During its last meeting on 22 April 2021, the EOTA General Assembly appointed Matthias Springborn (DIBt, Germany) as the new chair of the Technical Board. In the following interview, Mr Springborn talks about goals for his term as TB chair and the future of the ETA route to CE marking.
For those who are less acquainted with EOTA’s internal workings, what are the main functions of EOTA’s Technical Board?
The Technical Board discusses issues related to assessment approaches and the content of European Assessment Documents (EADs) and other EOTA deliverables, such as Technical Reports and related procedural questions.
Can external stakeholders get involved in the Technical Board?
Parties representing general interests within the construction sector are invited to contribute to the work of the Technical Board and take part in its meetings as observers, except for the part of the meeting where confidential questions linked, for example, to a specific EAD developed in response to a manufacturer's ETA request are discussed.
Can you give concrete examples of problems addressed and solved by the Technical Board?
The Technical Board is often concerned with aspects which may be perceived as minor, but which are of major importance for the performance of EOTA.
To give one example, the Technical Board has developed a new tool to facilitate the follow-up of EADs with similar content. Let me provide some background. To protect the confidentiality of manufacturers, EOTA is held to handle ETA requests, including the underlying EAD development procedures, separately. EOTA and the European Commission services have now agreed to merge such EADs before citation to avoid overlaps. This will provide a clear, consistent and easy-to-use set of EADs to the industry stakeholders.
What is at the top of your agenda as the new TB chair?
EOTA and the European Commission have recently agreed on a mechanism to tackle the backlog of EADs waiting for citation in the Official Journal and allow for an increased number of EADs to get cited.
Implementing these solutions that my predecessor Luisa Morfini from ITC, Italy, successfully pushed forward, is a clear priority to me, because it will help EOTA to provide manufacturers with the level of service they expect from us.
Another priority for me is sharing information. Of course, this is not a new challenge, but one that has accompanied EOTA and its Europe-wide network of Technical Assessment Bodies from day one. However, it is crucial for EOTA's performance that information about changes in the EAD drafting guidelines or the European Commission's expectations for EADs is distributed and implemented quickly and consistently in all TABs.
As a long-standing member of EOTA and representative of a national authority involved in construction you have been following the discussions around the future of the Construction Products Regulation closely. How would you see the role of the ETA as a regulatory instrument besides the harmonised standards?
Currently, the discussions among construction industry stakeholders frequently revolve around CEN standardisation. The Member State meetings are no exception here. And of course, it is of outmost importance for the industry that it can benefit from the valuable technical work done by CEN in a timely manner.
In this respect, you could even consider it as a good sign that the ETA is currently not discussed much. Indeed, the explanation offered for this in a recent Member State meeting was that there were no major concerns with the ETA route. However, I think it is important to recall that the two routes, i.e. standardisation and the ETA route, have different focuses. Harmonised standards cover mainstream products, products widely used in the industry and for which ample experience exists at all stages from product assessment and testing to design and use on site. But there is a wide range of construction products that do not fall in this category, including but not limited to innovative products. The European construction industry needs these products and the ETA route to CE marking provides a quick, individual, safe and harmonised procedure to bring non-standard products to the European single market.
Around 1200 ETAs are requested every year although it is voluntary for manufacturers. Why?
There are multiple reasons for manufacturers to request an ETA. Better marketing opportunities are one example. The wish to avoid undergoing several national procedures also plays a role.
Quite frequently, however, applications for ETAs are driven by customers. In other words, the ETA has become a reference document that users ask for in many product areas. Overall, the ETA has become recognised as providing reliable information about product performances and it is appreciated as such.
If you could improve one thing about the ETA route in the future construction product regulation (CPR) framework what would it be?
For the time being, there is no defined timeline for feedback from the European Commission’s services on EADs. In combination with developments outside the CPR (such as the famous James Elliott judgement of the European Court of Justice), this has led to delays.
While both sides do their best to ensure a smooth cooperation and a timely citation of the EADs, I think it would be helpful for all stakeholders to define a reliable procedure and timeline in the future.
What are the features you find most important about the current route, those that should be continued?
EOTA is based on the cooperation of specialised bodies that not only bring their technical expertise to the table but also the extensive knowledge of their national regulatory frameworks and the construction practices commonly used in their countries. This ensures that EADs and ETAs meet the needs of the various construction industry stakeholders, especially specifiers, contractors and other users, manufacturers and Member States.
For non-standard products, it is also key that the technical specification, (i.e. the EAD) is linked to the technical assessment (i.e. the ETA), as currently provided for in the CPR. This ensures that the experiences gathered when issuing the ETA feed back into the assessment methods.
Another very important factor is that the independent assessment performed by the Technical Assessment Bodies promotes the trust of users in the reliability of non-standard, CE-marked construction products and the EU procedures.