18.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 195/7


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the placing on the market of pyrotechnic articles

(COM(2005) 457 final — 2005/0194 (COD))

(2006/C 195/02)

On 25 November 2005, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 25 April 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Cassidy.

At its 427th plenary session, held on 17 and 18 May 2006 (meeting of 17 May), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 117 votes to 1 with 2 abstentions.

1.   Executive summary of EESC conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The draft directive is intended:

to ensure the free movement of pyrotechnic products within the EU,

to improve safety of consumers and professionals,

to harmonise safety requirements in all Member States.

1.2

The EESC in general supports the Commission draft directive but makes the following recommendations.

1.2.1

The Commission should consider a longer period for transposition than that allowed for in the current Article 20. The period allowed for fireworks is only 24 months after publication of the directive, whereas for other pyrotechnic devices it is five years. Given the long lead time for importers of fireworks from China and other sources, estimated by distributors in the EU to be at least three years, the EESC recommends that the same length of time should be allowed for fireworks as for other pyrotechnic devices, i.e. five years.

1.2.2

The Committee points out that the arrangements for testing fireworks and for meeting the CEN specification impose responsibilities on importers and distributors. It recommends therefore that it should be made clear in the directive that importers must specify the standards to be obtained for the CE marking when placing their orders with manufacturers throughout the world. The responsibility for testing and for CE marking should rest with the manufacturer, with the importer having a secondary responsibility for ensuring that products bearing the CE mark are genuinely able to meet the CEN standards to avoid counterfeit products being put on the market.

1.2.3

The Committee believes that customs and other authorities in the Member States should also be involved in monitoring that products bearing the CE mark are genuinely meeting the standard.

1.2.4

Accident data supplied by Member States to the European Commission are incomplete. The Commission is aware of this. The Committee urges all Member States to improve their monitoring of consumer accidents.

1.2.5

Article 14 sets up arrangements for rapid information on products presenting serious risks. The RAPEX system could also be used as an interim measure until the directive comes into force.

1.2.6

For pyrotechnic products used in the automotive industry, Article 12 (1) requires manufacturers to ensure that they ‘are properly labelled in the official language(s) of the country in which the article is sold to the consumer’. The Committee beliefs the reference to the consumer is misleading as most pyrotechnic articles are fitted to motor vehicles at the manufacturing stage. The information for Original Equipment can therefore continue to be used in the current language (English). However, manufacturers of this equipment are concerned about the obligation to print instructions in all the official languages of the 25 countries because they have no control over which country the device will be used in. The Committee believes that the manufacturers' Safety Data Sheets should be sufficient as the information they contain is mainly diagrammatic and statistical.

The requirement of labelling ‘in the official language(s) of the country in which the article is sold to the consumer’ is contrary to the basic principles of the single market as language labelling would be an obstacle to trade. The Committee also believes that replacement airbags, etc. would only rarely be sold to the final consumer but rather installed by garage technicians.

1.2.7

Article 8.4 of the draft directive obliges Member States to inform the Commission if they believe that products do not fully satisfy the essential safety requirements referred to in Article 4 (1) which will provide a legal base. In the meantime, however, the Committee recommends that the RAPEX system might be used to convey accident and hazard data to the Commission so that the information will flow to other Member States.

1.2.8

The Committee has learned that in some Member States there are a number of micro enterprises involved in the manufacture of fireworks for special local occasions. Member States must ensure that these enterprises also respect the safety requirements of the directive.

1.2.9

Automotive pyrotechnical devices should be covered by a UN/ECE regulation under the 1958 Agreement (WP 29 in Geneva) rather than in a standard.

1.2.10

The Committee believes that for automotive pyrotechnical devices, the Commission should be prepared to accept some form of type approval.

2.   Summary of the Commission proposal

2.1

‘Fireworks’ are commonly used for entertainment or to mark a special event such as a religious festival. They form part of the cultural history of many EU Member States. The directive deals with these separately from ‘pyrotechnic articles’ which, for the purposes of the directive, cover explosive devices used to trigger airbags and seat restraints in motor vehicles.

2.2   Categories

Article 3 of the draft directive establishes four categories of fireworks:

a)

Fireworks

Category 1: presenting a very low hazard and intended for use in a domestic or confined environment,

Category 2: presenting a low hazard and intended for use in outdoor confined areas,

Category 3: presenting a medium hazard and intended for outdoor use in large open areas,

Category 4: presenting a high hazard and intended for professional use only.

b)

Other pyrotechnic articles

Category 1: pyrotechnic articles other than fireworks which present low hazard,

Category 2: pyrotechnic articles other than fireworks which are intended for handling or use by persons with specialist knowledge only.

2.3   Age limits

2.3.1

Article 7 of the directive forbids the sale of:

Category 1 fireworks to anyone under 12;

Category 2 to anyone under 16;

Category 3 to anyone under 18.

