Accreditation in Europe: Home alone!

by Dr George Anastasopoulos*

“EA members shall not compete with other EA members in the EA region”
EA-2/13 M: 2012-EA Cross Border Accreditation Policy – October 2012

In July 2008 the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament agreed to a Regulation that for the first time provides a legal framework that creates a series of monopolies (one in each EU member country) for the provision of accreditation services across Europe. And this action could be understood (even then debatable) if it was planned to serve only the compulsory conformity assessment needs introduced by EU legislation. Alas! It is also becoming obligatory for the operation of accreditation related to voluntary conformity assessment! Therefore, protected from competition by the use of force (=law), monopolistic Accreditation can afford to provide his service in a costly and inefficient manner, since the certification bodies (including laboratories) are deprived of any possible range of alternative accreditation choice.

But let’s start of the beginning. What is accreditation?
According to International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC), accreditation is...“the independent evaluation of conformity assessment bodies against recognized standards to ensure their impartiality and competence” (1) .

Clause 3.1 of standard ISO 17011 titled “Conformity assessment — General requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies“ defines accreditation as: “Third-party attestation related to a conformity assessment body conveying formal demonstration of its competence to carry out specific conformity assessment tasks”.

In Clause 4.1 titled “Legal Responsibility”, of the same standard, it is required that “…the accreditation body shall be a registered legal entity”, followed by a note explaining what is applicable in the case of a “Governmental” accreditation body. It is obvious that for International Organization for Standardization accreditation bodies can be either private or governmental entities.

In a thorough search of all relative documentation issued by IAF, ILAC and ISO no mention or, even worse, requirement for monopolistic state accreditation could be found. And how it could be so, as long IAF clearly recognizes in its web site(2) that: “The primary purpose of IAF is to establish Multilateral Recognition Arrangements (MLA) between its accreditation body members in order to contribute to the freedom of world trade by eliminating technical barriers to trade.”

It is clear that the monopolistic state-offered accreditation is not a requirement by any international organization related to the issue. What was then the driving force that led European Union to become so anachronistic in its approach to accreditation?

In the Regulation (EC) no 765/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council, dated July 9, 2008 titled: “Setting out the requirements for accreditation and market surveillance relating to the marketing of products” it provides a rationale that in no case can justify the decision for a monopolistic state accreditation. For example it states that:

“(10) … lack of common rules for that activity (read accreditation) has resulted in different approaches and differing systems throughout the Community, with the result that the degree of rigour applied in the performance of accreditation has varied between Member States.”

But this case could be easily handled by the peer assessment process already functioning for the MLA of EA (European Accreditation). Where is the need for a monopoly? Perhaps the answer is provided a few clauses later, where we enjoy a statement that even Stalin would admire for its pure socialist inspiration:

“(19) Competition between national accreditation bodies could lead to the commercialization of their activity, which would be incompatible with their role as the last level of control in the conformity assessment chain.”

We could easily replace the word accreditation with other “critical” or “high risk” social services to create the ideal social utopia. For example and for your entertainment I would paraphrase it as:

“Competition between health institutions (=hospitals) could lead to the commercialization of their activity, which would be incompatible with their role as the last level of control in human health chain.”

Or even better:
“Competition between air carriers could lead to the commercialization of their activity, which would be incompatible with their role as the last level of safe transportation.”

The same could apply for making safe food (state monopolistic restaurants) in building safe houses (state monopolistic construction companies) etc. It will be difficult to explain why accreditation is more critical for consumers than building a safe house, or conducting a surgery, or piloting an airplane!

And if competition on accreditation leads to commercialization which reduces the level of accreditation’s quality, why not also assume that competition on certification leads to commercialization which reduces the level of certification’s quality? Therefore, should we replace all certification bodies/labs with one state certification body/lab per country, to increase their service quality? Somebody with little knowledge of the market could easily understand that if competition is deteriorating accreditation services, it is obvious that it is deteriorating certification services, as well.

It is interesting to note that in the above mentioned Regulation 765/2008 clause 19, Brussels bureaucrats and their counterparts in member-states are clearly mentioning: “Competition between national accreditation bodies” because they cannot even think of the existence of a not for profit private accreditation body! And in order to be 100% sure that such an “evil thing” as private accreditation would never appear they are adding clause 20 that ensures that: “(20) conformity assessment bodies should request accreditation by the national accreditation body”, and yes, “should” means “shall” according to EU bureaucrats!

If you wonder what is a “national accreditation body” you get your answer at Chapter I, Article 2 Definitions of the Regulation: “‘National accreditation body’ shall mean the sole body in a Member State that performs accreditation with authority derived from the State.”

It is also important to understand that under the term “conformity assessment” they include all kinds of accreditation as defined at Chapter I, Article 2 Definitions of the Regulation: “‘Conformity assessment’ shall mean the process demonstrating whether specified requirements relating to a product, process, service, system, person or body have been fulfilled.”

And the last piece that completes the puzzle of the monopoly is found at Chapter II, Article 3 Scope of the Regulation: “This Chapter shall apply to accreditation, used on a compulsory or voluntary basis, relating to conformity assessment, whether that assessment is compulsory or not…”. In this clause Regulation is officially “locking” voluntary basis certification under its monopolistic framework!

