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The Commission recently approved a communication to the European Parliament and the Council on a new approach to technical harmonization. Eighteen year's exprerience has shown that the delays and difficulties encountered derive to a large extent from the system of harmonization by means of detailed technical specifications. The Commission proposes a new approach consisting in the laying down in directives of criteria of safety and the protecxtion of the public interest, such as the protection of health, the consumer and the environment (in the home, at the place of work, etc...), to which products must conform, while entrusting to European standards - and, if necessary, national standards - the definition of technical characteristics of products. The Commission sets out priority sectors in which this new approach could be applied and presents the principles and main elements on which the content of the directives should be based. This communication will be on the agenda of the Interior Market Council on 11 February next. Technical harmonization : the results of 17 year's work Technical harmonization work has led to significant results in certain areas, such as motor vehicles, metrology and electrical appliances. There are currently 177 relevant Council directives, adapted by 56 Commission directives, but it must be acknowledged that : - faced with the multiplicity of technical regulations and standards in all countries, the results in certain industrial fields are still almost negligible; - technology is now developing too fast to hold out any hope that harmonization procedurest and the decision-making process of the Council will ever be able to achieve an objective which seems destined to become increasingly remote rather than nearer to attainment; - the method of harmonization all too often proves inadequate for the realization of a true internal market, whose benefits must be enjoyed by all sectors of the economy : industry, workers, users and consumers. (1) COM(85)19 - 2 - The new approach : outlin for a directive In the light of favourable experience the Commission considers that legislative work should gradually be oriented towards formulae laying down safety objectives to which products must conform and that legislation should make reference to standards - preferably European but national if necessary - as regards the technical characteristics of products. The plan rests on the following four fundamental principles : - harmonization of legislation is limited to the adoption of the essential safety requirements (or other requirements in the public interest) to which all products placed on the market must conform in order to benefit from freedom of movement within the Community. - the competent industrial standardization bodies will be allotted the task of drawing up, with due regard to technological developments, of the technical specifications that industry needs in order to produce and market products conforming to the essential requirements laid down by the directives; - the technical specifications will in no way be mandatory but will retain the status of voluntary standards; - at the same time however, governments are obliged to recognise products manufactured in accordance with the harmonized standards (or, provisionally, national standards) as conforming to the "essential requirements" laid down by the relevant directive -which means that the manufacturer may opt to produce goods which do not conform to the stadard, though in that case the onus of proof that his products conform to the essential requirements of the directive is on him). Where a national standard is inadequate, the Commission, with the assistance of a standing committee of national experts, may refuse to extend its validity for the Community as a whole. The Commission will make a start as soon as possible on the necessary work for the implementation of this approach. The studies will relate to the following areas. - Mechanical engineering Harmonization has already begun in certain fields, namely pressure vessels, gas applicances, construction plant and equipment, hoisting and lifting gear; in other fields, such as machine tools, there is no directive - Construction products Priority area : behaviour in fire of construction materials and components. - Electrical appliancesIn the fields not covered by existing directives.