Brussels, 26 September 2011
The Single Market through the eyes of the people: a snapshot of citizens' and businesses' 20 main concerns: Frequently Asked Questions
20 MAIN CONCERNS
Concern No. 1 is about social security. What can the EU do?
The Commission co-ordinates national social security systems but has no power to harmonise them. Member States retain responsibility for determining the details of their own social security systems including which benefits shall be provided and the conditions of eligibility. The EU law establishes common rules and principles which must be observed by all national authorities when applying national law. These rules ensure that the application of the different national legislations respects the basic principles of equality of treatment and non-discrimination.
For healthcare protection for instance, a person moving to another Member State will be treated under the same conditions as a national of that Member State. But as procedures might be different from his home country, he cannot expect to experience a system which would be exactly the same as that in his home country.
The EU legal framework has been modernised (EC Regulation 987/2009) with the aim of simplifying and clarifying the rules applicable. The main objective of the modernisation of social security systems is to make the coordination system work more efficiently and provide better protection for citizens. In this context, given the challenges existing in this field, the Commission has been undertaking a set of actions. It has provided detailed guidance to Member States and their national institutions and organised a number of training seminars with the direct participation of local social security institutions to encourage cooperation and exchange of best practices.
A major progress of the modernised social security coordination represents the gradual building and implementation of electronic exchange of information between the different national social security institutions.
Concern No. 2 is about patients' rights in cross-border healthcare. What can the EU do?
The Commission has improved information on patients' rights by revamping some of its information websites such as Your Europe. Specific information materials have been made available, in particular on the role and use of the European Health Insurance Card and on healthcare abroad.
The recently adopted Directive on Cross-border Healthcare (2011/24/EU) will bring further improvements which will enable patients to make better informed decisions. Member States have to transpose this Directive into national law by 25 October 2013. The Directive brings:
clarification on patients' rights to access safe and good quality treatment across EU borders and the reimbursement for such treatment;
clarification on the scope of the rights and of the procedures that citizens can benefit from; and
the establishment of a contact point in each Member State to provide information on patients' rights to healthcare across Europe that will be able to provide practical information for patients on conditions and levels of reimbursement, possible treatments, providers, procedures for redress, etc.
Concern No. 3 is about residence cards for non-EU family members of an EU citizen. What can the EU do?
The Commission continues to work together with the Member States to tackle outstanding issues relating to the transposition of the Free Movement Directive (2004/38/EC) and to improve the application of its rules on the ground with a view to ensuring the full effectiveness of this fundamental right of EU citizens and their family members. To this end, the Commission will carry out, in 2012, a study evaluating the knowledge of free movement rights by national, regional and local authorities and the training systems in place in the Member States.
On the basis of its Green paper on the free circulation of public documents and on the recognition of the effects of civil status records, the Commission has also launched a public consultation that ended recently. The results are available on http://ec.europa.eu/justice/newsroom/civil/opinion/110510_en.htm; the Commission is currently in the process of analysing them.
As regards future steps, there are two potential legislative proposals foreseen in the Action Plan implementing the Stockholm Programme, scheduled for 2013. They are related, respectively, to the free circulation of documents through dispensing with the legalisation of documents between Member States and to the recognition of the effects of certain civil status documents (e.g. relating to affiliation, adoption and name).
Concern No. 4 is about professionals who have difficulties getting their qualifications recognised in another Member State. What can the EU do?
The Professional Qualifications Directive facilitates the free movement of EU-professionals within the European Union, regardless of where in the EU they have acquired their professional qualifications. The modernisation of the Professional Qualifications Directive is one of the 12 key actions in the Single Market Act.
After extensive consultations with stakeholders, on 22 June 2011, the Commission published a Green paper on the modernisation of the Professional Qualifications Directive (IP/11/767). The Green Paper develops new ideas for facilitating free movement of citizens in the single market, such as the European Professional Card. It explores ways to build on achievements under the Directive but also sets out options for modernising automatic recognition. A broad consultation on these ideas will help the Commission assess the different options for the modernisation of the Professional Qualifications Directive. A legislative proposal to amend the existing Directive is planned for the end of 2011.
Concern No. 5 is about workers who face discriminatory employment practices. What can the EU do?
