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       Where’s the Science in Low Frequency Emissions Regulation? 
A Study of European Norm 61000-3-2

Master of Arts Project 
prepared by S. Anthony Grasso and 
finished on the 4th of April in the year 2000. 

Advisor: Professor Keith Bovetti

This paper was researched and written to fulfill the M.A. project requirement for completing the Monterey Institute of International Studies’ Master of Arts in Commercial Diplomacy. It was not commissioned by any government or other organization. The views and analysis presented are those of the student alone.

For more information about the Commercial Diplomacy program and the M.A. project requirement, please visit


For the purposes of this project, I assume the fictitious role of a consultant who has been hired by a group of information technology companies to 1) analyze the problems associated with the European Union’s soon to be implemented harmonic emissions standard (EN 61000-3-2); and 2) develop a strategy for delaying implementation of the standard. As part of this work, I propose the development of a fictitious coalition, the Coalition on Harmonic Emission Issues (CHEI). 

I express my deepest gratitude to the following people for assisting me as I developed, researched and wrote this project:   

Malcolm S. Bermange, Xerox
Professor Keith Bovetti
Professor Geza Feketekuty
Billy Johnson, ITIC
Professor Bill Monning
Professor Brian Russell
Stan Statt, NCR/Lucent 

Last but not least, I thank Timothy Bennett and Jennifer Guhl of the American Electronics Association for introducing me to this topic

Table of Contents

Executive Summary
Commercial Analysis
Legal Analysis
Standards Setting in the U.S. and EU
Stakeholders Analysis
Overall Strategy
Negotiation Strategy


  1. Sample letter to ANSI
  2. Sample letter to CENELEC
  3. Sample letter to DG Enterprise
  4. Sample letter to U.S. Congressional Representative
  5. Sample letter to IEC Committees TC77 and SC77A
  6. Sample White Paper


A.     Macroeconomic Analysis
B.     The EMC Directive 
C.     The Information Technology Agreement 
D.     Negotiation Chart 
E.      Definitions
F.      Abbreviations        

Executive Summary


On January 1, 2001, the European Union will begin requiring all electronic/electrical equipment sold in the EU market to conform to its low frequency emissions standard, European Norm (EN) 61000-3-2. The standard will cost the electronic/electrical industries billions of dollars, yet there is no scientific evidence that the standard is necessary. 

The purpose of EN 61000-3-2 is to limit the harmonic or low frequency emissions (LFE) of electronic/electrical products and to ensure that these products are acceptably immune to such emissions—emissions that can, at least in theory, create disruptive noise on the power lines.  All electronic/electrical products are covered by the standard (e.g. computers, audio and video equipment, light dimmers, fluorescent lights, air conditioners, refrigerators, etc.).  

In total, the low frequency EN standard is expected to cost worldwide electronic/electrical equipment manufacturers $50 billion by 2001—an increase in production costs of 2.5 to 1,000 percent. The information technology (IT) industry alone will pay an estimated $3.4-$5.6 billion annually by 2001 to conform to the standard. Consumer prices for electronic/electrical equipment are expected to rise three to five percent as a result of the standard.  

These costs are unjustified because there is no scientific evidence that demonstrates the need for a standard that covers all electronic products. Indeed, there is no data or record of complaint from European or American utilities to show that harmonic signals have in fact been disruptive. The costs of EN 61000-3-2 are yet less justifiable because the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) recently decided to rewrite the IEC standard on which EN 61000-3-2 is based, and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) is currently reviewing, and potentially revising, the standard itself. It simply does not make sense to require manufacturers to come into conformity with EN 61000-3-2 by January 1, 2001 if the standard is likely to be changed soon thereafter.  

Without scientific justification, EN 61000-3-2 violates Article 2.2 of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. Moreover, it will have a strong negative impact on manufacturers:  

  •  the language of EN 61000-3-2 is ambiguous, which will make it difficult to bring products into conformity with the standard;
  • the standard conflicts with other European standards, which means that bringing some products into conformity will cause them to be in violation of other European Norms,
  • the standard will slow the speed with which companies can bring new products to market (because more time will be required to develop and test new products to ensure conformity with EN 61000-3-2); and
  • the standard will make some products too expensive to sell profitably because of the costs of conformity.

