What is mutual recognition?
Mutual recognition is the principle of European Union (EU) law under which member states must allow goods that are legally sold in another member state also to be sold in their own territory.
For the exporter, this means that a product legally on sale in one EU country should not have to meet a second set of requirements in the country to which they are exporting.
The importing member state can disregard this principle only under strictly defined circumstances, such as where public health, the environment or consumer safety are at risk, and where the measures taken can be shown to be proportionate.
Important: Following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the UK will no longer fall within the scope of the mutual recognition principle.
Read the latest UK government guidance on trading under the mutual recognition principle if there’s no Brexit deal.
What does mutual recognition apply to?
Mutual recognition applies to non-harmonised goods - those that are not already covered by EU-wide legislation setting common requirements (eg in terms of safety or environmental performance) that all products of that type must meet before being placed on the EU market.
Harmonised legislation covers the majority of goods traded within the EU, including toys, machinery, medical devices and pharmaceuticals. Non-harmonised goods include certain foodstuffs, furniture, bicycles, ladders and precious metals.
What is the benefit of mutual recognition?
The main advantage of mutual recognition is that it removes the need to harmonise all national technical rules. Technical rules typically relate to weight, size, composition, labelling and packaging.
Harmonisation can be very time-consuming, and is of limited value when only a few member states wish to regulate a particular product, or when the volume of sales of that product means that the costs of harmonisation outweigh the benefits.
What must member states do under the Mutual Recognition Regulation?
Under the Mutual Recognition Regulation (764/2008/EC) member states must:
- raise awareness of the mutual recognition principle and its application
- make clear the product categories to which mutual recognition applies
- maintain product contact points providing free information on any national rules that apply to non-harmonised goods
- ensure that enforcement authorities set out clear justification and evidence for any actions which may contravene the mutual recognition principle
- provide solutions within given deadlines where problems are encountered