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Harmonisation of legislation

The free movement of goods in the European Union is essentially possible owing to the harmonisation of the legislation concerning them. As a result, the rules applying to a product are the same in all Member States and protect essential public interest requirements in exactly the same manner.

Two ways of harmonising legislation

The historical approach to harmonising legislation, used for example in the automotive industry, involves making all products of a certain type comply with highly detailed technical specifications laid down by the legislation. This approach has however proven to have certain limitations. Drafting highly detailed legislation requires a long period of negotiations which may hinder innovation and the technical specifications laid down by legislation may not correspond to technical and scientific advances.

The "new approach" is a regulatory technique which was introduced in the mid-1980s to address the limitations of the historical approach. With this approach, legislation is limited to setting the essential requirements which the products must comply with, particularly in terms of health and safety. Stakeholders and experts in the field agree on the technical specifications enabling these essential requirements to be complied with, usually in the form of harmonised European standards.

List of directives based on the new approach's principles


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