The IT industry must:

  1. Persuade the EU to postpone the implementation of EN 61000-3-2 until after the IEC and CENELEC respectively rewrite and review the standard. The EU should also allow ample time for the electronic/electrical industry to conform to the revised standard.  

  2. Participate more actively in the IEC committees TC77 and SC77A as they prepare the revised version of IEC/EN 61000-3-2. It will be crucial to ensure this new standard meets the electronic/electrical industry requirements/concerns.  

A detailed strategy for achieving these recommendations is laid out in the final section of this paper.


As international agreements chisel away at tariff barriers to trade in information technology (IT) products, significant, potentially devastating, non-tariff barriers are emerging. The most important of these emerging barriers are standards-related barriers, which are proving to be very costly for producers of computer hardware, software, and telecommunications equipment.[1] Indeed, intense competition has already shortened the economic life cycles of high-tech products and left companies with little time to recover research and development (R&D) costs. Requiring companies to spend extra time and money ensuring that products conform to technical regulations only exacerbates this problem.[2] 

The impact of technical, standards barriers is particularly detrimental to the competitiveness of industries within the United States and European Union, which share the largest two-way trade and investment relationship in the world.[3] Approximately 22 percent of all U.S. goods and services exports (approximately $110 billion in merchandise) go to the European Union (EU) every year,[4] and a full fifty percent ($66 billion) of these exports require some form of EU certification in addition to any U.S. domestic certification requirements.[5] The heterogeneous standards and duplicative regulatory requirements on both sides of the Atlantic increase the base cost of exports by up to 15 percent.[6]  

Since the early 1990s, the European Union has attempted to impose EMC standards on electronic/electrical products sold in the Union. One of these standards, and the focus of this project, is European Norm (EN) 61000-3-2.  EN 61000-3-2 is designed to limit the low frequency emissions of electronic/electrical products and to ensure that these products are acceptably immune to such emissions.  The IT industry must be fully compliant with this standard if it wishes to sell its products on the EU market after January 1, 2001, the implementation date for the standard.  

The product limitations created by EN 61000-3-2 will impose great costs and severe product-design restrictions on manufacturers, which in turn will increase costs for consumers. The electronic/electrical industry estimates that the low frequency emissions standard (EN 61000-3-2) will increase worldwide manufacturers’ costs by an estimated $50 billion annually—a little less than half of which would be borne by U.S. manufacturers (see Commercial Analysis for greater details).  

Yet there is no scientific evidence to show that the standard is necessary. In theory, harmonic emissions can reduce the quality of publicly distributed electric power. However, strong scientific data suggests that harmonic distortion caused by electrical products has not had a significant impact on EU power supply systems. Accordingly, EN 61000-3-2 will create a significant, and unnecessary, trade barrier.


Project Overview  

The following project begins with an in-depth history of the problem and then analyzes the issue from five perspectives: commercial, economic, legal, policy, and stakeholder. (The macroeconomic analysis is included in Appendix A illustrates the importance of the high-tech sector to the overall U.S. economy—although the macroeconomic impacts of EN 61000-3-2 are expected to be negligible.) The final sections provide recommendations and an action strategy.  

The final outcome of this project should be a clear presentation of the issue, a solid groundwork of facts in support of the U.S. industry position, and the development of a strong U.S. plan for action. The project’s ultimate goal is to provide a means of working towards a satisfactory solution to the harmonic emissions problem before it escalates into a trade war or WTO dispute settlement. By addressing the problem early, the U.S. and EU may be able to avoid a debacle like the banana and beef hormone trade disputes. 


