Products sold on the European market: unraveling the system of CE marking
We have audited the EU system of CE marking. Why is it that products that do not meet EU safety, health and environmental requirements are nonetheless sold on the EU market? And what is the government doing about the problem? Dozens of products bearing a CE marking are taken off the market every year because they present a risk to consumers. We performed this audit in order to inform the Dutch House of Representatives about the CE marking system and show the House how it could improve its monitoring activities.
Products with a CE marking are not necessarily safe
The European Commission receives hundreds of notifications every year that certain products pose a risk to consumer health and safety, despite the fact that they bear a CE logo. How is this possible?
A European average of 800 notifications a year of products bearing a CE marking that do not meet EU requirements
Weakness of the CE system
Market operators are themselves responsible for ensuring that the products they sell meet the relevant requirements. However, public interests of health and safety do not always coincide with economic interests such as profit maximisation. Not all market operators are willing to safeguard public interests, especially when there are no strong incentives for complying with the CE regulations. One of the problems is that the regulations are so complex that it is not entirely clear which rules have to be observed.
Weak links in European supervision
There are also weaknesses in the supervision of the CE system. Products are sold in the single market, but supervision is spread over national regulators in individual countries. Not all countries are equally strict in their supervision and market operators themselves can select countries in which they sell their products. Furthermore, the exchange of inspection findings among market regulators in the various member states is open to improvement.
The Minister of Economic Affairs, the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport and the Minister of Housing and the Central Government Sector responded to our audit report on 15 December. The report was published on Thursday 19 January 2017.
Improve cooperation and the exchange of information among market regulators
We recommend that the responsible ministers in the Netherlands improve market surveillance [TP1] by promoting the exchange of information and cooperation among market regulators, both nationally and internationally.
We recommend that the coordinating minister, the Minister of Economic Affairs:
- inform the House of Representatives in a systematic manner as to how the Netherlands has discharged its responsibilities in relation to the CE system and how it is helping to improve product safety; this report could be combined with the four-yearly review of market supervision that the Minister submits to the European Commission;
- strengthen the information status of end users.
Why did we audit the CE marking system?
Everyone in the Netherlands encounters products bearing a CE marking every day – in the home or at work. Electrical appliances, toys, packaging, sticking plasters, supermarket scales, roadside petrol pumps, ladders used by window-cleaners and bread-slicers used by bakers are all examples of products that are subject to CE marking.
Dozens of products in the EU are withdrawn from the market every month because they pose a grave risk to users’ health and safety. Curiously, many of these products carry a CE marking. CE stands for Conformité Européenne, which means ‘in compliance with EU law’. By placing a CE marking on a product, the manufacturer declares that it complies with all the prevailing EU statutory requirements in relation to aspects such as safety, health and the environment. However, a CE marking is not a guarantee that the product in question is safe. We wanted to inform the House of Representatives about this situation and, more particularly, about what the government could do about it.
How did we audit CE marking?
We carried out a statistical analysis of the RAPEX (Rapid Alert System for non-food dangerous products) database that European countries use in order to inform the European Commission about dangerous products. We conducted interviews in relation to two of the products in the RAPEX database, and followed the paper trail from manufacture to consumption. This reconstruction of the journey through the supply chain generated information on the problems and weaknesses of the CE system. We hosted three expert meetings to discuss our findings with stakeholders from both the public and the private sector.
What data did we use to audit the CE marking system?
We used the European Commission’s RAPEX database. We refined the data before performing our analysis, for example by only selecting those product groups that are subject to CE marking.