Member States should stop turning a blind eye to product safety
Europeans should not have to play a dangerous game of Russian roulette when they purchase products, argue Sirpa Pietikäinen, Françoise Grossetête and Bart Staes.
Photo Credit: Press Association
Product safety is a matter of life and death.
Too many Member States are turning a blind eye to the import of unsafe products into Europe - favouring profit over the protection of European consumers.
The failure of market surveillance in Europe, along with Member States’ inability to properly enforce safety legislation specifically designed to protect their citizens, is a scandal.
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This legislation underpins the functioning of the Single Market and should be enforced by effective national authorities via robust controls at the EU points of entry.
The Single Market is based on trust. European consumers should have confidence that the products they buy in Europe are safe.
Yet currently this is not currently the case. There is clear evidence that product safety legislation is widely flouted in a number of Member States, particularly in those that are major points of entry for importing consumer goods.
Inspections by Member States between 2010 and 2013 revealed non-compliance in 32 percent of inspected toys, 47 percent of construction products and 58 percent of electromagnetic and radio equipment.
“There is clear evidence that product safety legislation is widely flouted in a number of Member States, particularly in those that are major points of entry for importing consumer goods”
Hazardous products on Europe’s shelves continue to pose risks for consumers.
Every day, children and adults in Europe are hurt, or worse, by unsafe or non-compliant products that should not have reached the market in the first place.
Unsafe and non-compliant products do not simply harm consumers. The gaping holes in Europe’s market surveillance framework and enforcement regime leaves the door wide open for rogue traders intent on selling non-compliant goods.
This leaves legitimate businesses at a significant competitive disadvantage, compared to rogue players who do not spend money on compliance, and destroys European jobs.
Imports from third countries pose a serious problem.
The share of products imported from outside the EU is increasing, while at the same time imported products make up a significant share of non-compliant products in the EU, according to European Commission analysis.
In the period 2010-2016, 75 percent of product safety alerts (RAPEX) concerned imported products and 59 percent of all notifications concerned products from China.
“A worrying proportion of non-compliant and unsafe products enter the EU market via Rotterdam because of poor market surveillance and enforcement of product safety legislation”
Europe’s seaports should be the first line of defence against the import of unsafe products from third countries.
Once cargo has been cleared, goods can circulate freely anywhere within the EU, making the need for effective control measures on imported products essential for good functioning of the EU market.
However, it is no secret that fierce competition for business among European ports has led to a race to the bottom and that Member States are wilfully turning a blind eye.
The Netherlands, with the largest seaport in Europe, is a glaring example of failure.
The Port of Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port, handling some 467m tonnes of goods last year alone.
However, a worrying proportion of non-compliant and unsafe products enter the EU market via Rotterdam because of poor market surveillance and enforcement of product safety legislation.
In 2010, the European Commission opened an infringement procedure against the Netherlands for non-implementation of lighter safety legislation because the situation was so dire.
The Commission has not come yet to a conclusion, although the failures of the Dutch market surveillance authority, NVWA, are well documented.
This summer, another safety scandal hit the Netherlands with at least two children sustaining skull fractures after falling from faulty inflatable bouncy castles, even though the NVWA had already acknowledged responsibility for the death of a four-year-old boy in the same way in 2016.
The Netherlands is a glaring example but it’s not an exception. Last month, a complaint was filed against France and Germany on the same grounds.
Recent market analysis showed that 86 percent of lighter models sold in France and Germany do not comply with the ISO 9994 International Safety Standard and that prohibited novelty pocket lighters remain freely available for sale in these countries, with apparent impunity.
This is not trivial. The EU has already missed an opportunity to improve product safety on the internal market when the Council blocked the common market surveillance framework proposed in 2013 under the Product Safety and Market Surveillance package.
However, as the guardian of the Treaties, the Commission has a duty to enforce existing EU legislation.
To maintain the trust of EU citizens and businesses it is vital that the Commission uses its powers to ensure product safety rules are implemented.
This is too important to wait until the next Commission.
The Commission must act now to protect its citizens.
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