EU “playing with fireworks”

29 November 2006

EU “playing with fireworks”

The SP is opposing a proposal from the European Commission to liberalise the European firework market. According to SP Euro-MP Kartika Liotard, the member states should retain the right to determine the rules with which fireworks must comply before they can be sold within their territory.

The Commission's aim is to harmonise safety regulations in order to get rid of national barriers to trade in fireworks. Currently, major differences exist between member states' legislation. In some countries fireworks are completely banned, certain others limit their use to certain days, while others impose no restrictions whatsoever. Safety requirements also differ hugely.

Kartika Liotard"Member states must themselves retain the right to determine what they see as a safe firework,” Ms Liotard said. “In the Netherlands, this is an exceptionally sensitive issue since the explosion in Enschede six years ago which left twenty-three people dead and almost a thousand injured. It is unacceptable that the EU, in its frenzy to liberalise, is trying to rule such national considerations out of order. The safety of the public is more important than the laws of the market or the interests of the firework industry."

According to a spokesman for Dutch firework distributors, current safety standards vary to an extent that harmonisation is as good as impossible. “In Sweden ordinary small bangers or firecrackers are banned, but you're allowed to use up to 400 grammes of gunpowder in a rocket. I wouldn't be seen dead near a rocket of that size, and moreover if you did get near one there's a good chance that you would be found dead,” he said. “In the Netherlands the maximum is 40 grammes – these Swedes are letting off real bombs! Just try to find a middle way between us and them.” The Netherlands Centre for Standardisation (NEN) also declared itself unable to see how a single set of safety requirements could be fixed for the whole of Europe, a spokesman noting that “The Netherlands is one of the strictest countries. If we had to agree a single set of requirements with Spain, for example, it would mean we'd have to water down our safety provisions.”

According to the Dutch government, which supports liberalisation, the new directive will have no effect on the storage or sale of fireworks. Yet the proposed new rules state that no obstacle may be placed on the free sale of and trade in fireworks provided that they meet the new European safety standards. “In the directive it remains unclear whether it will still be possible to buy fireworks in, for example, Belgium, and at any time of year, and then bring them to the Netherlands,” Liotard points out, warning that “experience shows us that lack of clarity invariably leads to the most liberal interpretation by both the Commission and the Court of Justice.

“The economic importance of a single European market for fireworks would be negligible and is certainly of less importance than is safety. Only the big boys in the industry will profit from this, while little boys out of the street will be its victims. In the Netherlands we know only too well that only total idiots mess around with fireworks, and we want to make this clear to the European Commission. I'll certainly be doing what I can to make sure there's some fireworks when this comes before the European Parliament.”

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