Europe’s business leaders gathered in Amsterdam with a clear agenda: how to get more from the European Union’s Single Market.
The Single Market is a great achievement, EU Presidency said in announcement. By allowing people, services, goods and capital to move freely in the world’s largest economy – our half-billion consumers are served by 30 million businesses generating €14 trillion – we all benefit from more choice and lower prices. For our companies it means new business opportunities; for our citizens, the chance to live, work and study wherever they want.
Our phone bills have come down massively thanks to EU rules: from June 2017 roaming will be a thing of the past. Professionals offer their services in 28 countries with a minimum of paperwork. Companies compete for public contracts – a sector worth €2.3 trillion – anywhere in the EU. Erasmus students spend a year abroad and have their diplomas recognised back home. Our lives are better for all of this.
But complacency would be fatal: what we take for granted, we risk losing. Our economic recovery may be on track – in the first quarter of 2016 the EU grew faster than the US – but it’s not good enough. One in five young Europeans are still without work.
It’s time to move up a gear. In its report on the cost of non-Europe, the European Parliament estimates that a fully completed Single Market could add more than €1 trillion to our economy. That’s millions of jobs and a prize worth fighting for.
We urgently need to unblock our digital economy. If we managed to remove the national borders that once prevented offline trade, we can’t accept that they reappear on our screens, stopping people from shopping online. Consumers should be able to access any service on any device wherever they are, and the Commission has already launched the first proposals to make that happen. But that’s just the start.
Back in the physical world, excessive delivery charges often prevent smaller retailers from expanding into new markets. The price of delivering a small parcel to another Member State is often up to five times higher than at home – even when the destination lies just the other side of the border. That has to change.
Many of us dream of starting our own business but never take the first step. The new collaborative economy will change that: low barriers to entry will allow people test their ideas with smaller risk. The potential for new services and products is endless. But policy-makers need to put the right rules in place, striking a balance between commercial freedom and consumer protection.
Europe has no shortage of talent and innovation. New business ideas need a big enough market and simple rules that give clarity and support. Young companies need access to finance so that first success leads to new growth. This is why the European Union’s €315 billion Investment Plan is giving 150,000 small businesses better access to finance. On the back of a good start – the Plan has mobilised more than €100 billion in extra investment in its first year – the European Commission has proposed to extend the plan beyond 2018.
We have outlined some of the most urgent priorities if we want Europe’s Single Market to work for everyone, businesses and consumers, wherever they are and however they do business. When European Union leaders gather later this month, we urge them to give full backing to these proposals and the many others, which the European Commission has recently launched.
We ask them to do two things as a matter of urgency: make a clear commitment to agree all new Single Market legislation before the end of 2018, and take stock of progress made on the completion of the EU’s Single Market every year at the June European Council. That’s a lot to do over the next two years, but the citizens and businesses of Europe cannot wait.
Photo: Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, President of the Council of the European Union