Other pyrotechnic articles may not be sold or made available to anyone under 18 unless they have the necessary vocational training.

2.4

The rules for placing pyrotechnic articles on the market differ widely across the present 25 Member States as do the statistics on accidents and their compilation. Currently, Member States' data refer only to fireworks and not to other products such as those used in the automotive industry, in stage effects or in distress flares.

2.5

The market for automotive articles is the more important of the two branches with a value of EUR 5.5 billion annually (EUR 3.5 billion airbag systems and EUR 2 billion seat belt pre-tensioners). (The export value in 2004 was EUR 223 438 297 and the import value of EUR 16 090 411.)

2.6

The vast majority of fireworks on the EU market are imported from China so that the main employment in the EU is in SMEs. The consumer market is estimated at around EUR 700 million per year and the ‘professional’ market about the same. The Commission's impact assessment reckons that employment is around 3 000 mainly involved with purchasing, storage, distribution and professional firework displays. Malta is an exception in having a large number of religious festivals involving displays of hand-made fireworks, which are not sold to consumers.

2.7

Accident levels vary according to the accuracy of the national statistics and vary from 1.36 per million population in Estonia to 60.1 per million in the United Kingdom. The Commission extrapolates these statistics to arrive at a total number of firework accidents of between 7 000 and 45 000 for an EU population of 455 million.

2.8

There appear to be no separate statistics for automotive pyrotechnic accidents compared with those for traffic accidents in general.

2.9   CE marking

2.9.1

There is no current requirement for fireworks to carry a CE mark though a CEN standard was published in May 2003. Articles 9 and 10 propose that they shall not be placed on the market unless they conform to the procedures laid down in these articles.

2.9.2

Member States will be required to inform the Commission of who has been appointed in their territory to carry out the procedure.

2.9.3

No fireworks will be permitted unless the manufacture has satisfied the assessment procedure.

2.10   Automotive pyrotechnic articles

2.10.1

There is no uniform approval process for placing on the market inflators, modules and other automotive safety devices.

2.11   Impact assessment

2.11.1

The Commission estimates that their harmonisation will lead to considerable cost saving for both fireworks and automotive pyrotechnic articles. Currently, there are believed to be as many as 50 000 different types of approved fireworks in use in the EU and approval for one firework can cost between EUR 500 and EUR 3 000per firework per country. It calculates that the cost of a new system with one procedure covering all 25 States will be cheaper.

2.11.2

For automotive products, the cost of one airbag approval can be EUR 25 000 in one country (Germany) and the Commission hopes that competition among testing authorities will bring down the price.

3.   General comments

3.1

The Committee while welcoming the objectives of the directive — free movement of pyrotechnic articles, a high degree of consumer protection and essential safety requirements — has some reservations in particular about fireworks.

3.2

Bearing in mind that the vast majority of them are made in China and that the manufacturers there may well not have the resources to comply with an EU standard, who will assume responsibility for testing — the importer, the manufacturer's agent or the retailer?

3.3

What reassurance will there be that the CE mark attached to an imported firework is genuine and that the device to which it is attached is not counterfeit?

3.4

What degree of cooperation is achievable between consumer-protection bodies in the EU and the authorities in the country of origin?

3.5

The EESC is somewhat sceptical about the statistics in the Commission impact assessments, especially the wide range of accident figures — between 7 000 and 45 000. It shares the Commission opinion that ‘… any attempt to estimate a figure for the total number of accidents across the EU must be treated very cautiously’.

3.6

The same reservations apply to the economic impact assessment and the rather optimistic reliance in the case of automotive pyrotechnic articles on ‘… increased competition of testing authorities’ to bring down the cost of appliance approval.

3.7

The EESC notes that the Social impact assessment is positive in aiming to reduce the number of firework-related accidents and neutral for employment in both firework and automotive sectors.

3.8

The Environmental impact assessment draws attention to the influence of Council Directive 96/82/EC (Seveso II) of 9 December 1996 and its extension in Parliament and Council Directive 2003/105/EC of 16 December 2003 to establishments where pyrotechnics are present.

3.9

In spite of its reservations, the EESC welcomes these impact assessments.

4.   Specific comments

4.1

The automotive sector is far more important economically than that for fireworks. It is a major exporter and employs large numbers. The EESC welcomes any step which will assist EU manufacturers in holding their own in a sector in which competition from ‘off shore’ is becoming more intense.

4.2

The Committee would hope that the introduction of uniform standards for putting on the market safe fireworks may lead to a revival of manufacture in the EU by offering economies of scale in a market worth EUR 1.4 billion (consumer sales EUR 700 million; professional sales also EUR 700 million) currently prevented by the existence of too many national standards often in conflict with each other.

Brussels, 17 May 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND