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Ten Years Membership of the Slovak Republic in the European Union

1. máj 2014

Ten Years Membership of the Slovak Republic in the European Union

The Slovak Office of Standards, Metrology and Testing (afterwards the UNMS) pursuant to Act No. 575/2001 Coll. on the organization of activities of the government and central government, as amended (the Competence Act) is the central body of state administration in the area of technical standardization, metrology, quality , conformity assessment and accreditation of conformity assessment bodies. From the perspective of the EU terminology these areas form the quality infrastructure instruments, and their proper functioning creates a prerequisite constituent for all agreements aimed at liberalizing trade in goods, services and capital. Their proper functioning, co-operation, and mutual recognition of the outputs provide for technical harmonization of the internal market, free movement of goods, and related services in the non-harmonized area. During its tenure from 1993, the UNMS built up and secured both European and international acceptance of these structures in accordance with the requirements of the European Union (afterwards the EU). The EU quality infrastructure comprised of standardization, metrology, testing and accreditation is providing the Slovak entrepreneurs both with certainty and tools supporting the competitiveness of Slovak industry, not only in the European market, but also worldwide.

As precondition for becoming the EU Member, the Slovak Republic had to accommodate fundamental modifications concerning all areas related to the UNMS competences (Articles 69 - 71 of the European Union Association Agreement). They concerned not only fulfillment of the preconditions for admission into the European standardization bodies CEN , CENELEC and ETSI, harmonization of the conditions for marketing of products, demonstration of equivalence of the quality infrastructure in Slovakia, but also preconditions allowing Slovak economic operators marketing their products after the Slovakia's accession to the EU. The transition from the Slovak national compulsory certification to the European system of conformity assessment had to be sufficiently smooth and synchronized (within the framework of CEFTA) to eliminate trade barriers among former partners (respecting changes in goods flows), and still allowing Slovak entrepreneurs to cope with competitive environment in internal market. One of the conditions for the EU membership was the improvement of conformity assessment bodies functioning. This includes testing laboratories, inspection bodies and bodies certifying products, the management systems, and application of European accreditation principles performed via membership of the Slovak National Accreditation Service (SNAS) in the European Co-operation for Accreditation (EA). It was also necessary to extend the activities of the Slovak testing houses towards the Commonwealth of Independent States (the CIS countries) as producers from these countries are offered conformity assessment services under the EU legislation for exporting their products to the single European market. By signing the Protocol to the Europe Agreement establishing and association between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Slovak Republic, of the other part, on conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial products (PECA) which entered into force a year before Slovakia's accession to the EU, the recognition was reached for the outputs of the Slovak conformity assessment testing laboratories that were accredited by SNAS, as well as most industrial products that were placed on the market of the Slovak Republic before joining the EU.

The pre-accession aid was successfully utilized during transformation of the Slovak quality infrastructure. Assistance of this kind was used as regional aid addressed to all ten acceding countries in the form of PHARE and GTAF, but also as bilateral Twinning Projects which included successful implementation of the pre-accession assistance that provided both for personnel and instrumentation of the gas appliances testing laboratory in TSU Piešťany, state enterprise. Besides supplying measuring and testing equipment, the personnel training was provided by lecturers from leading European testing houses, including short-term study stays taking place directly at the headquarters of these notified bodies, with succeeding implementation and certification of the quality systems in SUTN and SMU, etc.

In the area of technical standards, an independent system of Slovak standards (the STNs) was created. More than 22,000 Slovak standards were declared non-mandatory, forming thus a technical-regulatory basis which together with simultaneous adoption of the Acquis Communautaire reflected the relevant provisions of technical standards, or which reflected ties to the Slovak standards in accordance with the rules and principles used in the respective sectors of the EU Law. At the same time the transposition of over 25,000 European standards into the national STN system had to be secured. As regards the development, approval and issuance of Slovak technical standards, the essential obligation of harmonizing national system of standards with other Member States was fulfilled. This was done by fulfilling the obligation of a Member States to introduce all European Standards into the national standards system, and abolish all national standards containing conflicting requirements. Fundamental change was also represented by creating the system of utilization of technical standards in national legislation in line with the EU principles. This step eliminates obstacles hindering free movement of goods and services within the Single European Market. Prevention of new barriers to trade is ensured by adoption of technical regulations in respective areas of non-harmonized EU legislation with preference being given to the use of European Standards. Deviation from such solution imposes an obligation to notify technical regulation at the draft stage, allowing thus both the Member States and the Commission to submit their respective comments. The UNMS set up a central unit for Directive 98/34/EC that has been responsible for tasks related to the exchange of information or intra-community commenting procedure since 2002. For procedure of developing the so-called national standards (STNs), a system allowing other standardization bodies of EU Member States and the Commission to comment on the draft of these standards was created.