But how such a Frankenstein-like Regulation could be accepted by EU Council? The trick used by euro-bureaucrats was simple: EU sets harmonization rules (CE marking) emphasizing in product safety and consumer protection for many product groups. Initially, a few years before issuing this Regulation, accreditors and EU bureaucrats used CE Marking need for notification (official recognition) of certification bodies, to promote accreditation bodies to the role of assessing and approving conformity assessment bodies. Then, they used the “general product safety” principle and EU policy makers’ sensitivity on public safety issues (and their ignorance on accreditation issues) to mix up the CE marking market surveillance with generic accreditation services achieving the consensus and approval for this Regulation. As a next step they introduced the monopolistic principle to “safeguard” accreditation service quality by the risk of “competition”! And, finally, they added the “cherry” on the “pie”: Voluntary basis accreditation to be also included! Of course voluntary basis accreditation has nothing to do with the declared scope of Regulation 765/2008, but it is an “easy meal” for national accreditation bodies’ business! Sorry, I forgot: “Commercialization is incompatible to accreditation”! What a big joke, indeed!

It should be noted that establishing accreditation state monopolies in EU members, through Regulation 765/2008, is also an action against the following agreements:
· Treaty of Rome, 1957, Establishing the European Community, Part Three, Community Policies (Arts. 8-130), Title I. Free Movement of Goods (Arts. 9-37) and Title III. Free Movement of Persons, Services and Capital (Arts. 48-73)(3), and
· World Trade Organization, Uruguay Round General Agreement on Trade in Services (Article I — XXVI)(4).

It is obvious that state monopoly cannot and will not improve the level of quality of accreditation services offered in Europe. It will only facilitate a few public accreditation officers who will be guaranteed of their work security and their salaries, for good. It will also guarantee a lack of interest for any improvement on the efficient operation of the Accreditation bodies. As long as their market is secured, they have no reason to reduce their expenses, as long as they can always increase their fees without any consequences. Their customers are stack with them, by force. It will be illegal for them to choose another accreditation! Of course such policy directly reduces the competiveness of accreditation customers, but this looks that it is of no importance for the euro-bureaucrats who drafted Regulation 765/2008 and for the politicians who approved it.

In this case the euro-bureaucrats demonstrated their ignorance to the elementary lessons of Economics-101: “Government monopoly creates an inefficient provision of a service or product. The favored business has no incentive to improve; its profits are guaranteed by the government. As a result, there is no true customer service or quality assurance. In comparison, competition instead forces companies to stay the best or lose market share, which in turn is assumed to be better for the customer.”

Throughout history, groups of men calling themselves "the government" or "the State" have attempted – usually successfully – to gain a compulsory monopoly of the commanding heights of the economy and the society. In particular, the State has arrogated to itself a compulsory monopoly over police and military services, the provision of law, judicial decision-making, the mint and the power to create money, unused land ("the public domain"), streets and highways, rivers and coastal waters, even the means of delivering mail. No it is the turn of Accreditation to join the club! Who is next?

On the contrary, on the free market, it is a happy fact that the maximization of the wealth of one person or group redounds to the benefit of all; but in the political realm, the realm of the State, a maximization of income and wealth can only accrue parasitically to the State and its rulers at the expense of the rest of society.

Therefore the question to be answer becomes: What kind of accreditation will be offered in EU, and at what cost? And who is to decide what quality of accreditation and at what cost each EU member country is to receive? On the free market, decisions on how much and what quality of any good or service should be supplied are made by means of voluntary purchases by each individual; in the “socialist” Europe this should not be decided by the market but the euro-bureaucrats and the public servants! Euro-bureaucrats and public servants, who are always eager to “protect” the citizens by the “dangers” of free and competitive market.

A big state is always welcome, especially for the ones who work for it. And it is true, independently of what they preach in public, that state and its servants love money, specially other people money! That’s the state’s only way for survival and growth. And the only means to achieve it, is by using force (=legislation).

Regulation 765/2008 is making a step towards Soviet Socialist Republics of Europe. A small step indeed, but after all, everything “big” starts from a “small” step.

Cpaciba Tovarishch! (Thanks Comrades)!


(1) http://www.iaf.nu//articles/About/2 and www.ilac.org/
(2) http://www.iaf.nu/articles/MRA_Documents/39
(3) http://eur-lex.europa.eu/en/treaties/index.htm
(4) http://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/26-gats_01_e.htm#ArticleI

*About the Author:

Dr. George Anastasopoulos holds a PhD from Northwestern University (USA). He is the Chairman and CEO of Personnel Certification Body STAREGISTER and General Secretary of the International Personnel Certification Association IPC. He has served as Secretary General for Industry of the Hellenic Ministry of Development. He has also served as Lead Assessor, Lead Tutor, Committee and Board member of many certification and accreditation bodies in global level. He has been the author of many books and articles and participated as keynote speaker in many international conferences and TV-shows. He now lives in Athens, Greece and he can be reached at ganas1@otenet.gr.

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