Friday, 24 March 2017

Single Market Act II

One day before the EU27 Rome declaration I want to start this blog post by quoting two paragraphs from the 2012 Single Market Act II communication spelling out why even the incomplete European Union we have is better than secession for increasingly mobile people and businesses (page 9):

The mobility of citizens and businesses is at the heart of European integration and the Single Market. The Commission will continue to work towards its vision of a Single Market where citizens, workers and businesses are free to move cross-border whenever and wherever they want to and without unjustified restrictions imposed by divergent national rules and regulations. Mobility is a precondition for the Single Market to deliver on its potential, be it social, cultural, political or economic.

The price of low mobility is high. Despite the fact that unfilled job vacancies have been rising since mid-2009, unemployment is at record levels in many Member States. At the same time, the cross-border mobility of businesses is hampered by difficulties to finance new business projects and by administrative burden. While the EU's better regulation agenda has led to an improvement of the business environment, a constant focus on the reduction of unnecessary regulatory and administrative burden must be maintained. Important next steps towards our common vision are therefore to match labour demand and supply cross-border, improve the access to finance and advance the business environment in Europe.

Instead of building walls and creating obstacles, the EU tries to open gates and decrease cross-border problems.

Single Market Act II

After the compilation Single Market Act blog posts and the latest entry Single Market concerns, it is time to advance to the second package: the Single Market Act II.

In the autumn of 2012 the European Commission published a communication about  its second set of internal market proposals. The SMA II birth was the moment the original SMA became the SMA I:
Single Market Act II - Together for new growth; Brussels, 3.10.2012 COM(2012) 573 final (24 pages)  

Four drivers for new growth were identified for the new package (page 5):  

1. Developing fully integrated networks in the Single Market (pages 6-9)
2. Fostering mobility of citizens and businesses across borders (pages 9-12)  
3. Supporting the digital economy across Europe (page 12-15)
4. Strengthening social entrepreneurship, cohesion and consumer confidence (page 15-17)

In the concluding remarks the Commission summarised the aims and presented a timetable (page 17):

The Single Market Act II sets out twelve immediate priorities, which the Commission will focus on to support growth, employment and confidence in the Single Market. They constitute the next steps towards our vision of a highly competitive social market economy. We need to act jointly, in particular among the European institutions and with Member States, to put them into practice as soon as possible. The Commission commits to deliver all key legislative proposals by spring 2013 and all key non-legislative actions by the end of that year at the latest. The Commission calls on the European Parliament and the Council to fast-track all key legislative actions and adopt them as a priority by spring 2014.

The twelve SMA II priority actions (the same number as in the SMA I) listed on pages 18-19:

Developing fully integrated networks in the Single Market

1 Rail transport: Adopt a fourth railway package to improve the quality and cost efficiency of rail passenger services

2 Maritime transport: Adopt the "Blue Belt" package to establish a true Single Market for maritime transport  

3 Air transport: Accelerate the implementation of the Single European Sky through a new package of actions  

4 Energy: Implement an action plan to improve the implementation and enforcement of the third energy package

Fostering mobility of citizens and businesses across borders  

5 Mobility of citizens: Develop the EURES portal into a true European placement and recruitment tool  

6 Access to finance: Boost long-term investment in the real economy by facilitating access to long-term investment funds  

7 Business environment: Modernise EU insolvency rules to facilitate the survival of businesses and present a second chance for entrepreneurs  

Supporting the digital economy across Europe  

8 Services: Revise the Payment Services Directive and make a proposal for multilateral interchange fees to make payment services in the EU more efficient  

9 Digital Single Market: Adopt common rules to reduce cost and increase efficiency in the deployment of high speed broadband  

10 Public procurement and electronic invoicing: Adopt legislation making electronic invoicing the standard invoicing mode for public procurement

Strengthening social entrepreneurship, cohesion and consumer confidence  

11 Consumers: Improve the safety of products circulating in the EU through a revised General Product Safety Directive, a new single Regulation on Market Surveillance and a flanking action plan

12 Social cohesion and social entrepreneurship: Adopt a legislative initiative to give all EU citizens access to a basic payment account, ensure bank account fees are transparent and comparable and make switching bank accounts easier

Ralf Grahn

General sources:

General Report on the Activities of the European Union - 2012 (free to download at the EU Bookshop in all the official EU languages)

Single Market concerns

The Single Market Act II had been anticipated by the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council (of ministers) of the EU. We have presented their contributions in various blog entries, some of them found in the compilation Single Market Act blog posts.  

Here we look at one more contribution, this from the European Commission.

