The establishment of the EU single market 30 years ago brought huge steps forward in removing barriers to goods, services, labour and capital. This transformed the economic opportunities for small, open economies such as Ireland in European cooperation to trade, attract investment and foster a skilled workforce. It also transformed the EU into one of the most powerful trade blocs in the world and helped establish the EU as a global economic player, with much strengthened negotiating power.

Despite these undeniable achievements, the single market remains a work in progress. The 30-year anniversary comes at a time of great geopolitical challenges. This provides an opportunity for the EU and its member states to reinforce the single market as a key source of economic strength in support of the EU’s long-term competitiveness, prosperity and role on the global stage.

  • The single market for goods is well developed. To unlock further potential at 30 years, the EU needs to focus on removing remaining barriers, enforcing existing rules and creating a regulatory environment that drives innovation. This can be enacted through a commitment to effective governance, greater harmonisation and enhanced resilience.
  • Much remains to be done in the area of services where the single market has its greatest future potential. The focus should be on completing the single market for services with a concentration on digital, and data in particular. An open approach to technological sovereignty, an emphasis on greater regulatory cooperation, and a commitment to effectively collaborating with business in forming new regulation and standards can all play a critical role.
  • Likewise, the single market for capital has much potential to be fulfilled. To succeed, we need dynamic and competitive capital markets in the EU and internationally. State Aid Rules should be carefully designed along with robust and increased fiscal capacity to support the green and digital transitions. A true Capital Markets Union (CMU) is needed to provide greater access to business finance across the EU.
  • The EU, member states and businesses need to work together to tackle skills gaps and shortages in the single market for labour. The focus should be on investment in tailored education and training and policies that attract talent while simultaneously removing barriers to internal labour mobility. The EU must respect member state competencies, focusing on where it can best make an impact.
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