All forms of discrimination on the grounds of racial and ethnic origin, religion and belief, disability, age and sexual orientation are banned under EU anti-discrimination legislation (see Council Directives 200/78/EC and 200/43/EC). The goal now is to ensure that this legislation is applied in practice. If a public authority is directly or indirectly involved in such practices, the Commission can intervene through the infringement procedure and SOLVIT can mediate. Where private employers discriminate, EU law applies but the workers concerned have to fight their case in front of national courts or seek the help of national administrations.
Concern No. 6 is about tax barriers for cross-border workers and employers. What can the EU do?
The Commission is required to take action against any provisions of Member States' tax laws that discriminate on the grounds of nationality or impede EU freedoms. To this end, it monitors continuously EU Member States' compliance with the principles on the taxation of cross-border workers. Where a Member State fails to comply with EU law, the Commission has the power to take action to try to bring the infringement to an end and, in the case of continued non-compliance, will refer the case to the European Court of Justice. SOLVIT may also offer practical assistance to settle the case with public administrations.
As regards tax problems such as red tape and the inability to obtain correct information that cross-border workers may face, the Commission is currently considering, in cooperation with Member States and stakeholders, what action could be taken to make citizens' lives easier. Solutions could include setting up one-stop shops for foreign tax queries, improved information provision, translating forms and information into all commonly used languages and speeding up refund claims.
Concerning the problem of double taxation, the European Court of Justice has made it clear that double taxation which results from the parallel exercise of taxing rights by two or more Member States is not per se contrary to EU law. Nevertheless, the Commission considers that double taxation carries the risk of jeopardising the smooth functioning of the internal market and should be eliminated. The Commission will consider these double taxation problems in detail in a Communication that it aims to adopt this year, with a view to presenting possible solutions in 2012.
Concern No. 7 is about opening a bank account abroad. What can the EU do?
Access to a basic bank account is one of the priorities of the Single Market Act. It has the potential to improve the lives of millions of Europeans.
According to recent studies, around 30 million consumers over the age of 18 in the European Union do not have a bank account. Out of these 30 million 'unbanked' citizens, it is estimated that between 6 and 7 million do not have a bank account because they have been denied access to one. These individuals cannot currently benefit fully from the Single Market.
In July 2011, the Commission adopted a Recommendation to encourage Member States to ensure that all consumers have access to basic payment accounts (IP/11/897). These accounts would offer basic services, but not overdraft facilities, and would be provided either free or at a reasonable charge. The Commission will assess the situation in one year's time and propose any further measures as may be necessary, including legislative measures.
Concern No. 8 is about students facing discrimination regarding recognition of diplomas, fees, and financial support. What can the EU do?
The Commission actively supports the Bologna process, which aims to create a European Higher Education Area. In this context, it promotes and supports tools to facilitate the recognition of foreign diplomas by national authorities. In addition, the European Qualifications Framework aims to relate different national qualifications systems to a common European Reference framework, so that all new qualifications issued as of 2012 carry a reference to an appropriate EQF level. The Commission finally coordinates the National Academic Recognition Centres (NARIC), which provide authoritative advice and information concerning the academic recognition of diplomas and periods of study undertaken in other countries.
As concerns the respect of students' rights to free movement and equal treatment, the Commission has published guidance1 for national authorities and stakeholders. This guidance covers issues such as access to educational institutions, recognition of diplomas, the portability of grants, and other rights of students in the host country or in the country of origin. It should help to establish the rights of students to free movement as a clear area of EU law, underpinning the trend already established by the Court.
Concern No. 9 is about cross-border pension and inheritance tax issues. What can the EU do?
One problem that appears to have been largely resolved as a result of Commission action is that of discrimination in the tax area against contributions to foreign pension schemes. In its Pension Taxation Communication of 20012 the Commission presented a comprehensive strategy to deal with the tax obstacles to the cross-border provision of occupational pensions. Following this, it launched infringement proceedings against several Member States that gave tax relief for payments of pension contributions to domestic pension providers but did not grant it for payments to foreign providers. As a result, all Member States now comply with EU law in this respect and therefore mobile workers will not suffer tax discrimination if they remain in the pension scheme of their State of origin after they take up a job in another Member State.
