“Representation without influence useless,” say consumers
By Ophélie Spanneut | Wednesday 23 May 2012
Representatives of consumer and environmental groups see the European Commission’s proposal as a welcome development in terms of European financial support. It assures them of more stable and regular funding, compared with the present situation, where these organisations have to participate in calls for proposals every year. For Laura Degallaix, secretary-general of ECOS, an organisation that defends environmental interests in standardisation, this “gives more visibility for developing a longer-term strategy”. The main difficulty for societal stakeholders stems from the lack of resources, both financial and human. Standardisation requires highly specialised expertise, which is costly and hard to find. ANEC, the consumer voice in standardisation, regrets that sometimes it has to turn down invitations to participate in work by a technical committee because it lacks competent technical expertise on the subject.
Another advance, note these associations, is that the new draft regulation takes environment and public health aspects into account for the first time, in addition to safety and quality requirements. They will also be consulted on the Commission’s yearly standardisation work programme. ECOS hopes to be able to present new standardisation dossiers if it sees the need.
Stephen Russell, secretary-general of ANEC, nevertheless points out that “representation without influence is useless”. He recommends a procedure enabling associations to present formal objections ahead of a vote. Similarly, under the appeal procedure on an adopted standard, Russell asks that the conciliation be conducted with an expert who has no ties with industry and who was not a stakeholder during the process. Experience shows that when these conditions are not met the conciliation tends to repeat the arguments presented during the earlier discussions by representatives of the national delegations.
According to Russell, a private process that is financed in large part by industry through members’ dues “does not necessarily take the public interest into account”. Manufacturers also tend to produce goods for the average consumer, making it necessary to defend the most vulnerable consumers (children, people with disabilities).
ANEC urges legislators to address these problems. According to the association, policy issues should not be delegated to standardisation bodies. It is the role of policy makers to set, for example, a limit value on dangerous chemical substances or a maximum sound level for toys in the legislation they adopt.