Gemma on Last year the Single Market celebrated its 20th anniversary, that's 20 years of the free movement of goods, people, services and capital within the European Union. EU action has opened up national markets, brought down trade barriers and made services up to 90% cheaper.
Gemma off EPP TV spoke to Andreas Schwab, EPP Group Coordinator in the European Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, Michel Barnier, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, and Christian Verschueren, Director General of Eurocommerce, which represents retail, wholesale and international trade interests in Europe, to find out just how far the Single Market has come.
Schwab on What we have achieved already is in a certain way taken for granted: that you can travel without showing your passport from one country to another, that you can pay with your credit card all over Europe without paying additional fees, in the same money, with the same level of consumer protection, no rip-off, no wrong call centres, no wrong numbers, everything controlled and harmonised in a positive way.
Barnier on What we have been working on for fifty years now, and in particular the last twenty, since the start of the Single Market, is harmonisation, to create fair conditions for competition and to better protect consumers. I'm thinking of the safety of products, for example the safety and quality of childrens' toys, of food safety which is now harmonised... Thanks to this common space access to air transport and mobile telephony became easier and cheaper for consumers.
Ce que nous faisons depuis maintenant 50 ans et en particulier depuis 20 ans, depuis le début du marché unique, c'est ce travail d'harmonisation pour créer des conditions équitables de concurrence et puis aussi mieux protéger les consommateurs. Je pense à la sécurité des produits, par exemple pour la vie quotidienne des enfants avec la qualité, la sécurité des jouets. La sécurité des produits alimentaires qui est maintenant harmonisé. On a favorisé pour les transports aériens, pour les téléphones portables, pour la vie quotidienne, grâce à cette espace commun.
Verschueren on I think it's been a very untold story and one of the best stories of the construction of the European Union. If you take that from the creation of the Single Market in 1992, and 15 years onwards, there's been close to three million jobs created and over an extra 2% in extra growth that has been generated of the Single Market. Consumers have benefitted, businesses have benefitted from the point of view of wider choice of products, better consumer rights.
Gemma off The EPP has always been at the heart of the Single Market, an idea initiated by Europe's founding fathers in the 1950s to make citizens' lives easier, which today has become a reality.
Schwab on We have really been the driving force in this process because we always wanted to move ahead, we wanted to take down the existing small barriers that are there to make sure that consumers and business alike can find a market place in Europe where it's easy to operate, where it's easy to buy and where it's also easy to resolve questions and problems that may arise.
Verschueren on I can think of at least three areas where members of the EPP have been instrumental. I think probably the first that comes to mind is the report on a fair and more efficient retail market. Another area has been the Single Market Governance, how can we try to improve the Single Market, I think has been led by EPP. And currently we have another member of the EPP who is leading the Digital Single Market.
Gemma off The Single Market has harmonised the complex and different national laws of 28 Member States, making it easier and cheaper for the 23 million European companies to do business across borders. And with unrestricted access to 500 million people, trade between EU countries has grown by €2000 billion euros since 1992.
Gemma off Thanks to a 25% reduction in red tape and a harmonised set of EU standards, selling on-line in Europe is a real opportunity for even the smallest of companies. And with more firms now competing against each other, it means lower prices for consumers and a wider choice of products and services that you wouldn't necessarily find at home or at the same price.
Schwab on One major help I think is the introduction of a passport for SMEs into the public procurement system at European level. And public procurement at European level is still a Directive so Member States have to implement it but we hope that with the wording we have found at the trialogue with the Council that we can make sure that SMEs, Small and Medium-sized businesses have an easier way to work out through all these rules and procedures that they have to fulfill before really getting a tender.
Gemma on Since the EU liberalised the aviation sector and created a Single Market for air transport, it is now easier and cheaper to travel throughout Europe. Europeans can enjoy the benefits of a connected continent through a wider choice of routes and airlines, and lower prices - air fares have fallen by 40% since the 1990s. EU legislation offers disabled passengers special assistance at no extra cost and entitles everyone to certain rights if your journey is disrupted or cancelled.