As the Court of Justice has clarified that taxing outbound transfers of pension capital while exempting domestic transfers is against EU law,3 the Commission is now examining whether all Member States comply with that rule.
As regards the double taxation of pensions, the Commission has plans (see concern no. 6) for an initiative aimed at tackling in a comprehensive manner the remaining double taxation problems in the EU which are not resolved by existing double taxation conventions or EU legislation.
As far as cross-border inheritance tax problems are concerned, the Commission is planning to present suggestions for solutions later this year.
Concern No. 10 is about cross-border car registration and tax issues. What can the EU do?
As regards tax issues, the Commission intends to present a Communication, in the future, to clarify the rights and obligations of citizens and Member States' administrations where citizens move to another Member State taking their car with them, and to make some recommendations to Member States about how to avoid double taxation in this situation.
With regard to the problems of car registration, the main victims are citizens who are still facing tremendous difficulties when they transfer their car from one Member State to another or when they purchase a second-hand car in another Member States. Cross-border workers also suffer from major difficulties when they use a company car registered in the Member State of their employer. Therefore, the first thing that we need to do is eliminating burdensome procedures and paperwork. The Commission intends to make a legislative proposal to solve these problems by mid 2012.
Concern No. 11 is about passenger rights. What can the EU do?
The application and enforcement of the EU law for passenger rights falls under the responsibility of the Member States. The Commission is monitoring and ensuring an effective application of the applicable rules in the EU, through swift complaint handling procedures and regular exchange of views and meetings with competent national authorities.
An informed passenger is in a better position to exercise its rights. The Commission is therefore carrying out a vast EU wide passenger rights information campaign, which aims at reaching as many citizens as possible by using various means of communication.
In order to improve the passengers’ situation when they are buying transport and accommodation together, the Commission is currently working on the revision of the Package Travel Directive (90/314/EEC). The Directive contains rules concerning the liability of package organisers and retailers, and rules on information that must be given to consumers at different points in time.
One of the main purposes of the ongoing review process is to simplify citizens' lives when buying combined travel services on-line. The adoption of a legislative proposal is scheduled for the third quarter of 2012.
Concern No. 12 is about complex and costly banking and financial services. What can the EU do?
Presently, the Commission is working with the banking industry on a self-regulatory initiative to bring about transparency and comparability of bank account fees. This work will address the issues of complex fees terminology as well as the provision of price lists and fees statements for consumers. An outline solution at EU level, for implementation in each Member State, is due by early autumn 2011.
With regard to the clarity and comparability of fees to enable consumers to choose and, if necessary, switch bank accounts, the Commission is currently monitoring, through a mystery shopping study, the effectiveness of the Common Principles on Bank Account Switching, in operation in the EU since November 2009. Results are expected by the end of 2011. On consumer credit the Commission has ensured transparency and comparability through the Consumer Credit Directive (2008/48/EC).
Poor comparability of banking fees offers may sometimes stem from deliberately misleading actions. EU law provides an instrument to protect consumers from such actions, through the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (2005/29/EC). This Directive also applies in the financial services sector. A report on the overall application of the Directive, to be possibly accompanied by a new legislative proposal, is scheduled for spring 2012.
Concern No. 13 is about consumers' confidence in on-line shopping. What can the EU do?
The Commission is actively committed to making things work better online. Its vision and strategy will be presented in a Communication on e-commerce in the single market at the end of 2011. As many barriers still need to be removed, the Commission will present an action plan entirely devoted to the development of on-line services. It will integrate possible new actions and put in perspective initiatives already made public, such as:
To offer consumers an efficient solution for when things go wrong in online cross-border transactions, the European Commission is proposing to create a system for online dispute resolution. This will ensure consumers have easy, efficient and affordable access to remedies online and open up the way to address small value transactions.
To fill in the gap in information for consumers, a Code of EU Online Rights will summarise existing digital users' rights in the EU in a clear and accessible way.
One major element in boosting consumers' confidence in the online environment is the revised regulatory framework for data protection in Europe, which has as its aim to enhance individuals’ trust and to strengthen their rights when they act online.
The European Commission will also propose a revised e-Signature Directive, with a view to providing a legal framework for cross-border recognition and interoperability of secure authentication systems.
