2016 marks the 23rd anniversary of the establishment of the Internal Market, but how far have we actually come in integrating a fully functioning single market and what barriers still exist? To answer this question the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium brought together key political, regulatory and industry stakeholders to examine the current state of the internal market and explore the key priorities moving forward.
Carsten Bermig, member of the cabinet of Commissioner Bienkowska, kicked off with his keynote address. He emphasised the need for reform in order to give the Single Market a boost, particularly by implementing existing regulation, improving SME access to finance, and removing unjustified barriers to the provision of services across borders. This can boost the EU economy by two percentage points or more. Bermig also offered insights into Commissioner Bienkowska’s thinking, explaining her ambition to be remembered for making things work on the ground rather than for adding new rules.
The first panel on the Internal Market for Goods witnessed an in-depth discussion between the panellists and the audience. Maria Spiliopoulou-Kaparia, Deputy Head of Unit at DG GROW charged with enforcement, emphasised the need for information and transparency, adding that the Commission is considering adopting an information collecting tool that would assist in enforcing regulation. GMOs featured heavily throughout the session, but, as Daniel Bunch, Deputy Head of Unit at DG GROW, stressed, it is difficult to act at the European level, because GMOs appear in many fields, many of which are not harmonised. Genevra Forwood of White & Case LLP argued for the Commission to return to its core task of guarding the treaties and pursuing infringements, while underlining the debilitating cost of an infringement procedure on most European SMEs. The panel was moderated by the President of the British Chamber Thomas Spiller.
The members of the second panel on the Internal Market for Services quickly established the priority of liberalising the cross-border trade in services. Jürgen Tiedje, Head of Unit at DG GROW, emphasised that the Commission would not seek to reopen the Services Directive, while Jeroen Hardenbol of Business Europe underwrote Mr Tiedje’s analysis that many barriers remain due to diverse interpretation and application of regulations on the ground. Craig Burchell of Xerox made a number of well received observations, including that the phrase ‘digital economy’ does no justice to an economy that is entirely digital, and that in the age of internet every SME is a potential multinational. Jürgen Tiedje generally agreed, but added that new regulation should leave leeway for companies that do not want to operate abroad. This panel was also presided over by Mr Spiller.
The third panel on Enforcement of EU Law directly concerned many in the audience. Speaking under Chatham House rules, panellists included Despina Spanou, Director for Consumer Affairs at DG JUST, Karl von Kempis, Head of Unit at the Secretariat General, Nathalie Moll of Europabio, and Bill Batchelor of Baker&McKenzie. The panel agreed that legal enforcement can be improved across the board. Some panellists argued that the Commission has to be careful of losing out of sight its responsibility to look after the internal market, perhaps even assisting those member states whose resources are already stretched somewhat thin. The panel also noted that EU regulation is no longer exclusively made in Brussels by the Commission, which means associations and other stakeholders should really be talking across Europe. The panel was moderated by James Stevens, Chair of the EU Committee of the British Chamber.
Lowri Evans, Director General of DG GROW and advisor to the British Chamber, closed the Summit by asking a simple question: “Why a Single Market Strategy?” Her answer was equally succinct. The internal market has not been completed, and Europe needs to change. We must make every effort to improve the functioning of the product, services, financial and digital markets that will drive growth and job creation for years to come. Yet she also stressed that the European Commission can no longer go it alone. Every actor that agrees with the Commission’s analysis and agenda must raise their voice in support of the Single Market Strategy.