I.                   Introduction 

Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) has been a concern ever since the first volt of electricity lit a light bulb. However today’s rapid proliferation of sensitive electronic devices has greatly increased the possibility of electromagnetic feedback problems, which in extreme cases might cause overheating, shortened equipment lifetimes, or catastrophic failure of equipment connected to the power lines.[7] As a result, nations have created various standards to control harmonic emissions.[8] 

As defined by the U.S. Department of Commerce, electromagnetic compatibility is: 

. . . the condition which prevails when telecommunications equipment is performing its individually designed function in a common electromagnetic environment without causing or suffering unacceptable degradation due to unintentional electromagnetic interference (EMI) to or from other equipment in the same environment.  It is also the ability of systems, equipment, and devices that utilize the electromagnetic spectrum to operate in their intended operational environments without suffering unacceptable degradation or causing unintentional degradation because of electromagnetic radiation or response.[9]   

All modern electronically controlled equipment creates harmonic signals that are fed back into the power lines to which they are connected. These signals, also called low frequency emissions (LFE), can appear as noise on the power lines and may be problematic when utilities begin using their lines for purposes other than power distribution (i.e. sending voice, video, or data). LFE or “noise” may limit such capabilities.  

The Europeans adopted EN 61000-3-2 in an attempt to regulate the amount of harmonic signals that feed back into power lines—although a survey conducted by the Information Technology Industrial Council and IBM shows that U.S. and European utilities have little problem with these signals.

II.        Electromagnetic Compatibility Regulations 

Overview of U.S. and EU EMC Regulations 

Many nations have developed standards and regulations to protect electronic/electrical products and utilities from electromagnetic distortions and to prevent those products from creating such interference.   

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission requires electromagnetic (EM) compliance to the following two international standards: International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 950 and International Special Committee on Radio Interference (CISPR) 22.  Most U.S. efforts to regulate electronics are sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Regulations generally focus on “…installations and facilities, large point source loads, and, more recently, on smaller loads with large aggregate impact on the network.”[10] (For a greater explanation of U.S. standards development policy, see Policy Analysis section.) 

In the EU, the development of electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) regulations is guided by the Council Directive 89/336, the “EMC Directive.” The majority of the European Union’s EMC standards are adopted wholesale from the IEC. The EU began regulating low frequency emissions (LFE) with the standard IEC 555-2,[11] which covered only household appliances.  In 1995, the EU replaced IEC 555-2 with IEC/EN 61000-3-2, which expanded coverage to include all electronic/electrical equipment. (See Standards Setting in the U.S. & E.U. for more information on the European Union’s standard setting process.)


EMC Directive 89/336 

The EMC Directive was adopted by the European Council of Ministers on May 3, 1989. A “new approach” directive, it laid down apparatus protection requirements and left it to standards, primarily European harmonized standards, to define technical specifications for achieving those protection requirements.  On July 1, 1991, the EMC Directive became national law, thereby replacing all national EMC standards. Its provisions have been in effect since January 1, 1992.[12] 

The EMC Directive is designed to guarantee the free movement of “apparatus”[13] and to create an acceptable electromagnetic environment in the EEA territory.  Its specific goals are: 

  • To ensure that electromagnetic disturbances produced by electrical and electronic “apparatus” do not affect the operation of other “apparatus,” as well as radio and telecommunications networks, related equipment, and electricity distribution networks.

  • To ensure that “apparatus” have an adequate level of intrinsic immunity to electromagnetic disturbances[14] to enable them to operate as intended.


Additionally, the EMC Directive seeks to ensure that EM phenomena do not affect how appliances, installations, and systems function. If an apparatus, when used as intended, does not degrade the performance of other apparatus in its EM environment, both present and foreseeable, it should be considered to be in compliance with the emission requirement of the directive. 

The EMC Directive has been amended by the following directives:  

  • Council Directive 91/263/EEC of April 29, 1991, as consolidated by European Parliament and Council Directive 98/13/EC of February 12, 1998;

  • Council Directive 92/31/EEC of April 28, 1992;

  • Council Directive 93/68/EEC of July 22, 1993.  

The second of these, Council Directive 92/31/EEC, gave manufacturers three and a half years (until December 31, 1995) to implement the EMC Directive. During this transitional period, manufacturers had the choice of placing on the market and/or putting into service:

  • apparatus manufactured in accordance with the EMC Directive (whereby the free movement of the apparatus was guaranteed pursuant to the directive), or

  • apparatus manufactured in accordance with national regulations (whereby free movement of apparatus was guaranteed pursuant to Article 30 of the EEC Treaty, albeit subject to the possible derogation provided for in Article 36 and the jurisprudence of the European Community Court of Justice).