The Consumer Rights Directive provides improved information requirements; a right to withdraw from a distance contract within 14 days; a ban on pre-ticked boxes, internet cost traps and of any additional charges of which consumers were not duly informed in advance and a guarantee that it is the trader who bears the risk until the moment the products are effectively delivered to the consumer.
Substantial differences between the national contract laws in the EU will remain even after the adoption of the new Consumer Rights Directive. That is why the Commission will submit in the fourth quarter of 2011 a Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on a Common Sales Law for the European Union. The Directive will establish a uniform set of contract law rules which parties can choose to apply to sales contracts, contracts for the supply of digital content and certain intrinsically linked service contracts such as installation or maintenance contracts in cross-border transactions both in a Business-to-Consumer and a Business-to-Business context.
The Commission will also analyse the need and the options for extending consumer rights when buying digital content, including on the possibility of having new specific rules related to unfair contract terms and/or of extending to digital content the scope of application of the current Sales and Guarantee Directive (1999/44/EC). Subject to an impact assessment, a legislative proposal in this area might be tabled in 2012.
Concern No. 14 is about the best choice and price for of the energy supply. What can the EU do?
Energy bills are important tools for the improved management of energy consumption. Consumers need a correct, clear, concise energy bill that facilitates comparison of alternative offers. A good bill should be both informative and help them to make the choices that best fit their budget and lifestyle. The European Commission has developed a guideline on billing and templates of what such bills could look like. The Commission is working with stakeholders to make sure that more and more people get energy bills that comply with these standards. For more information see: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/citizen/my_rights/energy_en.htm
As a follow up to a study into the functioning of retail electricity markets for consumers, the London Citizens Energy Forum4 mandated the national regulators to develop guidelines for providing information to consumers more effectively, for making it easier to compare prices and to switch suppliers. For more information see:
Concern No. 15 is about quality and price of Internet and telephony services. What can the EU do?
The Commission took action already in 2007 to limit the excessive charges paid by consumers for using their mobile phones while travelling in the EU. The EU Roaming Regulation introduced caps on roaming prices ("Eurotariffs"), as well as transparency measures.
As this Regulation expires in 2012, the Commission has proposed a long-term solution to the continued high cost of using mobile phones and other mobile devices whilst travelling in the EU (roaming).
It proposed in July 2011 a Regulation to introduce structural measures to boost competition by allowing customers from 1 July 2014, if they so wish, to sign up for a cheaper mobile roaming contract, separate from their contract for national mobile services, whilst using the same phone number. The proposal would also give mobile operators (including so-called virtual mobile operators, who do not have their own network) the right to use other operators' networks in other Member States at regulated wholesale prices, and so encourage more operators to compete on the roaming market. By 1 July 2014, roaming consumers would pay no more than 24 cents per minute to make a call, a maximum 10 cents per minute to receive a call, maximum 10 cents to send a text message and maximum 50 cents per Megabyte (MB) to download data or browse the Internet whilst travelling abroad (charged per Kilobyte used). For more information see: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/roaming/index_en.htm
Concern No. 16 is about businesses being discouraged from participating in foreign public tenders. What can the EU do?
Public contracts define the arrangements for public expenditure on buildings, goods and services and relate to the purchase of all manner of goods and services, from computer systems, waste water treatment systems and shipbuilding to consultancy. It is estimated that all the public contracts awarded in the EU represent, together, some 17% of GDP. The open and transparent rules for public contracts imposed by the EU reinforce competition, provide better protection against corruption and allow taxpayers to benefit from more effective services and better value for money.
The Commission is launching a reform of the legislation on public procurement. This is one of the 12 priority actions of the Single Market Act. The Commission assessed the impact and effectiveness of EU legislation on public procurement and held a consultation process on the basis of a Green Paper on the modernisation of EU public procurement policy. The information gathered will serve as a basis in preparing the Commission's legislative proposals before the end of this year.
Also, to improve the situation the Commission has published a European Code of Best practices, facilitating access by SMEs to public procurement contracts (http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/publicprocurement/docs/sme_code_of_best_practices_en.pdf).
Concern No. 17 is about businesses access to finance. What can the EU do?
