Conference celebrating the 20th anniversary of the New Approach 30 November 2005, Brussels Welcoming Speech of Heinz Zourek Director-General, DG Enterprise and Industry Ladies and Gentlemen: I would like to extend a warm welcome to you all to this Conference. As you know, we are celebrating 20 years of a regulatory technique which was revolutionary for Europe and the world: The approach to technical harmonization and standards or, as we usually refer to it in our jargon: The New Approach. You have come from all over Europe today to participate in this celebration and I am pleased to see such an important turnout. Amongst you there are experts, practitioners, civil servants, representatives of industry, local authorities and consumer groups. Your background and your level of knowledge in this field varies to such a degree, that I think it useful to say a few words about where we have come from and where we stand today. What is this “thing” we refer to as the New Approach? People use different terms: a regulatory technique, a policy, a strategy, or a new philosophy in product legislation. I would say the New Approach is all these things at the same time, but basically, it remains a regulatory technique - whereby product legislation is restricted to the requirements necessary to protect the public goals of health and safety - at the service of our strategy to complete the internal market and implement the Lisbon objective of better regulation. The New Approach is also an important industrial policy instrument as it provides for the essential requirements to be combined with technical specifications agreed by stakeholders and experts in the field, usually harmonised European standards. When a product is produced according to harmonised standards, it is presumed to be in conformity with the legislation and in most cases carries the CE marking. Why was the New Approach introduced? Because the traditional method for harmonizing product legislation was extremely slow. One can imagine how difficult and time consuming it is to negotiate in the Council, with 12 Member States (now 25), many many pages of detailed technical legislative text, in such technical detail that it could lead to describing the dimensions and tolerances of nuts and bolts. Even worse, after a few years of coming to an agreement, the legislation has to updated and revised because the technology has become outdated. The European Court of Justice, unknowingly, produced the first spark that led to the development of the New Approach, in its now world wide famous decision in the Cassis de Dijon case. But I shall leave it to Paolo Cecchini to explain in more detail the labour pains. The New Approach provided a great amount of flexibility in the legislative process by allowing the harmonization of only the essential requirements. It also helped innovation by leaving the definition of technical requirements to the economic actors - a much more rapid process - and by reducing considerably the burden of control by public authorities prior to a product being placed on the market. Most of all, the New Approach was instrumental in contributing enormously to the completion of the 1992 Single Market programme, because it led to unblocking the harmonisation negotiations for many sectors. Hence from pressure vessels, through the electrotechnical and mechanical products, medical devices, construction products, pressure equipment and measuring instruments, the EU legislation has shown its capacity to adapt itself to the variety of industrial sectors involved So, we believe that the New Approach has been a success. However, two decades of operation has revealed a number of areas where there is room for improvement. The Commission launched a discussion on a possible Review of the New Approach in 2002. The process has resulted in a Council Resolution of November 2003 inviting the Commission to take initiatives for Enhancing the Implementation of New Approach Directives. A lot of preparatory work has been carried out in 2004 and 2005, with the aim of increasing the effectiveness of the system, to improve its transparency, as well as its smoother functioning, for the benefit of all involved – manufacturers, conformity assessment bodies, authorities and, above all, consumers and users. The results of this work have been distributed as widely as possible, to reach all stakeholders throughout the European Union. We are now nearing the end of this consultation process and intend to present Commission proposals in 2006. I should stress at this point that this review is also an integral part of the Better Regulation process. The needs of small and medium size enterprises for a simple and transparent legal framework are particularly important in this respect and are being catered for. Furthermore, the EU needs to be in a position to ensure a high level of homogeneity amongst the various New Approach directives as many economic operators fall under several of them at the same time. A high quality, efficient system is the goal. The benefits are obvious – better products in terms of safety, at a lesser cost, will make them even more competitive. The objective of this Conference is multiple. Firstly we want everyone to share the results of successes and experiences. We do not want this to be a self glorifying exercise. The Commission is to present proposals for updating and completing the New Approach. With this in mind, it is clear that from our point of view it is extremely important to listen to the stakeholders to evaluate properly what has worked satisfactorily, what has not functioned and what is missing. Our speakers today will have the daunting task of helping us to reach those objectives and shed some light on the different aspects of the New Approach policy. Our keynote speakers include distinguished policy-makers in Europe: • Mr Chichester, chairman of the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee responsible for the New Approach, • Mr Gardiner, Minister for Competitiveness, in the UK and member of the Competitiveness Council • Mr Eriksen, Minister of Trade and Industry of Norway, representing the EFTA interests today. We have also invited representatives from different stakeholders in the New Approach area of activity, as you can see from the programme. And at the end of the day our Vice-President, Commissioner Günter Verheugen will deliver the closing speech, giving you some insight on what the review of the New Approach could entail in the opinion of the Commission, as at present. I would like to finish off by saying that we view the New Approach as an example of simple business-friendly legislation, which at the same time ensures a high level of protection to consumers. In this sense, it should inspire other areas to apply its principles: other product sectors, but also in the area of environmental legislation or services. We are obviously aware that in some of these fields there is a degree of apprehension and doubts relating to the proper implementation of this legislation and to the effective level of protection that it actually provides. It is clear that there are weaknesses, in particular, in the area of market surveillance. This conference will give us precious input on these weaknesses so that we can reinforce them and thus be in a better position to convince the sceptics that the New Approach is effective and can be widely used as a reference. We should all take pride in our open and democratic society, where passing laws always includes a public debate. In this respect, we are all involved, one way or the other, in the legislative process. Therefore I ask you, whenever you are faced with draft legislation in any area, think yourself as being in the dark. And then you may remember to use the NEW APPROACH TORCH, our commemorative gift to you today. It will help you see the legislation in a new light. Again, welcome and I hope you enjoy this conference. The first speaker I call upon to launch our debates today is Mr. Chichester Member of the European Parliament who…….
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