Europe has given new meaning to what it means to be a member. Condoms, the European Committee on Standardisation (CEN) has ruled, must have a minimum length of 170 millimetres (6.8in). The current minimum length requirement in Britain is 160mm.
This does not mean that the average British member is 10mm shorter than its European counterpart. Longer condoms are considered safer for contraceptive reasons and as a barrier against HIV infection.
On matters of width, British manufacturers will be given more latitude than before. Britain previously allowed just two condom widths, 48 mm and 52 mm, but makers will have more flexibility to market narrower or wider versions - as long as they remain within the agreed European range of 44 to 56mm wide.
The harmonised standards for the first Euro-condom have been agreed in Brussels after years of debate. The standard guarantees minimum levels of reliability, strength and durability as well as minimum length and width requirements. No maximum length has been specified.
Most EU countries operate their own national standards for length, circumference and quality and these will now have to be withdrawn in favour of the more stringent common specifications. Suzanne Larque, secretary of the CEN condoms working group, said most of those sold in Europe are 180mm long although some brands are available up to 200mm.
Efforts to agree the common European condom failed in the past because of disputes over testing methods. British tests will be made tougher under the new standard.
Announcing the new specifications, CEN stressed the importance of condoms in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The agreement will improve public confidence, it said, because for the first time manufacturers will be able to sell their condoms without having to comply with a series of different nationalrequirements. The standard is voluntary but by meeting it manufacturers will satisfy the requirements of mandatory EU condom rules which must be implemented by 1998.