With regard to financing for regular business investments, EU funds are allocated to financial intermediaries to help SMEs find seed money, start up, expand and transfer their business, by using equity financing and guarantees. The operational management is performed by the European Investment Fund (EIF).
SMEs wishing to apply for an equity investment need to contact the funds that have signed an agreement with the EIF and, for guarantee financing, one of the financial intermediaries that have signed an agreement with EIF. Further details and lists of the EIF partners can be found in the Access to Finance website: http://www.access2finance.eu.
EU funds are also allocated to national and regional authorities via the Structural Funds. SMEs wishing to benefit from those should locate the relevant national/regional managing authorities for more information. For other sources of financing locally available, SMEs can refer to their closest Enterprise Europe Network branch.
Concern No. 18 is about burdensome rules and procedures preventing entrepreneurs and investors from doing business in another country. What can the EU do?
The process of implementation of the Services Directive is starting to bear fruit by removing legal and administrative barriers to trade in the services sector.
On his visits to Member States, Commissioner Michel Barnier is meeting the relevant Ministers to determine on the ground what practical problems are being encountered in the implementation of the Directive. This has lead to valuable exchanges of views and of best practice.
In particular, Member States have already removed a considerable number of unjustified and disproportionate requirements in areas like trade, regulated professions, construction, tourism or business services and have simplified procedures and formalities that service providers need to comply with. The Commission is currently running a first analysis of the economic effects of the Directive based on the actual results of the implementation (available at the beginning of 2012) and which should highlight the potential that remains to be tapped.
The Commission is also dedicating important resources to the assessment of the quality of the work done by the Member States, including through studies, and will not hesitate to play its role of guardian of the treaties to ensure correct and complete implementation.
Moreover, in the coming months, the Commission, together with the Member States, will run a series of "performance checks" of the various European rules that apply in the field of services in order to identify, based on concrete examples, possible incoherencies and overlaps, with the aim of proposing solutions for the improvement of the functioning of the internal market.
A concrete and visible outcome of the directive has been the set up of Points of Single Contact through which businesses can obtain all relevant information and deal with all administrative formalities electronically and across borders. As required under the Directive, 24 Member States have already set up such operational portals and the Commission is actively supporting them in this project by offering technical assistance for the further development of the Points of Single Contact.
In addition, businesses can count on the support provided by the Your Europe Portal and the Enterprise Europe Network to help them.
Concern No. 19 is about VAT cross-border refund procedures. What can the EU do?
A new VAT Refund Directive came into force on 1st January 20105. It allows for the refund of VAT on business expenses incurred in another Member State through a fully electronic procedure whereby the taxable person submits his application on a web portal developed by his national tax administration.
Although this new system is more efficient than the old paper procedure, some businesses have complained about the divergences between the different Member States in some of the technical details relating to the practical operation of the national web portals. The Commission has already taken steps to come to an agreement with Member States on improvements in this area. It has made a proposal for a new Directive (COM(2010)381) to harmonise some features of the national VAT refund web portals in order to make them more interoperable and accessible for taxpayers. Pending the adoption of this proposal, the Commission has set up a working group consisting of experts from Member States and businesses to agree on some key improvements.
Concern No. 20 is about protection of the intellectual property rights. What can the EU do?
Intellectual property rights (IPR) comprise: patents, trademarks, designs and geographical indications, as well as copyright (authors' rights) and rights related to copyright (for performers, producers and broadcasters).
The Commission already launched proposals in April 2011 for a unitary patent protection under enhanced cooperation (IP/11/470) that will radically reduce the cost of patents in Europe by up to 80 %.
While trade mark registration in the EU has been harmonised in Member States for almost 20 years and the Community trade mark was established 15 years ago, there is an increasing demand for more streamlined, effective and consistent registration systems. The Commission intends to present proposals in 2011 to modernise the trade mark system both at EU and national levels and to adapt it to the Internet era.
In July 2011, the Commission published a Green Paper on the online distribution of audiovisual works in the European Union (see IP/11/868 – consultation ongoing) which looks at the ways in which the audiovisual sector is changing in response to technological developments and consumer expectations. It invites stakeholders to comment on the challenges and opportunities facing audiovisual media service providers, and in particular whether the regulatory and legal framework poses barriers to the cross border availability of online services in the EU.