Citizens’ and businesses’ 20 main concerns

In 2011 the European Commission published The Single Market through the lens of the people: A snapshot of citizens’ and businesses’ 20 main concerns (27 pages), an analysis made of queries and complaints handled by the Commission and assistance services such as SOLVIT, Your Europe Advice, the European Consumer Centres, the European Employment Service and the Enterprise Europe Network, then checked with statistically representative data and refined through focus groups.

This was one of the contributions going into the making of the Single Market Act II.

Problems for mobile citizens

  • Cumbersome social security procedures discourage citizens’ mobility
  • Citizens receiving healthcare abroad are often frustrated when receiving the bill
  • Obtaining a residence card in another Member State for non-EU family members is too complex
  • Professionals have difficulties getting their qualifications recognised in another Member State
  • Workers can be victims of discriminatory employment practices in another Member State
  • Tax barriers för cross-border workers and employers
  • Opening a bank account abroad remains too difficult
  • Students facing discrimination regarding recognition of diplomas, fees, and financial support
  • Retiring abroad and inheriting across borders leads to complex taxation issues
  • Taking a car to another Member State is costly and burdensome
  • Passengers find it difficult to defend their rights

Problems for consumers

  • Consumers do not easily find their way in banking and financial services markets
  • Europeans do not feel comfortable shopping on-line in other Member States
  • In spite of an increased choice, many Europeans are frustrated by their energy bills
  • Internet and telephone services could be better and cheaper

Problems for businesses

  • Businesses are discouraged from participating in foreign public tenders
  • Access to finance and support measures is too challenging
  • Burdensome rules and procedures prevent entrepreneurs and investors from doing business in another country
  • Reclaiming VAT paid in another Member State is cumbersome
  • Fighting for your intellectual property rights in a cross-border context remains very difficult

The brochure ended by referring EU citizens and businesses encountering problems to the Your Europe web pages and by describing the help and information services available (pages 26-27):

SOLVIT – a network created in 2002 to solve cross-border problems encountered by citizens and businesses due to incorrect application of EU rules by national public authorities, without formal procedures and within ten weeks. In 2010 SOLVIT handled almost 3 800 cases, of which 1 363 fell within its remit;

Your Europe Advice (YEA) – a network of experienced multilingual lawyers from all EU Member States who provide answers to European citizens’ legal questions regarding the exercise of their EU rights in cross-border mobility situations. In 2010, YEA experts handled more than 12 000 queries;

Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) – a network created to provide European businesses with transnational business cooperation, to benefit from the Single Market and to provide their feedback to legislation (SME panels). The network is made up of 600 support service organisations involving more than 3 000 staff in 50 countries;

European Consumer Centres (ECCs) – a network created to provide consumers with information and help in dispute resolution, to enable them to take full advantage of the Single Market, in particular with regard to cross-border issues. The European Consumer Centres network handles over 70 000 cases every year;
Europe Direct Contact Centre (EDCC) – the European Commission’s multilingual central information service, accessible by free-phone, email or web-chat, which provides answers to questions from the public concerning general information on the European Union’s activities and policies, and guides citizens to the sources of information and advice that best meet their needs. Out of 100 000 enquiries handled overall in 2010, about 30 000 were related to cross-border issues and 5 200 were transferred to the legal experts of Your Europe Advice for further assistance;
European Employment Service (EURES) – a network of more than 850 employment advisors who help match jobs to jobseekers across Europe.

Ralf Grahn

General sources:

General Report on the Activities of the European Union 2011 (freely downloadable at the EU Bookshop in all the official EU languages)
General Report on the Activities of the European Union - 2012 (free to download at the EU Bookshop in all the official EU languages)

Regeringens skrivelse 2012/13:80 Berättelse om verksamheten i Europeiska unionen under 2012

Single Market Act blog posts

Here are the latest blog entries on the Single Market Act (SMA) in Finnish (FI), Swedish (SV) and English (EN), excluding those concerning the highly competitive social market economy and the European social pillar:

Ralf Grahn

General sources:

General Report on the Activities of the European Union 2011 (freely downloadable at the EU Bookshop in all the official EU languages)
General Report on the Activities of the European Union - 2012 (free to download at the EU Bookshop in all the official EU languages)

Regeringens skrivelse 2012/13:80 Berättelse om verksamheten i Europeiska unionen under 2012

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Single Market Act in Competitiveness Council

After the blog posts presenting the Single Market Act SMA and the promised main proposals listed in Twelve Single Market key actions, we return to the follow-up of the (first) Single Market Act (SMA), published by the European Commission in April 2011.  

