Friday, June 09, 2006

About new EN Safety Standards

CEN Standards and European Integration Process

MILAN, Italy – in 1999, the technical committee TC333 was installed to develop the European system of EN (EN: European Norm) safety standards for bicycles to be sold in the EU.
Today, one of the EN early supporters elaborates on the actual state of business. Pietro Boselli is a member of a group of analysts who call themselves Safetybicycle who focus on the common European standard as a tool to remove technical barriers to enhance the free trade of European-made bicycles within the European single market.

“Benefits expected from the EU safety standards by the EU industry and by the consumers:
-to eliminate, within the internal EU market, all existing national technical barriers which are the result of restrictive pursuance of national safety standards.
-to move any possible future technical barriers towards the external EU borders.
-to show to the world market the improved profile and value of the bicycle manufactured in Europe according to the latest product safety criteria .
-to serve as 'witness of vitality of the European bicycle industry' so as to help the European Government to decide positively on urgent protective measures against unfair external trade actions.
-to give an appropriate answer to the safety demand of all European consumers and users in full harmony and legal timeliness with the GPSD (=General Product Safety Directive).

The requirements and the testing methods of the four European Safety Standards (as formulated for City & trekking bicycles, Young Children’s bicycles, Mountainbikes and road racing bicycles) have been analyzed in detail.
The minimum safety requirements with reference to the following:
1) Working efficiency,
2) No sharp protrusions and cutting edges,
3) Structural Integrity of the bicycle as a whole
have been defined according to the best normative methods.

Definition of the technology to check the structural integrity of the bicycle, as:
3.1 Static strength related to maximum loads,
3.2 Fatigue strength, related to frequently applied variable loads,
3.3 Impact strength related to isolated dynamic events,
has been explained at length for the reference of producers and testers.

The draft stage, after exhaustive work discussed in TC, WG, Task Forces in hundreds of meetings and round robin test sessions, is now over.
The work, after some temporary friction with those national members who, breaching the CEN 'Stand still rule', seemed not to abstain to modify and issue their national norms, has passed the phase of internal and public inquiries successfully. In 2005, the summary of the results has been delivered for a final formal vote and now they are classified Voluntary European Standards.
Nevertheless, there are doubts and uncertainties about the time the Standards will need to be implemented and become functional in the framework of the General Product Safety Directive. Referencing on OJEU are expected for July 2006. Owing to the rise of many national objection presented to DG Sanco probably not all the Standard will reach the status of Harmonized Standards. Should the standard not to be referenced in the OJEU, the matter will left as it is with an acceptance of different practices in different Member States within the European Union.

Back in 1997 experts from eight European Countries and four national standards institutes and experts from European consumer, production and trade organisations, were asked by CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) to give their advice on the following basic question: Does the product called ‘cycle’ need a common European Standard for safety?
It took two years to draft a document that explains the benefits expected from the Standards, not only for safety, but also for political and economic goals, the European society as a whole, the trade and legal and institutional matters. After the circulation of this document the answer was unanimously: 'yes' and the New Technical Committee was appointed and named TC333.
The following elements have a relevant profile.

First: the GPSD (at that time Directive 59/92) rules the product safety principles to be applied in the Union. According to this new European platform a bicycle safety standard would be the legal term of reference that regulates rights and duties of bicycle suppliers and consumers.
Second: A common safety standard should be a sort of ‘due deed’ to European citizens, more and more oriented to the bicycle use with full EU government support.
Third, the EU manufacturers get more and more interested in the removal of the technical barriers in order to enhance the free trade of bicycles in the European market, nowadays considered as domestic market.
A commonly agreed standard could help overcome the malaise of European bicycle industry.
The Safetybicycle analyst group will focus on the last item.
Normally a product safety standard is not intended to be a market lever, but in the long history of the EU bicycle, it has been shown that even national regulations like these can influence and divert the source of supply of millions of bicycles and large quantity of components with disastrous consequences.

