Just back from the European Commission’s 2011 Single Market Forum in Krakow, Poland, where I received my award for being one of the five winners of theÂ Commissionâs Tell Us Your Story writing competition, here is a summary of what happened at the conference and of its results.
First of all, I was surprised at the drive for making the Single Market really work that permeated the whole event. From EU decision-makers to individual participants, everyone was intent on demolishing existing barriers to trade across national borders within the unionâindeed, relaunching the Single Market, which is the goal of the European Commission in 2012.
I was also pleasantly surprised that political mumbo-jumbo was kept to a minimum. Naturally, politicians must carefully weigh what they say on public forums, but apart from this understandable caution, what was said actually made sense.
Finally, I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty and friendliness of the city itself. It helped, of course, that the weather was more than fine. I canât remember ever walking around in Central Europe wearing just jeans and a T-shirt in October! The mini-holidays I spent in Krakow with my wife after the conference were really a great experience.
Why does the Single Market need to be ârelaunchedâ?
During its 50 years of existence, the Single Market has proved to be one of the EUâs main achievements, creating jobs and business opportunities.
Yet, the problem seems to be that once the initial regulations and legislation were in place, not much was done to further the cause, so to speak. Donât get me wrong, Iâm not criticising the people who have worked on the Single Market within the European Commission; their work has been largely hampered by circumstances beyond their control, such as member statesâ national politics preventing EC recommendations from being adopted in their legislation.
Mario Montiâs report (pdf) on the relaunch of the Single Market was published only in May 2010, and the Single Market Act with its accompanying âtwelve levers to boost growth and strengthen confidenceâ was issued in October 2010.
Indeed, this is what the European Commissionâs publication A Snapshot of Citizensâ and Businesses 20 Main Concerns (pdf), published in 2011, identifies as the main obstacles:
- An information gap: People often do not suďŹcientlyÂ knowÂ or understand their rights and do not know where to look for information or help. Likewise, local authorities often fail to suďŹciently understand the rules and how to apply them in practice;
- An implementation gap: In many areas, a gap can be noted between the EU legal framework and the way it is implemented and applied in practice. This may be due to incorrect or incomplete transposition and application of EU rules, inconsistencies between EU and national laws, a lack of co-operation betweenÂ relevant administrations operating in a cross-border context or diďŹculties in resolving problems and obtaining redress where things go wrong;
- A legislative gap: In some areas, the EU legal framework itself does not match citizensâ and businessesâ expectations. Sometimes, this is due to the fact that the EU has no or only limited powers to legislate. In other areas where the EU does have such powers, there may be no legal tools yet to bridge the gap between what Europeans expect from the Single Market, and what they can obtain in reality.
As the speakers at the conference repeatedly said, the economic crisis and Europeâs dwindling possibilities to counter competition from other parts of the world demand quick and decisive action.
So when will we see some action?
The European Commission aims to deliver on the âtwelve leversâ to relaunch the Single Market for 2012.
This commitment is made even more urgent by the end result of the SIMFO conference, the Krakow Declaration (pdf), calling upon:
- EU Heads of State and Government at their next summit to commit to a speedy implementation of the Single Market Act;
- European Institutions to adopt measures in order to bridge the gaps we have identified as a matter of urgency;
- National governments, regional and local entities, businesses,Â trade unions and non-governmental organisations to cooperate to ensure that Single Market rules work effectively on the ground for citizens and businesses;
- All the partners to involve citizens more closely in the development of the Single Market; to do so by providing clearer information; byÂ fostering dialogue and communication with citizens in order to better understand their expectations and by helping business and citizens exercise their rights and obligations.
Is there hope?
I donât blame you if youâre skeptical. On the other hand, the economic climate seems to favour quick action even on the national level. Poland gives the impression of taking its presidency of the European Council seriously. If we as small businesses contribute by putting pressure on the decision-makers (after all, SMEs account for two-thirds of the economic output of the EU, so our voice should be important), we might see the Single Market take forward steps.
To round off, hereâs the policy of the Polish Presidency (pdf) with regard to the Single Market:
If you want to take a look at a slideshow of the event, my wife as a professional photographer made one: SIMFO 2011 slideshow.