The Green Paper focuses in particular on the copyright licensing framework, and discusses a number of regulatory approaches to licensing. In addition, it looks at the remuneration of authors and performers for the online use of their works; and deals with certain special uses of audiovisual works.
Counterfeiting and piracy
The European Commission and EU Member States are fighting counterfeit and other intellectual property rights (IPR) infringements on various fronts. At strategic level a Customs Action Plan was adopted by the EU Council in 2009 to effectively combat illicit trade.
The Commission is currently working on two initiatives that should help to address the problem on the high costs of enforcement of intellectual property rights. The first is the revision of the enforcement of the Intellectual Property Rights Directive (Directive 2004/48/EC). The second is a major initiative on trade secrets that are key (low cost) means for SMEs to protect their IP across the Union.
Finally, the European Commission funds two services to help businesses and others find information on protecting their intellectual property rights. The first of these is the IPR Helpdesk www.iprhelpdesk.eu and the second is www.china-iprhelpdesk.eu, the China IPR SME Helpdesk, which offers information on IPR problems in or arising from China. Both Helpdesks also collaborate with the Enterprise Europe Network to get useful IPR information to European businesses, particularly SMEs.
In addition to these services, the Commission supports a network of national intellectual property offices and arranges periodic exchanges of best practices so that national experts can improve their service provision to citizens and enterprises.
1. What is the aim of this snapshot?
It is to show how citizens and businesses experience the Single Market in practice.
2. Why take this snapshot now, barely a year after the Commission has unfolded a set of actions to reduce obstacles for people exercising their rights within the single market, through its Single Market Act and the EU Citizenship agenda?
The Single Market Act (IP/11/469) and the 2010 EU Citizenship Report (IP/10/1390) indicate the political will of the Commission to restore citizens’ and businesses' confidence in the single market and to remove obstacles to the effective enjoyment of their EU rights. They point to a series of shortcomings and announce a number of actions which the Commission is undertaking to tackle those shortcomings, often together with the EU Member States.
At the same time, these documents call for a stronger culture of dialogue and evaluation. The Commission wants to restore the dialogue with people, to ensure that actions produce their intended effect and meet citizens' and businesses’ real concerns. The report presented today should be seen in this context. It presents a snapshot of the single market, seen through the lens of citizens' and businesses’ everyday's experiences. This snapshot helps us better understand what works already, and where more needs to be done. It is part of an ongoing effort to keep channels and dialogue, debate and evaluation open.
Today's snapshot is a basis for discussion – that is why it is presented just before the first Single Market Forum which will take place in Krakow from 2-4 October. These discussions will, in turn, inform the political processes that were started via the Single Market Act and the EU Citizenship Report.
3. But if concerns were identified and addressed in documents such as the Single Market Act and the 2010 EU Citizenship Report, why are they still present?
Measures take time to produce their intended effects all across Europe. It is not sufficient for the Commission to propose a measure: measures must be turned into legislation, or otherwise be endorsed by all political players. And once adopted, measures must be implemented all across Europe. For some recent measures, it is simply too soon to see the effects on the ground.
That is why the Commission intends to repeat this exercise. Future snapshots should reflect how citizens' experiences change over time, as the effects of measures taken will be felt on the ground. This will help all stakeholders and policy makers – at European but also national level – to assess the effects of policy actions already undertaken, and to define the need for further actions.
4. How were the main concerns determined?
Evidence is based on two types of data: firstly, cases and complaints handled by the Commission and its assistance services such as SOLVIT, Your Europe Advice, the European Consumer Centres, EURES (the European Employment Service), the Enterprise Europe Network and the Europe Direct service. These data give a good overview of the kind of obstacles people are facing.
By comparing these data we end up with a snapshot of people's everyday concerns: they enable us to assess not only what obstacles are they faced with, but also how important they are if we compare them to people's overall experiences and to what they expect from the single market.
5. What selection criteria were used to determine the 20 "main" concerns?
The data gathered offered lots of concrete experiences, problems and expectations. To select the 20 most important concerns, the following criteria were used:
Frequency: How frequent / recurrent is the problem? Does it affect a large group of people?