Membership of the Slovak Republic in the European Union is perceived more than positively, it has brought us, inter alia, freedom of trade, new business areas, and market opening within the EU.

Use of European Standards assists competitiveness of our manufacturers and entrepreneurs enhancing their knowledge as regards requirements that are to be fulfilled by the product or a service, enabling them to prepare in time for using new procedures and technologies. In terms of standards users, especially businesses, harmonization of standards created a system that is favourable from the point of view of elimination of multiple testing or certification of products exported to other Member State within European market. On the other hand, it increased the competition in the Slovak market via facilitating the producers from other Member States to import their products into Slovakia. As regards asserting national interests into the standards or technical requirements, the focus of the work was shifted to the European level. To a certain extent, this situation limited participation of Slovak experts in the development of standards. The reasons are as follows:
a) necessity of communication in foreign language, especially English;
b ) increased costs needed for participation at meetings of technical committees of European standardization bodies CEN, CENELEC, and ETSI taking place abroad.

In spite of introducing a system enabling participation in development of European Standards by electronic communication, as well as improving level of the English language knowledge, the economic operators still show only moderate interest to be involved in the standardization work, though there is small financial assistance provided by the national standards bodies. Direct participation of Slovak representatives in the process of European standards development is minimal. This is caused also by the fact that foreign investors use the standards of their parent companies, and the national economy structure is less focused on manufacturing finished and technologically advanced products. It is option of intervention as regards the content of a standard in the stage of public commenting is also used only rarely. The structure of European standards differs in some areas from original Czechoslovak standards that were often tutorial in details. This may bring difficulties to some technicallly less qualified users. European standards are more demanding from the point of view of expert competence of the user, they require increased responsibility for his decisions (the assessment, whether given solution is satisfactory from the point of view of the requirements of the standard or not).

Considering the numbers within the national standard system it may be said that by joining the EU the share of adopted European Standards increased, and currently represents 72 %. The volume is increasing approximately by 1 800 European Standards in a year.

Due to the obligation to verify the standards system and to abolish all conflicting standards, the EU membership has brought the need for increased workforce capacities both in the national standards body and in national technical committees .Monitoring the sales of individual standards revealed that about 70% of the issued standards has not found a user in Slovakia, or only one or two organizations were interested in them. This is caused because we are obliged to take over also European standards from areas in which the Slovak Republic economy is not involved. They include space, maritime service (to certain extend), utilization of the marine tide as a source of alternative energy, etc. Development of national standards is limited to the minimum (approximately 15 standards in a year). This is due to procedures banning development of national standard under condition when European Standard is under preparation, or when European Commission issued a mandate to develop European standard for a particular subject or area. Still it can be noted that businesses or other entities, including state and public administration have not made full use of opportunities as regards active participation in standardization work for their own benefit, although the state budget and European funds were invested for building up standardization structure and national standards body to enable them to operate in full compliance with the requirements of European standardization organizations and European market. For comparison, in developed countries such participation brings up to 6% of profits to active economic operators.

Metrology brings a guarantee for fair trading, as regards measurement accuracy related to parameters and performance characteristics subject to commercial transactions, for which there is a great assistance provided by implementation of metrological legislation at the EU level. Measuring devices are of an essential importance for ensuring accuracy of measurements, in particular for business transactions conducted every day by customers and industry. These devices include, for example, water meters, taxi meters, electricity meters and weighs. The EU legislation promotes swift technological innovations and options within the conformity assessment procedures. The national body in the area of metrology is the Slovak Institute of Metrology (SMU). The EU membership enabled the SMU to participate in EURAMET (the European Association of National Metrology Institutes) European Association of SMI National Metrology Institutes (EURAMET). The knowledge transfer and co-operation among the EURAMET members facilitates development of the national metrology infrastructure. In the case of the Slovak Republic it concerns following areas: ionizing radiation, quality, thermometry, weight and associated units, time and interdisciplinary metrology, including projects for comparison measurements in variuous areas of metrology.

The EURAMET is also responsible for development and implementation of the European Metrology Research Programme (EMRP) that is aimed at providing support for appropriate and integrated metrological solutions, and creating integrated European system for metrological research related to critical size with the active involvement on regional, national, European and international level that cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States individually. The EU projects helped the SMU to develop and expend metrological measurements, upgrade technical equipment in laboratories, and enhance the qualification of researchers participating in internship/study stays. The experiences that the scientists have gained during projects are reflected within performance of their working activities. The EU membership has brought harmonization of requirements for placing instruments on the market, and the number of requirements for type testing of instruments and initial verification was significantly reduced. The low number of domestic producers of measuring instruments brought also a decrease in of metrological controls before their placing on the market. On the other hand, this situation eliminated requirements for further testing of instruments coming from the EU and EFTA countries in Slovakia, which was welcomed in particular by foreign investors. Still, there a drawback of foreign capital manufacturers preferring metrological control in their home countries, in spite of comparable levels of services provided.

The UNMS provided for notification of four bodies performing the conformity assessment of measuring instruments, of which the SMU and Slovak Legal Metrology (SLM) have the widest range. Listed notifications allow providing conformity assessment for producers coming not only from Slovakia, but also for other EU Member States, and third countries entering the EU and EFTA markets. In the area of metrological control the Slovak Metrology Inspectorate (SMI) was established, with the aim of providing better enforcement of the EU metrological legislation, but also the tool for control of measurement accuracy, and consumer protection. The SMI activities assist to provide for guaranties and fair trading enforcement.

The EU Membership brought changes in metrology. The number of measuring instruments evaluation prior to their marketing (the type approval) as well as their initial verifications (on location) was decreased. This negatively affected revenues of bodies providing metrological services. On the other hand, the options for collaboration of professional bodies, including joint research, and transfer of experience among the authorities was created.

In the field of testing and conformity assessment the PECA widened the geographical scope for the conformity assessment bodies already a year before joining the EU. According to Act No. 264/1999 Coll. on technical requirements for products, which became a part of the PECA, Slovak entrepreneurs or other legal entities authorized under this Act and the national legislation transposing the New Approach Directives, with subsequent notification to European Commission and other Member States become Notified Bodiesm, and outcomes of their activities were recognized by all Member States. Slovak Notified Bodies in their scope of activities cover almost all New Approach Directives including measuring devices, medical devices, machinery and electrical products, pressure equipment and pressure vessels, pyrotechnical articles and explosives, toys, personal protective equipment, gas appliances and boilers, elevators, lifts, equipment operating in potentially explosive atmospheres, and the interoperability of the trans-European high-speed rail. As regards the areas of testing and conformity assessment, the Office is building and maintaining credible and easily accessible conformity assessment system available for manufacturers, importers or distributors. By creating legislative framework for proper application of the New Approach Directives the Office provides for the business operators a transparent and compatible means for placing the products on the market. For granting authorization and providing notification under the Act on technical requirements for products, the accreditation as an independent way of confirming eligibility is taken into account.

Increased complexity of tasks related to authorization is reflected in advancing complexity of the work of these bodies as regards new technologies and technological progress in respective areaa. Great emphasis is put on subsequent surveillance and monitoring activities of authorized and notified bodies with the aim to guarantee their professional level. Positive aspects issuing from the EU membership include professional development in expert resort by regular participation in the expert groups for respective New Approach Directives, and participation of the delegates from Slovak Notified Bodies in the European groups of notified bodies for the New Approach Directives such as toys, machinery, gas appliances, etc., as well as utilization of the CIRCA information database.