As of January 1, 1996, all member states should have abolished national regulations concerning electromagnetic compatibility and applied the provisions of the EMC Directive for all apparatus.  Also, as mandated by Directive 92/32/EEC, many of the harmonized standards derived from the EMC Directive should have taken full effect. One exception to this is EN 61000-3-2.


The History of IEC 61000-3-2 

In 1973, the International Eletctrotechnical Commission (IEC)[15] established Technical Committee (TC) 77 to begin the process of defining harmonic emissions standards. [16] The committee was to consider the following aspects of EMC:  

  • immunity, over the whole frequency range,

  • emission in the low frequency range (<=9kHtz),

  • emission in the high frequency range (>9kHtz) in coordination with CISPR, and disturbance not covered by CISPR.[17]  

In 1981, TC77 established sub-committee (SC) 77A,[18] to focus on standardization in the field of EMC with regard to low frequency phenomena (ca. <=9kHtz). SC77A/WG1 published its first harmonic emissions standards in 1982.  These were IEC 725, which set references for impedance levels, and IEC 555-2 (first addition), which covered equipment for household and similar usage. In 1985, SC77A/WG1 amended 555-2 to add special limits for television receivers. This was a precursor to Class D[19] limits for all electronic equipment and the beginning of standards that address switch mode.  

Around 1986, the IEC SC77A began writing a standard that expanded IEC 555-2 by limiting allowable harmonic feedback currents for all products that connect to the electric utility power lines. Published in 1990, this new standard (61000-2-2) set the compatibility levels for public distribution systems. At that time, the information technology industry had little interest and no representation in committee SC77A, and therefore minimal input in the development of IEC 61000-2-2.   

IEC 61000-3-2 further expanded the IEC’s harmonic feedback standard to include all electronic/electrical equipment. This standard was published in 1995, but the IEC recently decided to rewrite it. Best estimates are that it will take the IEC three to five years to rewrite the standard.  

EN 61000-3-2 and the Role of the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization 

The official European standards-setting body for electrotechnical products is the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC). This standards body works closely with the IEC. In fact, CENELEC often adopts standards directly from the IEC. Within the regulatory framework of the EMC Directive, CENELEC and the European Commission turn many of the IEC low frequency emission standards into European Norms, such as IEC/EN 61000-3-2, IEC/EN 61000-3-3, and IEC/EN 61000‑4‑7.   

CENELEC published EN 61000-3-2 in 1995,[20] thereby turning the voluntary IEC standard into a mandatory European Union standard. However the standard was amended in 1998 to allow for a delay in its implementation. EN 61000-3-2 is now scheduled to take full effect on January 1, 2001—this despite that the IEC is rewriting its counterpart standard and that CENELEC recently decided to review the European standard.   

European Commission Review of the EMC Directive 

Due to the numerous concerns raised by the EMC Directive, the European Commission sent the EMC Directive to be reviewed by the Simpler Legislation for the Single Market Initiative (SLIM) team. The result was a number of recommendations that have received strong support from many companies and trade associations within the IT industry. However, the SLIM report did essentially nothing to change the low frequency emissions standard EN 61000-3-2.  

The SLIM team did recommend that “EMC legislation should not result in added costs for consumers due to unique requirements where this cannot be appropriately justified as being essential for the European Market only.”[21] But the European Commission still has not decided how to implement this recommendation in the context of the forthcoming revision of the directive and harmonized standards. There is only limited indication that the EU might change the harmonized standard (EN 61000-3-2).


U.S./EU Mutual Recognition Agreement 

The U.S. and the EU recently negotiated mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) on conformity assessment.  These agreements took effect on December 1, 1998 and cover recreational craft, telecommunications equipment, and products that must be inspected for electromagnetic compatibility. They included a two-year phase-in period for IT products to allow time for mutual acceptance of U.S. and EU test data.[22] After the two-year phase-in, each country will recognize the certifications of designated laboratories, inspection bodies, and conformity-assessment bodies within the other country.  

The result of these MRAs is a reduction in the cost of such assessments and the time needed to bring new products to market.  However, the Mutual Recognition Agreement for products that must be inspected for EMC does nothing to resolve the conflict over the regulations themselves.  