Gemma on The internal energy market protects consumers from supply disruptions and power cuts and means households and businesses can shop around for the best deal.
Gemma on Retired citizens can move to any Member State, still receive their statutory pension there and gain access to public healthcare. In fact, with the European Health Insurance Card EU citizens are entitled to receive medical treatment when abroad in any EU country.
Gemma off The Single Market is an essential platform for growth, especially in times of economic crisis. With unemployment at nearly 12% in the EU nearly 30% in Greece and Spain, it offers people the opportunity to go across borders to look for work without the need for a permit. EURES, the EU's online job portal, links over a million jobseekers with 30,000 employers in 31 countries. Erasmus, the student exchange programme, has helped 2.5 million students in the last 25 years to study or train in another Member State. And mutual recognition of professional qualifications has given hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to find work abroad.
Schwab on We wanted to make sure that when specific professional qualifications are done in one country, without any further documents and stuff, you can go abroad and start working on the same basis. This is done now for a certain, limited, number of professions already and we hope we can enhance this number of professions in the future.
Gemma on Proposed changes are under way to remove an important barrier between the national payment markets. Under the plans, debit card transaction fees would be capped at 0.2% and credit cards at 0.3%. That's a reduction of two-thirds and an end to the unjustified high-level fees. Initially, the caps would only be applied to cross-border transactions but could be later implemented within each of the Member States.
Gemma off With all of these changes, the EU has tried to provide greater protection and support to its citizens.
Schwab on We have set up an online platform for all dispute resolution questions at European level when people like you buy specific products online, in the Internet, at European level. I think that's a very helpful tool for consumers.
Gemma off The Single Market has come a long way and with the second Single Market Act, it's set to go further still. To further promote growth and jobs, the EU wants to remove the unnecessary legal and administrative barriers that remain in the Services sector. It wants to give all EU citizens access to a basic payment account, ensure bank account fees are transparent and make switching bank accounts easier. It is also working on enhancing cross-border online payment and shipping systems so that consumers pay less for delivery between two neighbouring countries, receive packages more easily and are better informed as to when the product will arrive. Other plans include developing fully integrated networks in rail and maritime transport.
Gemma off Given the increasingly digitalised world we are living in, a Digital Single Market, estimated to create an extra €500 billion euros in GDP by 2020, is becoming more and more urgent. The EU wants to improve the electronic payment system, reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of high-speed internet, facilitate the transition to e-invoicing, and develop an EU strategy on cloud computing.
Verschueren on There's also opportunities with technologies with e-commerce and the digitalisation. You could have a pack of biscuits with a QR code, the modern version of the barcode, scan that with your cellphone and if you're a Dutch customer, you'll receive that product information in Dutch. If you're a Slovak customer or consumer you can read the product information, and the price etc... and the conditions, and the promotions in your local store in Slovakia.
Gemma off Implementation of the Single Market is key and the EU is now urging Member States to put the legal framework in their countries into effect as soon as possible. One proposal by the EPP Group is to change the kinds of laws that apply, a move from Directives, which give Member States flexibility in terms of implementation, to Regulations, which are more prescriptive and likely to break down the barriers that remain.
Barnier on I am very vigilant on this, even when this means starting infringement procedures, so that Member States do what they have said. They have made commitments to the Council of Ministers. Je suis très vigilant, y compris quelque fois quand il faut faire des procédures d'infraction pour que les états membre fassent ce qu'ils ont dit. Ils ont pris des engagements au Conseil des Ministres.
Schwab on What we have to achieve in the next years is a European approach of national administrations to national laws that are coming out of European Directives. We play very often in favour of full harmonsied Directives, at least regulations, meaning that we have one law that is applied directly from European level all over Europe but we have to also respect the principle of subsidiarity, the principle of regionalism in Europe. We try to find a middle way and to steer the European boat there.
Gemma on There is no doubt that the Single Market is one of the most important achievements for European Unity. We have spent decades building it together and now we need to support it to ensure implementation in all Member States. This is critical so businesses and citizens can enjoy the benefits of living in a Union with 500 million people, 23 million companies and one Single Market, a Market that can compete at every level and with every other nation.