Competitiveness Council
We take a quick look in the rear-view mirror on the Competitiveness Council 30 May 2011 and the European Council (EUCO) 23 to 24 June 2011 through the blog post European Council on growth and jobs, before heading back to the Council conclusions:

Competitiveness (Internal Market, Industry, Research and Space); Brussels, 30 and 31 May 2011; document 10547/11

Here we are interested in the general conclusions on the Single Market Act (page 8):

Single Market Act - Council conclusions

The Council held a debate and adopted conclusions on the implementation of the "Single Market Act" (SMA), which is a two-year plan (2011-2012) of 50 initiatives aimed at ensuring continuous optimisation of the internal market and contributing to the successful implementation of the Europe 2020 objectives on stimulating employment and economic growth (13977/1/10).

In the light of the outcome of a public consultation, the Commission submitted on 13 April 2011 a communication identifying the 12 levers that can best contribute to tapping the single market's potential for growth and employment. Moreover, the communication sets out a timetable for the adoption of each lever (9283/11).

The 12 levers for growth and social progress include actions in the areas of workers' mobility, financing for small and medium-sized enterprises, consumer protection, the digital single market, energy taxation and trans-European networks.

Among other things, the conclusions invite the Commission to put forward all these key actions before the end of 2011 and calls on all actors to commit themselves to adopting a first set of priority measures to give a new impetus to the single market by 2012.


Because the language of the two first paragraphs was a little vague, I want to clarify the exact references:

The first document number 13977/1/10 REV 1 (en) referred to the new English version of Commission consultation paper, the communication Towards a Single Market Act COM (2010) 608 final.
The second document mentioned 9283/11 referred to Single Market Act COM(2011) 206 final, the SMA proper, published 13 April 2011.

Specific SMA conclusions

The document 10993/11 referred to the specific and quite detailed Competition Council conclusions on the Priorities for Relaunching the Single Market adopted by the Council of 30 May 2011 (10 pages).

I am going to take just a few picks.

The Council stressed the need to further enhance the coherence and complementarities between the internal and international trade (policies) of the European Union (page 5).

The ministers underlined the key role the single market has to play in delivering growth and employment and promoting competitiveness. They made a clear reference to the union’s Article 3(3) TEU social market economy goal, when they mentioned that the Single Market must rest upon a strong economic and social basis with a view to building a highly competitive social market economy (page 5).

The conclusions went on to dedicate a paragraph to each of the SMA key actions, offering varying degrees of support: from enthusiastic to a promise to give due consideration to a coming proposal.

In the world of administration, even more so at a more complex international level, the machinery requires constant attention and perfecting (page 9):

17. UNDERLINES the importance of strengthening governance of the Single Market thus ensuring a level playing field for all in the Single Market through effective, efficient and uniform enforcement of Single Market rules; in this respect:

- INVITES the Commission to continue the work on the governance aspects of the Single Market;
- CALLS ON the Member States to fully implement Single Market rules including the Services Directive;
- UNDERLINES the importance of the SOLVIT and IMI systems;
- furthermore COMMITS ITSELF, and INVITES the European Parliament and the Commission to avoid creating unnecessary burdens in legislative proposals in general;

The Competitiveness Council, having urged the Commission to submit on a yearly basis a progress report on implementation, could not wait to get its hands on the proposals (page 9):

19. INVITES the Commission to put forward all key action proposals as soon as possible but before the end of 2011 and in line with the timing put forward in the Single Market Act so as to facilitate their full consideration within the deadlines proposed, whilst ensuring they take full account of the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity;

Finally, the Council started looking towards a second Single Market Act (SMA II) (page 10):

22. INVITES the Commission to take stock of the progress achieved, to conduct a comprehensive economic study to identify specific areas with untapped growth potential and to launch a new stage in the development of the Single Market by the end of 2012 with the aim of further deepening it.

So far, so good.

Ralf Grahn

General sources:

General Report on the Activities of the European Union 2011 (An open and fair internal market, legislative proposals listed on page 46, text on pages 45-)

Regeringens skrivelse 2011/12:105 Berättelse om verksamheten i Europeiska unionen under 2011 (Den inre marknadens utveckling etc., pages 166-178)

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The EU in 2016 - General Report

I remember a time, when the General Report of the European Union was a reference tool of more than 600 pages, with exact information about procedures and acts adopted.

I used to think that the General Report was a useful tool for students, teachers, researchers, civil servants, journalists, NGO and business people, as a well documented recap of recent developments in a certain policy area, before catching up on the latest events.

The European Commission later discontinued the Monthly Bulletin and started producing a lighter version of its annual report. The legal obligation - now Article 249(2) TFEU - remains:

The Commission shall publish annually… a general report on the activities of the Union.

