Thanks to the effective single market now in place, EU enterprises can sell and buy goods all over the European Union.
Free movement of goods
The EU has removed the obstacles that once got in the way of imports and exports, and businesses are now free to transport and sell goods throughout the EU.
EU countries may only restrict the free movement of goods in exceptional cases, justified by the public interest, e.g. for reasons of public health and safety, environmental protection or consumer welfare. Restrictions must be proportionate.
The free movement of goods may also be restricted as a precaution when scientific data suggest that goods may pose a threat to humans, animals, plants or the environment.
New legislative framework
The EU adopted new rules to remove the remaining obstacles to the free movement of goods through:
- stronger enforcement of EU market legislation;
- better rules on market surveillance;
- a common framework for marketing products;
- more credibility for the CE marking;
- fully operational mutual recognition.
Since differences in national technical rules can impede trade, the EU adopted harmonising measures for several products – chiefly goods considered high-risk, e.g. pharmaceuticals, vehicles, toys, chemicals, electrical and mechanical equipment and medical devices. Products manufactured in accordance with these rules can be put on any EU country market.
Since the mid 1980s, the EU has developed a new approach to harmonisation based on standardisation.
The EU legislation, referred to as new approach directives, sets the essential requirements that products have to meet to be sold across the EU. It is for manufacturers to turn these essential requirements into technical specifications.
To help them do so, some 20 000 European standards have been published to date. Goods that comply with European standards are taken to comply with the essential requirements laid down by EU directives. It is however voluntary and, if they prefer, manufacturers may choose other technical solutions to meet these requirements.
EU harmonised standards are drawn up by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) – once a consensus has been reached among all interested parties (industry, public authorities, consumers, environmental organisations, trade unions).
Standardisation is a strategic instrument for innovation and competitiveness. The EU aims to ensure that standards keep pace with new knowledge and to encourage stakeholders – especially small businesses – to get involved in standardisation.
The CE marking on a product means it complies with all the relevant EU requirements. EU countries cannot restrict market access to products bearing the CE marking unless there is evidence that the product does not comply with the rules.
In sectors where there has been no harmonisation, trade relies on the mutual recognition principle: products legally manufactured or marketed in one EU country can be marketed in the others, even if they do not fully comply with those countries' technical rules, e.g. on form, size, weight, composition, labelling or packaging. This means that firms can do business across the EU as long as they comply with equivalent regulations in their own country.
Product Contact Points
To inform businesses and authorities about the application of the principle of mutual recognition and the existing national specific technical regulations, Product Contact Points have been established in each Member State.
The Product Contact Points of a Member State have to:
- inform businesses and authorities about particular technical rules that are applicable to a specific type of product in their country when this product is not regulated and harmonised at EU-level
- give businesses the contact details of the competent authorities that deal with the implementation of the technical rules in question
- inform businesses about possible remedies in their country when it comes to a dispute between them and the competent authority
Product Contact Points should respond within 15 working days of receiving any information request and shouldn’t charge any fee for the information provision.
The European Commission proposes a website with information on how to submit a complaint against an EU country for any measure (law, regulation or administrative action) or practice incompatible with a provision or a principle of EU law.
Check also the legislation on this topic in: