THE COMMUNITY BUREAU OF REFERENCE : AN INSTRUMENT FOR THE ATTAINMENT OF THE "BIG MARKET"
European Commission - MEMO/86/102 19/09/1986
Other available languages: FR
Divergences (sometimes of major proportions) between the results of physical measurements or chemical analyses carried out by different laboratories in the Community often lie at the root of disputes between companies or even between Member States as well as of barriers to trade, financial losses, etc. By bringing together the most competent laboratories in the Community, the Community Bureau of Reference (BCR) programme enables the causes of these discrepancies to be identified and eliminated through the harmonization not of the measuring methods - which may continue to differ - but of the results, once a type of specific measurement has been mastered. Altogether, more than 700 laboratories are involved in this programme. For instance, recent work by the BCR has had the effect of reducing to 0.2% (the best attainable level within current technical limitations) disparities in gas-flow measurements involving major pipelines. Previously, these disparities had been a source of conflict among the Member States. In the agri-foodstuffs sector, the programme has resulted in the elimination of certain errors in toxicological measurements involving powdered milk. These measurements varied by a factor of 10 000 in the case of cadmium and by a factor of 1 000 in the case of certain toxins. These findings emerge from the Report on the implementation of the programme of the Community Bureau of Reference (BCR) on Applied Metrology and Reference Materials (1983-87), which the Commission has just transmitted to the Council and to Parliament. The Report takes stock of the results obtained at this midway stage in the programme. .../... - 2 - Technical support in favour of standardization The Community Bureau of Reference plays a crucial role in the Community's technical harmonization policy. Its activities, which were first launched in 1973, have been gradually extended and will be required to develop still further in the future. Through its work the BCR is a major source of technical support in the quest for standardization on a European scale. Such standardization, moreover, presupposes the attainment of the "big market", which will be one of the Community's major objectives over the years to come. The BCR programme is designed specifically to bring about closer agreement in Community results, analyses and measurements, i.e., measurements of physical quantities (length, mass, volume, electric current, noise, etc.), measurements of the physical properties of materials (mechanical strength, thermal conductivity, etc.) and chemical analyses (including analyses in the medical field). The BCR's activities take place both upstream and downstream of the standardization work proper. The projects included in the programme are linked to the preparation or application of technical standards or Community directives covering the industrial, environmental, foodstuffs and health sectors. Some of the projects currently under way will help to limit considerably divergences in measurements of the insulating and sound-proofing properties of double-glazed windows. At present, these divergences constitute definite barriers to trade. Other projects are concerned with measurements of background noise in telecommunications systems. As regards the environment, the BCR's activities have produced significant improvements in a number of analyses relating to heavy-metal or organic-compound traces (carcinogens, pesticides) the results of which diverged considerably from one laboratory to another (as in the case of powdered milk referred to above). Other work currently under way in the agri-foodstuffs sector is concerned with measurements of heavy metals and hormones in meats as well as analyses of oils, fats, flours and fruit juices. Taking all the areas covered, some 600 products have benefited from the work of the BCR since 1973. .../... - 3 - International cooperation Under this programme, for which a budget of 25 million ECU has been earmarked over the five-year period, 90 projects have already been launched, with each project bringing together between 5 and 20 different laboratories. Among these 700 or so laboratories (national metrology laboratories, chemical analysis laboratories, technological testing laboratories), the Community Bureau of Reference has stimulated the development of close cooperation that now extends to areas of activity other than those laid down in the programme. Quite clearly, this cooperation will be required to play a crucial role in the process of European technical harmonization. The BCR is also recognized outside Europe, as is illustrated by the fact that in the United States the National Bureau of Standards distributes the 200 or so reference materials supplied by the BCR.