The EA Multilateral Agreement Council (MAC) is responsible for the effective and impartial management and monitoring of the peer evaluation process. It is the decision-making body for the acceptance of National Accreditation Bodies (NABs) entering into the Multilateral Agreement (MLA) and Bilateral Agreement (BLA) of EA.
The peer evaluation is the process for the evaluation of a National Accreditation Body by other National Accreditation Bodies. It is carried out in accordance with the requirements of Regulation (EC) No 765/2008, the international standard EN ISO/IEC 17011, and other relevant standards and related criteria such as application documents from EA, IAF or ILAC, and applicable criteria on behalf of European or National Regulators and industrial schemes.
EA MAC has given the task to the EA MAC Management Group (MAC MG) to achieve a more effective management and harmonization of the peer evaluations and operations of the MAC, including the meetings. The MAC MG is composed of 12 members from different National Accreditation Bodies (NABs) who were elected by the EA MAC members.
2020 started with a busy schedule for the MAC: 8 re-evaluations, 3 second and third stages (staggered) evaluations and 1 extension evaluation in addition to 18 transitions from ISO/IEC 17011:2004 to ISO/IEC 17011:2017.
The revised standard ISO/IEC 17011:2017 Conformity assessment – Requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies has been published in November 2017. As requested by the IAF/ILAC transition plan, EA has established specific implementation dispositions, which were included in the document “ISO/IEC 17011:2017 Transition plan” approved by the MAC on 26 April 2018 in Belgrade. All NABs signatory to the EA MLA/BLA shall demonstrate their conformity with the new standard by November 2020.
When COVID-19 pandemic outbroke, only few of the evaluations scheduled for 2020 were already carried out on-site and could be finalized.
The MAC MG intensified their work in 2020 due to the pandemic outbreak and played a key role by proposing solutions to maintain the peer-evaluation system operational during this period and to enable decisions to be made without delay. Everything was made in compliance with the EA rules to avoid stopping the peer evaluation of NABs in order to maintain the credibility in the European accreditation system.
The MAC supported the contingency plan proposed by the MAC MG, containing dispositions regarding the operation of the peer-evaluation system under the COVID-19 outbreak.
As a consequence, even though the preparation and document review activities were carried out in 2020, for 7 peer evaluations (COFRAC, EGAC, INAB, NA, PCA, SWEDAC, UKAS), the on-site activities have been postponed to 2021, while 3 evaluations (DANAK, IPAC, OLAS) have been postponed to Autumn 2020.
Although the postponements of parts of the evaluations from 2020 to 2021 have a major impact on the program of peer evaluations for 2021, no postponements from 2021 to 2022 have been scheduled for the time being.
Further dispositions will be developed by the MAC MG for considering a combination of alternative approaches that, while not dispensing an on-site visit, will assist in keeping the confidence in the accreditation infrastructure by the interested parties. Such alternative approaches which could be considered are the following:
- Remote evaluation of horizontal management system elements;
- Remote evaluation of NAB’s assessment files (that are files which contains all information and records about the assessment of a Conformity Assessment Body by the NAB);
- Remote witnessing of the assessment of Conformity Assessment Bodies.
The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak also influenced the decision-making process which moved entirely online. Hence, the MAC made 27 decisions in the period May – July 2020 by on-line ballots.
For more information about the peer evaluation of NABs and the MLA signatories: https://european-accreditation.org/mutual-recognition/the-ea-mla/