The 2011 Single Market Forum in Krakow promises improvements for small businesses trading across borders
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 the Commission’s 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 union—indeed, 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 can’t 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 “relaunched”?
During its 50 years of existence, the Single Market has proved to be one of the EU’s 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. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 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 states’ national politics preventing EC recommendations from being adopted in their legislation.
Mario Monti’s report (pdf) on the relaunch of the Single Market was published only in May 2010, and the Single Market Act with its accompanying “twelve levers to boost growth and strengthen confidence” was issued in October 2010.
Indeed, this is what the European Commission’s publication A Snapshot of Citizens’ and Businesses 20 Main Concerns (pdf), published in 2011, identifies as the main obstacles:
- An information gap: People often do not suﬃciently know or understand their rights and do not know where to look for information or help. Likewise, local authorities often fail to suﬃciently 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 between relevant administrations operating in a cross-border context or diﬃculties in resolving problems and obtaining redress where things go wrong;
- A legislative gap: In some areas, the EU legal framework itself does not match citizens’ and businesses’ 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 Europe’s 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 “twelve levers” 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, 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; by 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 don’t blame you if you’re 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, here’s 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.