EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Christmas fairy lights have traditionally provided Europeans with some welcome cheer during the cold and dark days of December.
But the European Commission has warned that the risks of fire and electric shocks posed by the innocuous looking lights - typically used to decorate Christmas trees - can easily turn them into a yuletide nightmare.
The seasonal caution was delivered in a new report published on Wednesday (2 December), with the EU's executive body calling on all member states and businesses to step up safety checks in the coming weeks.
"According to the survey, roughly one third of electric lights are likely to electrocute you or set fire to your house," said the EU's consumer affairs watchdog, Meglena Kuneva.
The report outlines the results of checks carried out by national authorities in five member states on 196 different models of fairy lights, between November 2007 and May 2009.
It concludes that 30.4 percent of the models tested pose serious non-compliance problems, with the majority since recalled from the market and banned by the national authorities involved in the survey.
However, only five member states - Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Netherlands - participated in the survey, with Ms Kuneva saying it was "very likely" the dangerous models were available in other countries.
Of the five, the Netherlands had the highest rate of fully complaint lights (44 percent), while Hungary had the lowest (4.3 percent).
Consumer unwillingness to splash out on higher quality lights appears to be part of the problem however, with many looking to limit their expenditure on a product that will only used during a short period of time.
As a result, manufacturers are under strong pressure to keep costs to a minimum, frequently resulting in poor design and material savings that violate EU safety standards.
Overly thin wires and surrounding insulation can turn the twinkling fairy lights into a ticking time-bomb of electrical shocks and house fires, warns the report.
Roughly 40 percent of the models tested come from China, with manufacturers and importers selling in Europe required to comply with the EU's Low Voltage Directive.
The directive is one of the oldest pieces of single market legislation, originally enacted in 1973 but modified several times since then.
Stephen Russell, secretary-general of consumer organisation ANEC, said the report was evidence that the European market surveillance system needed strengthening.
"Europe can have the best laws and technical standards supporting those laws but both become worthless without effective market surveillance," he told EUobserver.
Mr Russell said the outgoing commissioner had been "quietly impressive" in her work, but he is concerned that the wider portfolio of the incoming candidate, Malta's centre-right John Dalli, will see a downgrading in importance of consumer protection.