Free access to European harmonised technical standards

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The new ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) of 5 March 2024 in the so-called “Malamud” case (C-588/21 P) will have a significant impact on standardisation work in Europe and will make access to so-called harmonised standards free of charge.

Harmonised standards are drawn up by a European standardisation body (CEN, CENELEC, ETSI) at the request (“mandate”) of the European Commission. Compliance with these standards guarantees the presumption of conformity with the essential health and safety requirements, which is necessary and compulsory to obtain the CE marking for products and free circulation on the European market. The application of harmonised standards is not an obligation, but merely a possible method of ensuring product safety; in practice, harmonised standards are the main route (presumption of conformity) followed by manufacturers to obtain CE certification.

Until now, only standards that have been made mandatory at national level, at least in France, have been accessible free of charge. With the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) of 5 March 2024, access to harmonised NF EN standards will also become free of charge.

The ruling in case C-588/21 P follows a complaint lodged by two non-profit organisations whose mission is to make the law freely accessible to all citizens.

Relying in particular on the principles of the rule of law and of free access to the law, the Court found that there was an overriding public interest justifying the disclosure of the harmonised standards in question. For that reason, and since the harmonised standards form part of Union law, it considers it justified that those documents should be accessible to any natural or legal person residing in a Member State.

Since harmonised standards are likely to establish rights and obligations for individuals, the Court considers that it may be necessary for citizens to be able to acquaint themselves with those standards in order to be able to check whether a given product or service actually complies with the requirements of that legislation.

The implications for standardisation work in Europe concern not only its funding but also, for example, cooperation at international level with the ISO and IEC standardisation organisations.

CJEU press release
Judgment of the CJEU

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