The information given above states the positive aspects of joining the EU. However, free movement of goods and related services still have some negative impacts. For Slovak authorized and notified bodies it is sometimes difficult to succeed on traditional European "market" with services provided by European Notified Bodies. There is a continuous "fight" for customer acquisition. The representation of notified bodies within the European area is over-saturated, while number of European manufacturers is decreasing with transfer of production capacities moving to third countries. There are only few Slovak producers. Only entities providing good quality services at high professional level can succeed in this situation, which is also reflected by the objectives of current legislation amendments prepared by the European Commission.

Due to continuing tendency for reducing the activities of an independent third party conformity assessment of products, ascertained by in the respective EU directives and regulations, there is a reduction or even suspension of the Slovak testing houses operating in various industrial branches, such as chemical, textile, and wood industry, or mechanical engineering. This trend reduces the costs of bringing products to markets which is positive for Slovak businesses. Still, we are lacking tools like voluntary certification, widely used in developed EU countries (Germany, France, United Kingdom), that could help Slovak entrepreneurs to acquire confidence and attract customers.

Priorities and the key challenges faced by the Office in connection with the EU membership in the coming period:
In the area of standardization there is a necessity to finalize building up the national system responding to the European standardization challenges according to the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council and the Economic and Social Committee stating the strategic vision for European standards: Moving forward to enhance and accelerate the sustainable growth of the European economy by 2020. There is also need do so in a manner enhancing the competitiveness of Slovak industry. In practice, this means penetration into all sectorial strategies of Europe 2020 based on standardization in a way leading to achievement of the objectives of these strategies in the Slovak Republic. These include so-called Better Regulation policy , the environmental requirements in the European standards, the benefits issuing from standardization in relation to innovation, science and research, energy policy, eco-design, improving quality of agricultural production, better access to markets for small and medium enterprises, consumer protection, or European standards aimed at supporting the implementation of Directive of European Parliament and Council 2006/123/EC of 12 December 2006 on services in the internal market, and others. This is the way for European Standards to assis effectively as regards:

• Manufacturers and economic operators, for increasing the competitiveness of products, they will be informed in due time about requirements that must be fulfilled by a product or a service, and they may prepare on time for utilization of new processes and technologies,
• Testing and calibration laboratories, for independent assessment whether the product or instrument meets the required technical parameters related to safety, health and environment protection, and measurement accuracy,
The state approval authorities (civil engineering authorities, environmental protection authorities, etc.), for approval procedures related to construction projects and installations,
The supervisory bodies, as a tool for the control of products and services on the market, for assessment and making decisions related to a infringement of binding legal provisions as regards product safety, health and environmental protection, occupational safety),
Judicial authorities, for dispute resolutions concerning compliance with the quality and quantity of the production supplies, compliance with the European attributes in the area of public procurement, proceedings against administrative decisions, arbitration judgements.

Providing for a network within the activities of market surveillance bodies in accordance with the upcoming Regulation of European Parliament and Council on market surveillance will bring up challenges also for metrological inspection. However removing current deficiencies is required. They include cross-border co-operation and practices of surveillance bodies. For instance i tis foreseen that the control of pre-packaged products in packaging houses or at the foreign importers' premises will be supported by the findings of the EU/EFTA supervisory authorities. On the other hand, there is a risk of extinction of the testing capacities in Slovakia with negative impact in terms of increased costs for economic operators who will be forced to address foreign conformity assessment bodies (considering translations of the documents and travel costs), as well as the activities of market surveillance authorities in Slovakia which will hire foreign entities, or to rely on the assessment of partner supervisory authorities in the EU, and in the case of the joint supervisory actions also on entities with accredited test capacities, chosen by European Commission .

In the field of conformity assessment it is necessary to accommodate trends and tools of voluntary certification in accordance with the National Quality Programme of the Slovak Republic for the years 2013 -2016 (NPK SR), approved by the Government. Within the framework of the NPK SR implementation an expert section of the NPK SR Council will be created. Its priorities will include promoting the conformity assessment executed by an independent third party. This activity will be aimed at strengthening the level of quality and safety of products and services on the market, and thus also the consumer trusting the internal market.

 


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