We are finding ourselves right in the boiling pot of EU harmonisation. There have been heavy discussions on how far this should go. One would say, in the light of the current events, that the field of construction products is solved already – we have harmonised standards so the EU acts uniformly here. However, this is far from the truth and there are still many issues under the competence of national bodies. Let us take a look at the main elements in the field of construction products.
Products beyond harmonised standards
Although the list of harmonised standards is quite long, there are still many products not covered be them. All these products may be subject to complete national assessment (certification) depending on the national rules. To avoid this, EOTA-route is possible.
As this situation is against the principles of EU (free movement of goods), mutual recognition principle applies to solve the problem. But it is only a partial solution because some technical information needed in the destination country can be missing. Therefore, national assessment (certification) is often inevitable.
National requirements on construction (building codes)
Rules for building design fall under the competence of particular EU countries. They should give instructions on how to work with the values in a Declaration of Performance (DoP) to make a building properly. For example, some load capacity of anchors is given in a DoP but the national rules say what safety coefficient is to be applied and how the number of anchors is calculated. Sometimes, the national rules are stricter and reject application of products which do not show e.g. satisfactory freeze-thaw resistance or adequate fire reaction class.
It must be said that such requirements are missing in many countries. Then, the regulatory system does not work and allow distribution of products of any quality level.
Release of dangerous substances from construction products is an issue which has not been harmonised yet. The EU law REACH/CLP deals with the dangerous substances as such but not their release. This is quite important for construction products where various substances are absolutely safe when bound in the material but dangerous when released (e.g. cadmium, biocides, volatile compounds, formaldehyde, and many others). Despite a lot of work has been done, a harmonised approach is not ready yet to be used under construction products’ CE marking. This means national rules may apply in addition to CE marking.
Similar to release of dangerous substances, fire resistance of certain products or structures is also something difficult to be harmonised. The situation is much better than in the field of dangerous substances but still some care is advised.
EU has done a great progress in harmonisation but there is still a lot to be done. In the end, the European and national rules co-exist and must be perceived as complementary, not contradictory.