The latest version, available through the Publications Office, is:

According to the information, the report was adopted 24 February 2017 under reference number COM(2017) 1289, but I failed to find it under the reference on Eur-Lex or the Legislative Observatory of the European Parliament.

While reading the hundred pages of the General Report for 2016 - available in HTML and PDF formats - I tried to imagine the intended reader or user of an extended corporate brochure like this.

The text is shorter and lighter than at the beginning of the previous decade. There is a fair sprinkling of links to Commission and other web pages of varying quality, as well as a number of videos about the EU’s well meaning and kind actions at home and abroad.

If not printed, the presentation cannot be used as a gift to groups visiting the EU institutions on guided tours. Maybe the report could serve as a starting point for assignments to students in high school and a little later.

It would be interesting to hear from the makers.

Ralf Grahn

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

European Parliament meets EU27 on EU future

With the EU27 national leaders busy reflecting on the future of the European Union ahead of the 25 March 2017 Rome declaration, where are the possible obstacles to sufficient reforms in the light of the challenges?  

European Parliament debate

On 1 March 2017, the same day the Juncker Commission launched the White Paper on the future of Europe, the European Parliament plenary debated the challenges and scenarios, here related in Finnish.

The EPP Group greeted the discussion paper, and the S&D, ALDE and Green groups called for a more robust and democratic EU, but here I am going to highlight just one exchange, which illustrates the obstacles to real reform.

Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats, was disappointed that the Commission’s White Paper did not clearly indicate the fifth option of doing more together, now that the EU faces unprecedented external and internal challenges and European families are struggling to make ends meet.

Pittella continued:

There is so much left to do. Our House needs a strong Social Pillar to protect our citizens. And it needs European fiscal capacity. We must complete the European monetary union and build a sustainable Europe capable of fighting climate change and creating jobs and growth. We must combat tax fraud, and the project of a common European army is now more important than ever. We have to defend our inclusiveness without leaving aside the eastern countries. We can only achieve this if we stay united as Europeans. President Juncker, I call on you and on your Commission to take on your responsibility. You are the guardians of the Treaties, the guardians of the common European good and our common European future at this time. We ask you to show leadership and urge the Council to take on their historic duty.

In a couple of weeks, we will celebrate the anniversary of the Rome Treaties. Only some years after a terrible world war in Europe, political leaders had the courage to commit to European unity and explained to their citizens why we Europeans are stronger together. After decades in which Europe has brought us peace and prosperity, is it really too much to ask of this generation of leaders to commit to Europe and make it stronger for the future? Let us not give up. Let us show political leadership in the fight together for a Europe that is better and stronger, so that our children and their children will have a good future.

Summing up the debate, president Jean-Claude Juncker defended the choice of a discussion paper. With regard to the Socialist Group, he asked them:

…two weeks hence, while identifying those who are for the option 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, to bring him the group opinion on the issue. Do not forget to speak with the socialist prime ministers, above all do not forget to do this. You are not prime ministers, which is unfortunate for your countries, but they are and they think the opposite of what you are saying.  

White Paper

The Commission’s invitation to discuss consists of one main document and two short annexes, the first containing a timetable for the debate and the second one a graphic compilation of all five scenarios (none of them designed to be quite readable):

White Paper on the future of Europe: Reflections and scenarios for the EU27 by 2025; Brussels, 1.3.2017 COM(2017) 2025 final (18 pages)
ANNEX to the White Paper on the future of Europe; Brussels, 1.3.2017 COM(2017) 2025 final ANNEX 1

ANNEX to the White Paper on the future of Europe; Brussels, 1.3.2017 COM(2017) 2025 final ANNEX 2

Next debate

Two weeks later, as Juncker said, tomorrow on Wednesday morning 15 March 2017, the European Parliament has a new opportunity to discuss the actions of the European Council and the upcoming Rome declaration with the re-appointed EUCO president Donald Tusk, the Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, Malta’s deputy prime minister Louis Grech and Italy’s prime minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Even if completely ignored by the EU27 heads of state or government, the European Parliament comes prepared, most recently through the plenary debate on the White Paper, as well as three recent initiatives showing a lot more spunk, and aiming at a more effective and democratic European Union:

European Parliament resolution of 16 February 2017 on improving the functioning of the European Union building on the potential of the Lisbon Treaty P8_TA-PROV(2017)0049 (Bresso and Brok report)

European Parliament resolution of 16 February 2017 on possible evolutions of and adjustments to the current institutional set-up of the European Union P8_TA-PROV(2017)0048 (Verhofstadt report)

European Parliament resolution of 16 February 2017 on budgetary capacity for the euro area P8_TA-PROV(2017)0050 (Böge and Berès report)

Tune in for any signs to end the era of stagnation from the EU27.

Ralf Grahn