parliament on 08 March (Report on the revision of the General Product Safety Directive and market surveillance, MEP C. Schaldemose), as well as to the recent report on the future of European standardisation (MEP E. Kožušník). Market surveillance and standardisation are not necessarily “sexy” issues, he admitted, but nevertheless public interest and attention to safety is higher than ever before. He underlined that decisions taken for the EU internal market also have a global impact and that, because of increasing volumes of imports and exports globally Europe cannot be taken for granted as an “island of safety” without taking into account the broader context. The challenge is how to design safety into the product, he said, which means attention given not only to the outcome (final product), but also and particularly to the (design, manufacturing and distribution) processes.

 

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A comparable level of safety in all EU Member States remains a challenge and is not yet a reality, according to Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC (European Consumers’ Organisation). Consumers generally expect products that are sold in the market to be safe, therefore all operators involved in the safety process have an obligation to ensure that this is really the case. However, the percentage of consumers that feel adequately protected by existing measures differs considerably from one Member State to another, with Austria (79%), Ireland (79%) and the UK (80%) leading, and Bulgaria (27%), Greece (30%) and Romania (34%) at the bottom of the list (figures taken from the “5th Consumer Markets Scoreboard”, 04.03.2011). Also the number of products tested in labs varies tremendously, with 25,850 in Germany and only 2,717 in France (idem). Products that are unsafe potentially cause damage to consumers, Mrs Goyens stressed. It is therefore more than urgent to overcome remaing loopholes in the system and to set up, for instance, a collective redress system through which consumers could at least claim compensation. In addition, BEUC welcomes more intervention of TIC (testing, inspection and certification) companies, especially in sensitive areas.

 

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Chris Van der Cruyssen, Director General a.i. Federal Public Service Economy – DG Quality and Safety, gave an overview of achievements and challenges linked to market surveillance, saying that in general market surveillance authorities in the EU have more obligations but also better tools today. He welcomed the development of market surveillance into a legally and publicly recognised mechanism, last but not least thanks to the provisions of the NLF-New Legislative Framework on the marketing of goods (Regulation 765/2008). However, market surveillance authorities still struggle with an overload of information, and with a lack of technical knowledge at a higher level. Apart from giving more resources to market surveillance authorities, increasing attention should be given to cooperation and exchange of information between authorities on a European level. In general, it can be noted that due to market surveillance activities and communication about the revised GPSD (General Product Safety Directive) and the NLF, importers and distributors ask their manufacturers more often for test reports.

 

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CEOC International, through its President Hugo Eberhardt, joined its partners from the European institutions, consumer organisations and public authorities in working towards the overall objective of ensuring maximum safety for consumers. Pro-active involvement of independent third party testing laboratories and inspection and certification bodies prevents 1 million unsafe products (or even more) from coming on to the market. Without this, these products have to be detected and removed (recalled) reactively by market surveillance authorities. Or, in the worst case, they would just be placed on supermarket shelves and end up in the homes of consumers. As concrete additional measures with view to the Schaldemose report (see above), CEOC International would propose that the manufacturer’s risk analysis should ensure public safety through product testing at the point of manufacture, ensure all the essential health and safety requirements in the relevant directives are met, continuing quality control of manufacture (particularly if changes occur), where the risks identify use by vulnerable groups (eg children) or harm to persons on product failure then independent assessment of safety should be considered.

 

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Different approaches – one goal

 

There was an interesting compatibility of all presentations, Malcolm Harbour noted at the end of the seminar. And indeed the goal – best safety level of products for EU consumers – became crystal clear and should not be questioned by any means or excuse. The way forward is enhanced product testing & certification, better production site control, enhanced market surveillance, good (European) legislation, additional measures such as the RAPEX system and a European complaints database, consumer awareness-raising measures etc. If the partners in the game – such as European institutions, national authorities, industry, research institutions, consumer organisations, TIC sector - continue working as consistently and straightforwardly together as during the discussion at  the 2nd CEOC Safety Seminar, the future of European consumers could not look more reassuring.

 

If you wish to receive further information on this event and related issues, please contact Astrid Silvia Grunert, EU Affairs Manager at CEOC International: astrid.grunert@ceoc.com.

 

 

 
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