Within the framework of the EU Green Deal, the Single Market is slowly turning into a tool to fight the climate crisis. In recent years, more and more legislation with regard to a circular economy has become law, enabling the green transition. But we have to do more. We have to fundamentally rethink our narrative of the Single Market, its role in the world and its way of delivering for the people.
Twelve years ago, former EU Commissioner Mario Monti presented his new strategy on the Single Market. In the context of the financial crisis, he stated that there was dwindling political and social support for market integration in Europe. Citizens regarded the internal market with suspicion, unease and sometimes even hostility. To promote further integration, he suggested creating a digital Single Market and unlocking the potential of green growth. Now, more than a decade later, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Single Market. Again, we are facing multiple crises that demand taking a closer look at where we stand. Undoubtedly, policy makers have been busy working on completing the Single Market, creating a digital single market with landmark legislation, such as the Digital Services and the Digital Markets Acts, and updating consumer protection for the digitized world.
Compared to Monti’s report, however, I would argue that our green analysis has always been much sharper: for us, there has never been a doubt that the climate crisis is fuelling other crises. Our linear economy’s dependency on raw material imports is the root cause for supply shortages; it exceeds the planetary boundaries and resources, and it leaves European citizens and businesses extraordinarily vulnerable. For Greens, the answer to these overlapping crises has always been to speed up the green transition towards a fully circular economy. I would argue that the current crises have the potential to mainstream this debate but, to my mind, based on a much more positive conception of the Single Market than in 2010. So let us think about how to turn the Single Market into a life jacket for businesses and consumers – specifically, by transforming it. We have to move on from market creation and market completion to embeddedness, and to integrate ecological, social and digital goals into the internal market.
Within the framework of the EU Green Deal, the Single Market is slowly turning into a tool to fight the climate crisis. In recent years, more and more legislation with regard to a circular economy has become law, enabling the green transition. But I believe we have to do more. We have to fundamentally rethink our narrative of the Single Market, its role in the world and its way of delivering for the people. If we sketch a common vision of a single market, one that is sustainable, digital and fair, we have a clear direction in which to push in the upcoming years, although a number of questions need to be addressed. What legislation is needed to manage the transition to a fully circular economy based on digitization? How do we uphold and further develop our consumer protection standards? And what role does the Single Market play in a changing global context?
I am very happy to see the European Commission, the European Parliament and the EU Council organize events, expert roundtables and public exchanges on these very questions. With this article, I want to contribute to the ongoing discussion on the future of the Single Market out of a particular Green perspective'. Therefore, I would like to highlight a few points that seem very important to me to structure this debate.
First, we need to take a fresh look at the Single Market. Too often, our political exchanges have ended quickly due to a focus on removing barriers to the freedom of movement, services and goods in order to complete the Single Market. From a progressive standpoint, this discussion is not leading anywhere. Instead, it serves conservative and neoliberal political actors to argue in favour of further deregulation that limits the right of national and local authorities to regulate for climate, environmental or social objectives. Internal market rules should never limit the capacity to act at regional and local levels, for example regarding social housing or sustainable procurement. There is no doubt that the internal market still suffers from some bureaucratic hurdles that prevent frictionless cross-border business, like specific forms to fill in or a lack of points of contact for businesses. Therefore, I would argue that we should clearly and concretely define what we want to improve in order to shape a policy that truly supports businesses and workers in the transition and that protects consumers, the climate and the planet. For me, this also requires that we measure the internal market’s successes and achievements beyond GDP, beyond price and beyond numbers, by looking at its social and environmental impacts, as well as the quality of life it is able to deliver.
Second, cooperation in the Single Market has always been the engine at the core of European integration. And with every crisis, it has evolved. I believe the Single Market can compensate for the strengths and weaknesses of Member States by enhancing cooperation, and by enabling citizens to live, work and love across borders. Especially at a time of such global insecurity, we must further develop the internal market in terms of its governance, crisis preparedness and reaction capabilities so that everyone benefits from it. I would also like to invite us all to reflect on the Single Market in the context of the ongoing debates on the future of Europe, on treaty change and on citizen participation. This opens a window to balance social aspects with the market’s predominance. This can also contribute to the European project as a whole, where short-sighted national egoism has no opportunity to thrive.
Third, there is one overarching goal to me: a transition to a circular economy as fast as possible, as we have no time to waste given the climate crisis. The green transition is ultimately a question of survival that other Single Market policy objectives have to support. For me, digitization needs to serve the green transition and has itself to be based on high sustainability standards. Furthermore, consumption and consumer protection have to be understood as protecting the consumer in a circular economy, where products and services are rented, used, shared and reused – not bought, used and thrown away. For this, we need not more information for already overburdened consumers but rules that make the choice of consumers automatically the most sustainable one.
Lastly, in order to make the transition work, enforcement is key. Currently, the best rules are useless when there is an absence of enforcement due to a lack of resources and cooperation. But European businesses deserve a level playing field, with our high standards applied to imports. This includes, in my opinion, the completion of the Customs Union. Moreover, businesses deserve legal security, so that they can depend on decision makers to support them on their journey towards green business models. In turn, they will profit from European standards that will become a global yardstick. We need to be aware of the global implications of our Single Market policy and make use of it. The Single Market’s high social and environmental standards, as well as those standards relating to the digital sphere, are spilling over and expanding across the world. We have to use this power more, integrating it into our trade policy and cooperating further with like-minded partners around the world, so as to be able to prove that our green model of economy is competitive.