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Brussels, 21 February 2007

A vision for the single market of the 21st century

The European Commission has today presented its vision for the single market of the 21st century. In an interim report to the Spring European Council, the Commission reviews the achievements of the last twenty years and sets out the way ahead to deliver further benefits for citizens and business, and contribute to a more competitive and sustainable Europe. It will be concluded by a final report with proposals for action this autumn.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: "The single market is the core of Europe's endeavour. For citizens, it means the right to live and work in another EU country, and to access a wider choice of quality products and services at lower prices. For business, it means operating on a domestic market of 500 million people, based on the rule of law, with mutual respect and trust. The single market is more important than ever. I now want to see it strengthened and adapted to the globalised world of the 21st Century".

Since the Commission launched its single market initiative in 1985, the European Union has come a long way in turning the four freedoms - the free movement of people, goods, services and capital - into reality. This has brought major gains for European citizens and businesses.

Building on these achievements, the report sets out a vision for the single market of the 21st century and highlights the main directions to make it work better in the interest of:

  • citizens and consumers: more can be done to improve confidence in the quality of products and services and to pass on the gains accrued from the single market to consumers.
  • an integrated economy: the spread of the Euro, the move towards a single European labour market and the integration of network industries should contribute to the further integration of the EU economy, making it easier for individuals and companies to engage in cross-border activities.
  • a knowledge society: the single market should increasingly focus on making markets for knowledge- and technology-intensive goods and services work better and stimulate higher levels of innovation.
  • a well-regulated Europe: the dismantling of barriers went hand in hand with the establishment of new rules. The benefits of the single market will be limited if the rules are not correctly applied, and if the rights created are not satisfactorily upheld and redressed.
  • a sustainable Europe: recognising the social and environmental aspects of the single market are key conditions for gaining public confidence, and they are both investments in Europe's future quality of life.

The Commission proposes that the focus of the single market should shift from its initial emphasis of removing barriers to cross-border trade to one of ensuring that markets function better, to the benefits of citizens and business. The report therefore highlights new approaches to be explored in order to make the single market:

  • more impact-driven and result-oriented: the EU should act when markets do not deliver and where it will have maximum impact; it should better anticipate the effects of structural adjustment and assess its consequences.
  • more effective: a more diverse and flexible mix of instruments should be employed, finding the right balance between harmonisation and mutual recognition of rules, and other tools such as self- and co-regulation.
  • more decentralised and network-based: Brussels cannot deliver alone. We need to rethink how to improve the ownership of the single market in the Member States and the cooperation between the national and EU level.
  • more responsive to the global context: a well functioning single market is essential to shape and exploit globalisation to Europe's advantage, and to allow its companies to compete in the global market place.
  • more accessible and better communicated: a lot can be done to improve communication and publicise the opportunities offered by the single market, for instance through hands-on problem-solving mechanisms such as SOLVIT.

This interim report is a first step and responds to the undertaking given by the Commission in its May 2006 Citizens' Agenda to launch a fundamental review of the single market. It will be followed this autumn by a final report containing concrete proposals for action.

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