The single market has been a great achievement. The EU needs to make sure citizens are aware that many of the very real benefits they have enjoyed in the past 25 years as consumers, business owners or workers are the result of the single market. This will help rally the support needed to make it fit for the digital era, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) argues in its response to the European Commission's assessment of the state of play of the single market.
The EESC's plenary on 15 May adopted an opinion on the Commission's communication The Single Market in a changing world: A unique asset in need of renewed political commitment, which reviews 25 years of the single market and outlines the challenges ahead. The single market has been a tremendous accomplishment, the EESC says in its opinion, and the EU must ensure this success story is communicated to citizens and Member States.
The single market has brought very tangible benefits to European citizens, estimated to amount to 8.5% of EU GDP: affordable air travel, the end of roaming charges, enhanced job opportunities in a continent-wide labour market, consumer rights that offer a high level of protection across borders.
For European companies, the single market has meant opportunities to scale up and expand their activities across the EU. Globally, it has given Europe the leverage of a 512-million-strong market, as recently shown by international efforts to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation. There are plenty of examples. Proof of its importance can also be found in the Brexit debate in the UK, which, to a large extent, has revolved around it.
The single market must also be perceived as an opportunity to reassert European values and rights:
The values of freedom, economic growth, democracy, peace, science and innovation, political stability, consumer and social rights must always be present in citizens' minds.
They are enablers of
progress and prosperity for all Member States and citizens, says opinion rapporteur Gonçalo Lobo Xavier.
The very concrete achievements of the single market, if brought to the attention of the public, can be an antidote against growing protectionism, individualism and extremism.
The single market affects everyone, and that's what makes it so powerful, says opinion co-rapporteur Juan Mendoza Castro,
We need to combat populist and nationalist threats, which are on the rise in Europe, and the single market is one of the best tools we have to counter these messages.
The EESC also focuses on the EU's competition policy. Its rules limiting state aid and fighting against abuse of dominant positions have been a source of dynamism for the European market and benefits for European consumers and businesses. However, in the face of harsh global competition from (sometimes state-owned) oligopolies or monopolies, the EU should demand reciprocity from its trade partners to help European companies vie for markets.
All this should help enlist the necessary support to rise to the challenges ahead and carry out the reforms needed to adapt the single market to the changing reality.
In the Communication The Single Market in a changing world: A unique asset in need of renewed political commitment, the European Commission set out to assess the state of play of the single market as regards the implementation, application and enforcement of existing legislation and the remaining barriers to overcome for a fully functioning single market.
The Commission found that while 80% of regulatory barriers for industrial products had been removed, inconsistent or weak enforcement of common rules was still a challenge and so was ensuring that the rules would be fit for purpose in a rapidly changing world.
Above all, the further integration advances, the more politically challenging every extra mile becomes , the Commission says in the Communication.
Even when they express support for market integration or for further harmonisation, Member States often promote only their domestic rules as the basis for European rules.