Last edit: 01/08/2023

The Cassis de Dijon case is well known for its important role in promoting the mutual recognition principle but it also played an immense role in modifying the EU approach to technical harmonisation on three fundamental counts:

—  in stating that Member States could only justify forbidding or restricting the marketing of products from other Member States on the basis of non-conformity with ‘essential requirements’, the Court opened a reflection on the content of future harmonisation legislation: since non-respect of non-essential requirements could not justify restricting the marketing of a product, such non-essential requirements need no longer figure in EU harmonisation texts. This opened the door to the New Approach and the consequent reflection on what constitutes an essential requirement and how to formulate it in such a manner that conformity can be demonstrated,

—  in stating this principle, the Court clearly placed the onus on national authorities to demonstrate where products did not conform to essential requirements but it also begged the question of the appropriate means for demonstrating conformity in a proportionate manner,

—  by noting that Member States were obliged to accept products from other Member States except in circumscribed conditions, the Court identified a legal principle but did not produce the means to create the trust in the products that could help authorities to accept products they could not vouch for. This led to the need to develop a policy on conformity assessment.

The principles of the «NEW APPROACH»

The New Approach legislative technique approved by the Council of Ministers on 7 May 1985 in its Resolution on a new approach to technical harmonisation and standards was the logical legislative follow up to the Cassis de Dijon case. This regulatory technique established the following principles:

  • Legislative harmonisation should be limited to the essential requirements (preferably performance or functional requirements) that products placed on the EU market must meet if they are to benefit from free movement within the EU,
  • The technical specifications for products meeting the essential requirements set out in legislation should be laid down in harmonised standards which can be applied alongside the legislation,
  • products manufactured in compliance with harmonised standards benefit from a presumption of conformity with the corresponding essential requirements of the applicable legislation, and, in some cases, the manufacturer may benefit from a simplified conformity assessment procedure (in many instances the manufacturer's declaration of conformity, made more easily acceptable to public authorities by the existence of the product liability legislation,
  • the application of harmonised or other standards remains voluntary, and the manufacturer can always apply other technical specifications to meet the requirements. However, in that case, he will carry the burden of demonstrating that these technical specifications answer the needs of the essential requirements, more often than not, through a process involving a third party conformity assessment body.

The operation of Union harmonisation legislation under the New Approach requires harmonised standards to offer a guaranteed level of protection with regard to the essential requirements established by the legislation. This constitutes one of the major preoccupations of the Commission in pursuit of its policy for a strong European standardisation process and infrastructure. Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012 on European Standardisation gives the Commission the possibility of inviting, after consultation with the Member States, the European standardisation organisations to draw up harmonised standards and it establishes procedures to assess and to object to harmonised standards.