The major political project that launched the European Single Market in 1992 celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It encompassed 287 actions agreed by 12 governments. At that time, goods were still stopped at internal frontiers and 300 pieces of information were collected for each shipment!

Since then, the EU has grown to 27 members, and the Single Market has continued to evolve. The goal is to achieve an economic area in which goods, services, people and capital can move freely. Much has been done in all 4 areas. The Single Market adds 2.13% or £187 billion to the GDP of the 27 EU Member States, £400 for every person in the EU and 2.77 million new jobs have been created.

In any large and complex organisation, even when there is a common aim, getting there is never easy. In advancing European policies, major steps take much political negotiation. The biggest recent advance has been the opening of the services market in 2006, after 3 years of tough arguments!

But the rewards are worth fighting for. Exploiting the Single Market will make a major contribution to economic recovery and job creation. This is why the European Parliament and all EU Prime Ministers, with David Cameron as a strong advocate, have committed to a new political programme, the Single Market Act, the first since 1992. The projects in its first and second phase should address many outstanding barriers and restrictions, and be delivered by the end of 2013.

Projects in the Act focus on the full implementation and enforcement of Single Market rules, especially for Services and Consumer Rights; cutting red tape that is still strangling goods and services, especially for small enterprises and speedy agreement on public procurement reforms, with new tools to encourage public buyers to buy from innovative companies.

Exploiting the internet, and the impact of the Single Market in cutting broadband and mobile data costs has huge potential for cross border business. The creation of a digital single market could add more than £700 billion a year to the EU economy, equivalent to £3800 for each household. There are clear commitments to bring the Single Market into the digital age, including reforms to cross border payments, data protection, electronic signatures and intellectual property. More still needs to be done here. There is likely to be a 3rd phase of work pushing digital frontiers still further.

But the Single Market must work for all consumers and citizens. It is not just for enterprises! The Single Market Act programme includes measures to ensure safer products, improved rights for consumers, especially when making package travel bookings online, enhanced monitoring of the retail sector, and simplified procedures for registering cars in other Member States. It is important for consumers to be able to exert their rights by promoting the use of model contracts for cross-border purchases.

But the Single Market cannot be inward looking – it’s about imports and exports outside the EU as well as cross-border movement of goods and services. There will be better risk management systems, product testing and enhanced market surveillance, particularly for products imported from outside the EU, especially from China.

A fully functioning Single Market provides a strong foundation for other key policies to make the European Union a globally competitive and highly innovative region. We must encourage companies to take advantage of a very large, easily accessible market by investing in research and development. The impact of the new Horizon 2020 research programme will be multiplied by an open market environment. Researchers must be able to move freely and exchange ideas across the European Research Area.

The Single Market has opened up enormous opportunities to study, play and work abroad. However, as it hits its 20th anniversary we still have much to do to unlock its full potential. We need to embrace the Single Market as the greatest driver the EU has to deliver much-needed jobs and economic growth. Working together is vital. It’s time to be single-minded about the Single Market.

Malcolm Harbour is a West Midlands Conservative MEP, Chairman of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee and Birmingham Science City Board Member

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