The delegation, visiting under the umbrella of the British Furniture Confederation, included BFC chairman Paul von der Heyde, Jackie Bazeley, managing director of the British Furniture Manufacturers (BFM), Jessica Alexander, executive director of the National Bed Federation (NBF) and Phil Reynolds, chief operating officer of the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA).
Meetings were held with DG Environment officials responsible for the EU Timber Regulations, Chemicals, REACH and biocides regulations, and the waste management and recycling unit; while flammability regulations and the review of the General Product Safety Regulations were brought up with the deputy head of product and service safety at DG Health and Consumers.
"We are delighted that we have opened up a dialogue with the European Commission and have had an opportunity to understand better how it all works,” said Paul von der Heyde. “We look forward to working closer with those who influence our UK product and safety legislation.”
On EU timber regulations, the BFC received a sympathetic ear to its concerns and suggestions about the exclusion of seats and clarification of non-wood species within the regulations and learned that all member states must report on the effectiveness and efficiency of the regulations by March 2015 – while in the interim the department would be asking for feedback on what sanctions were being put in place across Europe and what is being done with any seized timber by mid-May of this year.
It was also encouraging to learn that the Commission, alert to concerns about a level playing field in implementation, was looking at what measures could be taken against member states which did not fulfil their obligations.
Discussions regarding chemicals and REACH confirmed that UK furniture industry must be aware that a constant eye is being cast over identifying all potentially hazardous chemicals, with key triggers being solely harm to the environment or to human health.
A better understanding of the how a chemical is nominated as a Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) was a key outcome of the meeting, as well as the potential routes to minimise the impact of such a listing were key outcomes of the meeting, which will ensure UK industry is alerted to potential areas of concern much earlier in the process.
On recycling, the group learned of a key report assessing extended producer responsibility schemes in other industry sectors in place across member states, which could be a driver for EC guidelines on best practice and standards for EPR schemes rather than any immediate intention to impose such schemes for furniture across Europe.
It was felt that the department genuinely wanted to work closer with industry bodies such as the BFC in order to gain a better understanding of what was happening on end of life in different member states. Both the landfill and waste policy directives are being reviewed this year but there are no plans specific to furniture being discussed.
Finally the BFC learned that the European Parliament will take an initial vote on proposed amendments to the General Product Safety Directive in April (and provided a link to the proposals) although further discussion will need to take place subsequently on contentious issues such as a Country of Origin identification requirement for improved traceability.
As 26% of product recalls cannot be traced back to the producer, beefed up traceability requirements are likely to be inevitable. In future the emphasis is going to be more about 'Seller Beware' rather than 'Buyer Beware'.
Nor were there likely to be any concessions made for micro businesses making bespoke single items as health and safety cannot be dependent on business size, although the commission looking at the impact of legislation on micro businesses.
Online purchases from outside the EU were also going to be included in the remit of the revised GPSR.
Not unexpectedly, it was confirmed that there were no plans to introduce furniture fire safety regulations Europe-wide and that there was a preferred emphasis on the reduction of FR chemicals.
The BFC now plans to return to Brussels in the autumn to continue discussions with the policy makers as well – i.e. newly elected MEPs in the European Parliament.