The UK in the EU Single Market: what next? Opportunities and challenges

, by Berenice Darnault

The UK in the EU Single Market: what next? Opportunities and challenges

Michel Barnier, European Commissioner responsible for the Internal Market and Services, delivered a speech at the London School of Economics on Wednesday 17 October 2013, in which he emphasized the strong interdependence between the UK and the EU.

‘The UK is of utmost importance to the European Single Market, and the European Single Market is essential to the British economic recovery’. The first few words of European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, Michel Barnier, set an optimistic tone to his young audience today at LSE. One of the most intricate, sensitive, and –occasionally explosive aspects of European policy delivery is the EU Single Market. Since its inception in 1992, the treaties and regulations have created a European common space, and have progressively stimulated competition and trade across the continent. Brussels’ focus is now on the recovery of European financial services and on the return to sustainable growth. Throughout his public speech, Barnier lamented the absence of a strong banking union.

Barnier first reminded the intricate connection between UK business and trade with the rest of the EU’s industries. About 3.5 million of British jobs are linked to the Single Market, that is 1 in every 10 jobs in the UK. In addition, the EU provides half of all the supplies imported in the UK and buys over 50% of all UK’s exports. Figures for small and medium sized companies are even more eloquent. According to the Confederation of British Industries, 80% of British firms want the UK to stay in the EU.

‘UK is not special in wanting to protect its market golden rules, every country has its priorities, but however distinct they may be, we must work together’, Barnier warned at the end of his speech, adding he ‘will continue to take action to make sure the Single Market rules are applied fairly across the EU, and that a banking union is created and strengthened’. The commissioner pointed out the key role UK is playing in ‘pushing forward a more complete digital Single Market’. Research indeed predicts that e-commerce will account up to 20% of employment and growth within the next 5 years.

Q&A Session

About the Single Market & non-Eurozone members: Asked to reflect upon the potential impact of the Single Market on non-Eurozone countries, Barnier asserted that Brussels never had ‘the intention of marginalizing them, nor to put them behind’. Rather, the Commissioner strongly believes in ‘enhanced cooperation’. In other words, Barnier corrected the so-called concept of ‘concentric circles’, and champions instead the efforts EU members shall invest into ‘working at different speeds but on the same road’.

About the Single Market & Youth & Unemployment: Professional cards granted to specific professions (nurses, engineers) are to be created in order to increase the mobility of EU workers across the Union. Criteria and conditions for the release of such cards are to be determined in the next couple of months. Barnier commented that the rate of youth unemployment is not so much linked to the deficiency of the euro –as a currency, but rather a result of persisting deficiencies at the national level. According to him, the amounts spent on reimbursing debts impede any high investments in education and in youth training schemes. Barnier further explained that the EU was not able to invest into young Europeans’ future at this particularly critical time of the recession.

Would more respect in the Single Market golden rules involve deep Treaty reforms? To the question on whether it was possible to achieve an economic recovery without a strong institutional overhaul, Michel Barnier alluded to the need for short-term flexibility, insofar as there are ‘different co-existing national approaches to competition’. In the long run though, the Commissioner highlighted the necessity to simplify the Acquis alongside the EU’s legislation, and to ‘send back home’ some competences. This last step would eventually entail a return to more national sovereignty.

The full transcript of this Conference is available here:

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