In Europe, the single market is celebrating its 30th anniversary, between satisfaction and disillusion

“Hours and hours of waiting in the back of the car. » When he thinks of Europe before the end of borders, Marco Nocivelli first remembers the patience he had to arm himself with to move from one member country to another, as between France and Europe. ‘Italy. “Some vehicles were searched, you had to show your papers, always provide some margin. And it was even worse for the products we make: different certifications were required by each capital, a lot of paperwork”recalls the CEO of Epta, an Italian specialist in commercial refrigeration equipment.

Created by his father in the 1960s, this family business is now established in most European countries. But, for a few months, our English site has had all the difficulty in the world to export because of the return of the borders linked to Brexit. This reminds us somewhat brutally how the single market, from which the United Kingdom emerged, has simplified our daily lives. »

Thirty years ago, in January 1993, the free movement of goods, services, people and capital was established between the Member States of the European Union (EU). Objective: to further strengthen the integration of their economies, which began in 1951, at the end of the Second World War, with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community.

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“For three decades, the single market has been the foundation of the EU”, welcomed Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, on 3 January. The internal market commissioner, the Frenchman Thierry Breton, defines his creation as a “electroshock”. “He gave Europe the means to finally shape its political and economic destiny”, he said in Prague, in early December 2022.

Many experts are more nuanced. Following the example of Cinzia Alcidi, from the Center for European Political Studies, a think tank in Brussels: “The establishment of the single market has had enormous benefits, but it has not brought all the good. “It has also caused disappointments and remains fragmented in certain areas, such as digital or capital”recognizes André Sapir, economist at the Brussels think tank Bruegel.

“Harmonization of standards”

On the benefits side, the end of borders and non-tariff barriers – such as the mutual recognition of standards – has made trade more fluid and enabled large companies, which were the first to benefit from them, to reap economies of scale.

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