MarketWatch – friend or foe to national authorities?

What role for MarketWatch if there are member state authorities? The subject was touched on by one of the programme’s co-ordinators, Alun Jones, in a speech to an audience of market surveillance authorities, manufacturers and other actors in product policy in Brussels last week. So will MarketWatch tread on toes, or complement MSAs? Alun argues MarketWatch is friend not foe.

Why do we have neighbourhood watch schemes if we have the police? Why do we have first aid training if we have hospitals and doctors? Why do we need children’s charities, animal welfare charities, and homeless charities if there are laws to protect children and animals, and social welfare to prevent poverty? Why MarketWatch when there are national authorities equipped with product enforcement powers?

Do we accuse the police, the hospitals, and the government for failing to act? Do we blame them for incompetence, negligence, or mismanagement? Whilst it may be easy (and tempting) to do so, it may be completely unfair and untrue.

In reality the answer to these questions are much more complex. So what are the problems that lead to the contribution by citizens to areas for which governments or business typically manage? Firstly, we must begin with the old caveat that any government powerful enough to give the people all that they want is also powerful enough to take from the people all that they have. Do we really want a government that is all-knowing and all-powerful? Hurriedly side-stepping this philosophical debate, we must be content with the fact that it is simply not possible (not in this economy!) for any country to have a perfect government that enforces every infringement of the law, and protects all of its citizens, all of the time. However, we can work to reduce as much as possible the infringements and non-compliance of product policy in the EU.

Civil society groups have formed in all areas of life; in work and recreation, for rights and liberties, and for fairness and justice. These groups are formed around a single issue, where those most concerned by this issue claim the right to be part of the decisions that will affect them.

Nowadays environmental and consumer NGOs use technical expertise to help shape national and regional policies that impact on the environment. Civil society organisations of all kinds must lobby and persuade policy makers and other stakeholders to take into consideration their concerns, which to most are considered to be for the greater good of our planet and its inhabitants.

Whilst most attention is focused on the policies themselves, it has now also turned to the thoroughness and tenacity of their application and enforcement. Civil society may campaign for many years on a particular issue as we see in Ecodesign and energy labelling, carefully analysing evidence and data, going through the due law making process. It is a terrible shame therefore, if a lack of enforcement meant that this long and expensive process does not fulfil its potential.

It is this fear; that the flagship efficiency programme of the European Union will not reach its full potential, that has led to the creation of the MarketWatch project and subsequently the network that has formed around it. Dozens of organisations have worked for many years to campaign for rigorous minimum performance standards for energy using products under both the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directives, with the potential savings of already adopted as well as draft measures under preparation estimated at 72Mtoe of heating fuels and 723TWh of electricity in the EU by 2020. Further significant savings are expected due to possible measures on energy related products under the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directives. However, studies have shown that around 10 percent of savings are lost due to non-compliance with the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directives. This is roughly the total residential electricity consumption of Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary and Portugal combined.

Just as we have faith in our policymakers to build strong and ambitious legislation, we too have faith in the national market surveillance authorities to conduct appropriate market surveillance activities that will ensure compliance to the regulations. Just as with the examples above; neighbourhood watch schemes still have faith in and rely on the police to fulfil their roles, and those who are lending a helping hand need the support of appropriate legislation to provide the safety net for their action.

In market surveillance, civil society can bring transparency to long-standing relationships with industry and to multi-stakeholder projects, such as ATLETE2 and ComplianTV. We can provide experience and expertise on various subjects and product groups, and are able to dedicate time and resources to activities that may fall beyond the scope of market surveillance authorities regular activity. Example of such activities may include detailed verification of test-procedures, or market analysis/research on specific product categories. We have large networks and the ability to communicate findings, mobilise grass-roots action and sway public opinion, and perhaps most importantly our involvement can be considered impartial and neutral towards any particular manufacturer or retailer.

Decision makers are used to lobbying by stakeholders, but we think it would be fair to say that civil servants and enforcement bodies are more guarded about influence from outside stakeholders. To them, I would say that whilst civil society will always try and respect the position and decisions of their office, it is the duty of a civil society organisation to represent the interest of citizens. It is our duty, the very reason for our existence as civil society organisations, to represent and defend the rights and interests of citizens and the environment in which we all live and we will work for more as long as there is more to be done, and we will work as long as there is wasted potential.

Contact Alun

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