Food Law News - EU - 1999

16 June 1999: ADMINISTRATION - The Single Market: getting the principle of mutual recognition to work more effectively

Commission Press Release (IP/99/395 ), 16 June 1999

The Single Market: getting the principle of mutual recognition to work more effectively

The European Commission has just adopted a Communication which looks at ways of facilitating and improving the application of the principle of mutual recognition in the Single Market. The Communication, which has been published at the request of the Member States and economic operators, was provided for in the Single Market Action Plan of June 1997, which indicated that this field required particular attention. Under the principle of mutual recognition, each Member State is required to accept on its territory products which are legally produced and/or marketed and services which are legally provided in other Member States. The Member States may only challenge the application of the principle in certain limited cases, for example where public safety, health or the protection of the environment are at stake, and the measures which they take must be compatible with the principles of necessity and proportionality. The Communication provides for a series of actions to improve the monitoring of mutual recognition, make citizens, economic operators and the competent authorities at all levels in the Member States more aware of it, establish and improve contacts between national authorities and improve the way in which the Commission deals with individual complaints.

The principle of mutual recognition, which has been developed by the Commission and the Court of Justice since the latter's famous "Cassis de Dijon" judgment (120/78), plays a key part in opening the Single Market in all the sectors which have not been the subject of harmonisation measures at Community level or which are covered by minimal or optional harmonisation measures. Under the principle, a producer or service provider who has complied with the requirements of his country of origin basically has the right to sell his products or provide his services in all the other Member States. Mutual recognition is therefore a powerful factor in economic integration which respects the principle of subsidiarity. It allows goods and services to move freely within the Single Market, while respecting the diversity of practices, customs and regulations in the various Member States and avoiding extreme harmonisation at Community level.

Although mutual recognition has already achieved favourable results, the Commission, the Member States and the economic operators are aware of certain practical difficulties associated with its application.

These difficulties appear particularly in the new technology sectors and with regard to complex products.

The Communication provides for targeted measures designed to ensure the effectiveness of the principle of mutual recognition. The thrust of these actions will be fourfold:

1. Better monitoring of the application of mutual recognition

The Member States will be required to draw up succinct, regular (annual) reports on the difficulties which they have encountered in applying mutual recognition and the possible improvements. Decision No 3052/95 of the European Parliament and of the Council already requires the Member States systematically to notify the Commission of any derogations from mutual recognition (see IP/97/3). The Commission, for its part, has decided to draw up an evaluation report for the Council and the Parliament every two years, setting out the tangible results achieved by applying the principle of mutual recognition to products and services. This report will highlight the sectors which are causing problems and suggest corrective measures. The first of these reports is annexed to the Communication.

2. Making citizens and economic operators more aware of the principle

As part of the Dialogue with Citizens and Businesses (see IP/98/544 and IP/99/377), the Commission has decided to launch an information campaign featuring a general "Guide" and sectoral guides. The Commission also intends to publish an explanatory brochure, intended for a broad public (economic operators, professional associations etc.), on the application of Decision 3052/95 on national measures derogating from the principle of the free movement of goods. Lastly, the Commission intends to hold sectoral Round Tables on mutual recognition.

3. Improving the application of the principle by the national authorities

It is the Member States who are responsible, in the first instance, for the proper application of the principle of mutual recognition. In the past, there have been shortcomings in this respect. The Commission therefore wants every Member State to take steps to ensure that all the authorities involved (at national, regional and local levels) are aware of their responsibilities in this area. The authorities in all the Member States, at all levels, must therefore cooperate more effectively with each other so that the principle of mutual recognition is applied more effectively.

4. Improved case management by the Commission departments

The Commission will systematically examine the extent to which the Member States are fulfilling their obligations concerning the proper application of Community law on mutual recognition and will subsequently improve its handling of cases of infringement. It will also endeavour to develop a modern method of managing mutual recognition which will allow rapid identification of the extent of the problem and make it possible to find a pragmatic, effective solution for the economic operators.

Cases of infringement of mutual recognition - sectors most commonly affected (1996/98)

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