III.       Past U.S. Lobby Efforts 

U.S. Opposition to EN 61000-3-2 

Anticipating huge costs for complying with the EMC Directive’s harmonic standards, U.S. trade associations and companies have actively lobbied against these standards for years. The largest amount of work was done prior to the second implementation deadline of February 1998, however the IT industry continues to actively monitor the activities of the EU legislature and continues to pressure the European Commission and standards-setting bodies through letter writing, etc.  The IT industry’s ultimate goal is to persuade IEC/SC77A to rewrite IEC 61000-3-2, and to get the Europeans to follow suit.

IV.       Conclusion

Although the EU adopted EN 61000-3-2 as a precautionary standard to protect against the potential threat of harmonic feedback, EN 61000-3-2 actually creates a technical barrier to trade. If this barrier is not addressed now, before it takes effect, it will likely be addressed before a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement panel. 

[1] Office of Industries, U.S. International Trade Commission, Global Assessment of Standards Bariers to Trade in the Information Technology Industry, November 1998, p. iii.

[2] TABD, Mid Year Report, May 10, 1999, p. 4.

[3] USITC, Global Assessment, p. iii; USTR, European Report 1998

[4] Paula Stern, “The Transatlantic Business Dialogue: A New Model for Trade Expansion and Regulatory Harmonization,” 1999.

[5] Stern

[6] Stern

[7] James McKim, “An Examination of the Rationale for Limiting Harmonic Emissions from Low-Voltage Equipment,” 1999.

[8] Harmonics are signals that are multiples of a base frequency or vibration. 

[9] Department of Commerce:

[10] McKim.

[11] IEC 555-2 is the predecessor to IEC/EN 61000-3-2. It was used for many years and enforced as a mandatory requirement in Europe. The standard covers domestic appliances, includes a simpler measurement system than IEC/EN 61000-3-2, and applies to ITE, TV and other electronic equipment marketed to use in the home.  According to a fact sheet presented by Girtz Zeidenbers of IBM at the June 17, 1999 LFEIC meeting, it has not been shown that the accumulation of small equipment has caused increasing harmonic distortion prior to and while IEC 555-2 has been in effect in Europe.

[12] European Union, Council of Ministers, Guidelines on the Application of Council Directive 89/336/EEC of 3 May 1989 on the Approximation of the Laws of the Member States Relating to Electromagnetic Compatibility, Brussels, 1997. 

[13] As defined in Article 1.1 of 89/336/EEC: all electrical and electronic appliances together with equipment and installations containing electrical and/or electronic components.

[14] Article 1.2 of 89/336/EEC defines electromagnetic disturbances as any EM phenomenon that may degrade the performance of apparatus.  An EM disturbance may be an EM noise, an unwanted signal, etc.

[15] The International Eletctrotechnical Commission was founded in 1906. Today, it prepares and publishes international standards for all electrical, electronic, and related technologies. Over 50 countries, including the world’s major trading nations and a growing number of industrializing nations, are participating members of the IEC.

[16] Working groups within TC77 are WG 1—Terminology; WG 13—Generic EMC standards; WG 14—EMC and functional safety; and WG 15—Measurement methods for EMC phenomena.

[17] This standard is intended to establish uniform requirements for the radio disturbance level of the equipment contained in the scope, to fix limits of disturbance, to describe methods of measurement, and to standardize operating conditions and interpretation of results.

[18] Working groups included in SC77A are WG1—Harmonics and other low frequency disturbances; WG2—Voltage fluctuation and other low frequency disturbances; WG 6—Low frequency immunity tests; WG8—Electromagnetic interference related to the network frequency; and WG9—Power quality measurements methods.

[19] Class D products are those that currently consume between 75W and 600W and have harmonically rich current waveforms of the type typically produced by rectifier circuits. James McKim, James,  “How to Read and Use EMC Standards,” Test and Measurement World, August 1998.

[20] The full title of the EN 61000-3-2 is “Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) – Part 3.2: Limits for harmonic current emissions (equipment input current up to and including 16 A per phase).”

[21] SLIM Report

[22] USITC, Global Assessment, p. 2-23.


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