Severity: What is the effect of the problem? Does it render the exercise of (a) Single Market right(s) (simply) more onerous than it should be, or does it render the exercise of single market rights (quasi) impossible?
Geographical spread: Is the problem present throughout the EU or in one or few Member States only?
Representativity: The report represents the concerns of all single market actors: citizens (students, workers, self-employed, pensioners) and businesses. It focuses on the experiences of people and businesses who are engaged in activities across national borders and also looks at national experiences (cases where consumers fail to benefit from the effects of market opening and the increased competition in the European market).
6. Are the problems mentioned in the report the only problems with the functioning of the Single Market?
No, they are not. The evidence used for the report reveals the 20 concerns that are the most problematic and the most frequently encountered, if Europe is taken as a whole.
But the evidence itself, whilst offering very rich and objective data, reflects particular angles and situations at a given moment in time. It may therefore not necessarily be exhaustive.
In addition, the process of selecting 20 main concerns, whilst based on objective criteria, meant that choices had to be made.
Finally, the report reflects the situation for Europe as a whole. There are of course geographical differences, and different groups of people may have different experiences and expectations, but these are not reflected in here.
7. If lack of information is a cause of problems, how can citizens and businesses be better informed?
This snapshot reveals a strong need for better information. People don't know or understand their rights, and they do not know where to turn for help. In practice, there is a lot of information out there, but often it is hard to find and may not offer the kind of practical help you need.
That is why the Commission has committed to further develop the Your Europe portal as a single gateway to all information and help, at both national and EU level. Your Europe aims to bring all sources of information and help together. It builds bridges to other initiatives – for instance, to the Points of Single Contact set up for service providers, and to help services such as the European Consumer Centers and SOLVIT.
8. If lack of legislation is another key cause, how can this be dealt with in areas where there is no basis for EU law, or where Member States cannot find agreement?
It is time to clarify what can be done where, by whom, and how. The Commission is taking action in a great number of areas covered by the 20 main concerns report. It is taking action to modernise the system for professional qualifications and EU public procurement law for instance. It is also taking action to facilitate access to finance. These are just a few examples.
But there is a limit to what the Commission can do: in some areas, the EU has no mandate to legislate; in others, it is very difficult to legislate given unanimity requirements or strong differences between Member States' views.
9. If poor implementation is the key cause of problems with the functioning of the Single Market, how can we make sure that Member States are fulfilling their obligations?
The Commission is taking a series of actions to improve the way the Single Market is being governed. The Internal Market Information system, for instance, enables public authorities at all levels of government to exchange information, so as to facilitate controls and approvals in a cross-border context. SOLVIT offers fast and informal solutions to citizens and businesses encountering problems when public authorities breach EU law. Through initiatives such as Your Europe and the Points of Single Contact under the Services Directive, the Commission, together with the Member States, seek to ensure that people find information and help and can work out often complex procedures via electronic means. For consumers, new and better-performing ADR solutions are being put in place. The internal market scoreboard indicates that the transposition deficit is decreasing thanks to joint efforts at EU and national level. Where there are clear breaches of EU law, the Commission stands ready to follow up with infringement proceedings.
But good implementation is the responsibility of each and every one of us. EU rules must be made into rights within the context of national legal systems and national administrative procedures. While the Commission has a clear role to play, good implementation stands or falls with the Member States' commitment to make the single market work.
10. Is the Single Market benefiting disadvantaged people?
Social concerns, the public interest and protection of the vulnerable (e.g. disabled people), are increasingly pursued through social enterprises. Their primary objective is to make an impact in society, rather than to maximize their profits. Such enterprises often adopt an organizational model that involves workers, consumers and other stakeholders in an open and accountable way. In this context, the Commission will propose this autumn actions promoting "social entrepreneurship" in a more inclusive single market.
The documents can be found here:
Commission vs. Belgium, Case C-522-04
to learn more on Citizens' Energy Forum initiative see: http://ec.europa.eu/energy/gas_electricity/forum_citizen_energy_en.htm
Council Directive 2008/9/EC –
Special Eurobarometer 363 "Internal Market: Awareness, Perceptions and Impacts" - http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_363_en.pdf
Qualitative survey about Obstacles citizens face in the Internal Market
Qualitative survey about Local Authorities and the governance of the Single Market