When CE Marking was introduced, hopes were high that one clear, harmonized
system would open up an 18-country market of more than 350 million people.
If a product needed more than one approval, such as EMC and product safety, at least each approval would be valid throughout the European Union. Manufacturers were also expected to gain increased powers to self-declare compliance with EU directives.
Eight years later. Not only has CE Marking arrived, but its use is growing. Seventeen directives are now set with more to follow. Machinery and electromagnetic compatibility--two of the most wide-ranging directives--have become mandatory with electrical in 1997.
Initial evidence suggests that the old system of separate, national regulatory approvals for each kind of hazard is disappearing, bringing one-stop regulatory approval a step closer, but customer interest in independent conformity assessment re-mains high.
Hurdles to a one-time approval process still remain. National-level blocks, such as France's refusal to accept a European standard for short-circuit test requirements for electrical toys, must be overcome. The lack of a clear basis for pan-European compliance is another problem. When the directive on personal protective equipment (PPE) came into force in 1995, suppliers were given little guidance on how to classify a specific product into the right category for a range of mandatory conformity assessment operations. Almost every major directive has also required some form of subsequent clarification. Delays in finalizing harmonized European standards have also hampered progress. The EU has always emphasized the role of these in facilitating compliance, but most observers accept that the EU is not even at the half-way point in producing enough EN standards to make the process flow smoothly.
The good news. For the past three years, no physical or documentation checks have been made on goods at EU internal frontiers. In addition, national governments are finding it increasingly hard to enforce regulations which block one-stop, pan-European approval. In late 1995, a landmark court case condemned the French government for imposing its own independent telecommunications certification rules. Indeed, courts are becoming a last resort. Procedures now exist for amicable review of deviations from harmonized approval; most settle long before court action becomes necessary. EU complaint procedures enable suppliers to force a review where one-stop approval is denied.
Compliance instructions are getting clearer. Few manufacturers inside the EU report problems with free movement and one-stop approval.
Taken together, the evidence of the operation of the EU's CE Marking system is encouraging. The hard results are more important than the forecasts of future trends. The system is already making a substantial contribution towards achieving frontier-free trade among no less than 18 European countries.
Raymond Schonfeld worked with David Lohbeck on the preparation of this article. Schonfeld is managing director of Single Market Ventures in Brussels, Belgium (011-322-537-2603). David Lohbeck, manager of seminars and training for TÜV Rheinland, has worked on European safety and EMC compliance (847-679-2888).
Ask the Manager
Q: Does CE Marking guarantee free market access and sales?
A: Yes and no. CE Marking allows an industrial product to circulate freely throughout the European Economic Area (EEA). It is a mandatory conformity marking. But it won't help sales because all products will have it. The aim of CE Marking is to symbolize the conformity of the product to the directives. It also indicates that the manufacturer has undergone all evaluation procedures. A CE Marking is used to facilitate controls in the market by inspectors. CE is the manufacturer's self-declaration that the product meets minimum requirements. However, CE is not a quality mark.
Q: Can other marks of approval be used?
A: Yes. According to the "Official Journal" (OJEC; 95/C 326/50), in 1993 the Council ruled that a product may bear different marks. Quality markings, as opposed to CE, are voluntary, address consumers or users, and tend to influence the consumers' appreciation toward the relevant product. Thus, they have a different function to that of CE marks.
Q: Isn't this development prejudicial to European small- and medium-sized enterprises?
A: From a European industrial competitiveness point of view, using voluntary private quality marks at a national level can be undesirable because they can force manufacturers into multiple certifications just to get their products into each national market. The Commission realizes this constitutes a financial and personnel burden for small enterprises. It would welcome mutual recognition agreements between the different quality and certification schemes.