Look for example at components makers: they are faced with laughable Community custom duties or ineffective antidumping measures and very inefficient Community Patent protection. That means that they have to spend a lot of energy to fight for survival and being finished off by the price competition imposed by low-labour costs of extra-EU countries. At the same time intra-European technical barriers, faces these manufacturers with the danger of being pushed out from their traditional EU exchange markets.
Probably not all the EU 25 countries have an extended legislation on whatever matter, but be sure that all of them have 'sown' in their national legislation a quantity of rules about cycles and cyclist's safety.
Just one example: despite the fact that lighting equipment is a crucial safety matter, this subject had to be excluded from the European Standards due to the poor harmonization between national Road Codes specifications.
Technical regulation on bicycles, indeed, has not been harmonized and Member States apply different national rules.
Authorities tend to advance safety concerns as a justification to apply these rules also on bicycles produced in other, even neighbour, EU countries. It happens very frequently that national safety standards are used as a legal term of reference to check conformity and very often national requirements seem to violate the 'Mutual Recognition Principle'.
There are two reasons why the industry has not deposited many infringement complaints on the principle of ‘Mutual Recognition of national standards’' or on the ‘Free Circulation of Goods’ basic principle:
1) A lot of companies (most of them are classified as ‘SME’) simply do not seem to know the said principles and their associated rights. They prefer to adapt the bicycle to the local regulation and standards, avoiding problems with the local authorities, and accept the additional customization cost.
2) The many 'lodges' of bicycle assemblers and traders generated by over a hundred years of product history don’t seem to trust the benefit of the integration process. Every expert in the process of EU integration can easily demonstrate with numbers and case histories that technical barriers within the EU signify costs and disadvantages much bigger than the total sum of the benefits.
The experts can also explain that any kind of trade barrier can work better against unfair trade when it is applied at the outside borders of the Community. In our case, every one can see that in a few years’ time the market shares have been destabilized and the millions of bicycles sold every year in Europe are less and less European.
The concern of the many promoters of the Common standards is now mainly related to the fact that 'the route' towards acceptation will more than likely be obstructed by different national attitudes and interests.
The member countries who tend to trade with low-cost countries outside the EU will try to give the standards the minimum of relevance. The member countries who have lost their own bicycle industry will do more or less the same. The countries in which the local normative tradition is very strong and appreciated by both consumers and suppliers will also accept with reluctance any change that could put their national and international authority in discussion.
So the process of harmonisation must face the natural instinct of each of us to prefer our own rules to others’ rules. However, the harmonisation process can continue only on the basis of a new attitude for each country to understand and accept better problem-solving solutions, even if they do not come from abroad. The final stage will be reached when something new and improved comes out of the confrontation and compromise phases.
If tomorrow the process of the European Safety Standards were to be delayed on the pretext that for example 'more time is needed to reset the national legislation in compliance with the introduction of the Standards', more precious time may be lost. In any case the positive results achieved so far are so great that the entire operation might already be considered a success, both for consumers and producers alike and also for the future of the European bicycle.
The results so far are:
- The CEN standardization process for bicycles may be considered as the greatest collective action for the repositioning of the image of the European bicycle, extracting it from the area of undistinguished commodities where only the lowest price makes the difference.
- The component makers with factories in Europe have played a primary role in the project, and have contributed to the mentioned 'repositioning' scope.
There are many reasons for such active interest in the process of European Standardization. In contrast with what happens in many other industries with a high degree of outsourcing, the European component makers seem to have lived for years in an awkward situation.
It seems there is a substantial lack of representation in many matters, from the unfair external trade issues to the frequent EU support programs intended for SMEs. Active component makers represent a precious economic and social tissue in many EU regions.
Despite the fact that they often are the intellectual owners or consignees of the technological evolution of the bicycle (new ideas, materials, new shapes, new technical and market solutions) the partnership with the assemblers seems to focus on two items only: strict comparison of prices and delivery times.
Safety standards are based on an endless analysis of risk prevention and a feedback process of re-analysis of accidents, failures, malfunctioning. Often the process compels experts to transfer confidential information or even to refer to bad performance of proprietary parts. From this point of view all the EU component makers’ experts have given toghether the best of their cooperation to the CEN teamworks.

- The European industry, thanks to ample information about the CEN committee activities, has increased its awareness in the relationship with several institutional subjects. On safety and also on innovation, there has been opened a direct liaison-bench between the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) and the European top racing bicycle experts with the assistance of several European academic research centres.

- On safety and associated social aspects, the relationship with consumer organizations has been improved. Consumers organizations have given large attention to the CEN bicycle standards project.At the Velo-city Conference 05 held in Dublin the debate and the Standard presentation has been attended by many consumers organizations delegates.
- In 2005 the CEN project served as witness of vitality of the European bicycle & components industry.
In Summer 2005 the process for renewal of the antidumping measures applicable to imports of bicycles originating in the People's Republic of China''has been successfull. When the ''Interest of the Community Industry'' has been examined, also the EN Standards have been weighted as a witness of vitality. By the way, I hope that very soon the full system of duties imposition/exemption on 'certain bicycle parts' could be revised in a most proper, efficient and restrictive way. (2006)


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