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6.9.  Appraisal and outlook of the European common market

    It took nearly a quarter of a century after the removal of customs duties and quantitative restrictions between Member States to complete in tandem customs union and common market. However delayed, the achievement of a single market is a great step forward in the process of European integration. Free movement reduces the manufacturing and transport costs of goods, facilitates exports and the realisation of important economies. The reduction of administrative and financial costs of intra-European trade and the realisation of economies of scale tend to liberate the dynamism and the creativity of European businesses and to give them a solid base from which to tackle international competitiveness. In a global economy characterised by fierce competition, particularly between multinational companies, the economies and the companies of small and medium European countries would certainly be much worse off than they are today, if it was not for the large internal market, which is their safe haven and springboard for external markets. This is why, business interest groups back the multinational integration process [see sections 1.1.2 and 9.4]. On its part, the European Union helps businesses and particularly SMEs striving to adapt to the conditions of the single market [see section 17.2].

    The common market has also boosted the welfare of the citizens of the Member States. European consumers, previously confined to their respective national markets, now enjoy a huge choice of high quality goods and services at prices dictated by free competition. The free movement of workers, freedom to provide services and freedom of establishment for self-employed persons constitute fundamental rights, guaranteeing the citizens of the EU the right to pursue an occupation in any Member State. The citizen of a Member State, be he or she worker, businessman or tourist, can no longer be regarded as an alien in another Member State, but as an EU citizen, and no discrimination against him or her is permitted [see section 9.1].

    The implementation of the fundamental freedoms of the common market allows the production factors of work and capital to operate without hindrance. Businesses can manufacture and sell their products in accordance with a system of free competition in the Member State in which conditions are most advantageous to them. They can set themselves up wherever they wish in the common market and can call on a multitude of services and sources of capital, which exist in all the Member States. The liberalisation of capital movements contributes to a better allocation of resources within the Union. Public procurement in all Member States is open to tenders from all European companies. In banking and insurance sectors, where obstacles to cross-border trade were particularly pronounced, the increase in cross-border competition is reflected in a growing number of branches and outlets in other Member States of the Union. The common market has, thus, demonstrated the benefits of multinational integration both concerning economic efficiency and the welfare of the citizens of the Member States.

    The completion of the single market has furthermore speeded up the process of European integration. Indeed, the "acquis communautaire" on the single market had undeniable spillover effects [see sections 1.1.1 and 3.3] on practically all common policies. It prompted a high degree of fiscal harmonisation, thereby removing fiscal frontiers [see section 14.2.2]. It created a need for strengthened economic and social cohesion and therefore prompted a major step forward for the EU's regional and social policies [see sections 12.1.2 and 13.2]. It spurred progress on opening up European markets in electricity and gas, transport and telecommunications [see sections 19.2.1, 20.2.1 and 17.3.6]. It reinforced the legal foundations of consumer and environmental protection policies and those of research and development policies [see sections 11.2, 11.3, 16.2.1 and 18.2.1]. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, consolidation of the single market was the driving force behind the Maastricht agreements, designed to build economic and monetary union. On the one hand, the single market provides underlying economic support for monetary union and, on the other hand, the euro provides added value and efficiency to the single market [see section 7.1.].

    All this does not mean that all is well in the best possible single market. The priority is now to make it work efficiently. This implies, in particular, adequate implementation of the measures taken for the completion of the internal market in every Member State, effective opening-up of public contracts, further mutual recognition of standards, more transparent rules for the internal market and simplification of the taxation system. These requirements for the proper functioning of the common market are not met uniformly and constantly in all Member States. Therefore, penalties for failure to comply with the obligations arising out of the European law in the internal market field must be reinforced and enforced. Hence, the common market is not yet a completely integrated internal market and this fact handicaps European companies competing in the global market with companies which have as a base a large internal market.

    Moreover, although the common market provides a basis for common policies, it cannot by itself solve the structural problems weighing on European economies. Strong common economic, industrial and research policies are needed to hasten the modernisation of European economies and to enhance the competitiveness of European companies in the global market. These policies can and should also boost employment, while safeguarding the European social model. It is an illusion to think that European citizens may be satisfied with a common market that promotes the interests of businesses and not their own interests as workers and consumers. They rightly see the common market not as an end in itself but as a means to their own welfare. If it is not successful to this end, the common market is an incomplete tool and European leaders should perfect it.

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    Your roadmap in the maze of the European Union.

    Based on the book of Nicholas Moussis:
    Access to European Union law, economics, policies

    Translated into 14 languages

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