The European Single Market came into effect on the 1st of January 1993. It consists of the 28 current European Union members along with Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland. The aim of the single market is to allow the free movement of goods and labour between the territories. The Single Market has been credited with widespread economic growth throughout the EU and the other four countries.
How the Single Market works
In order to work efficiently, all states must work together. To do this, there is no internal border between any members of the single market and all citizens can travel to work or study in any of the other countries. Goods are permitted to be transported between countries without the same customs checks as goods coming from outside the Single Market would face. This means that there is complete agreement between states and completely frictionless travel which helps strengthen the position of the single market.
Goods and services in the single market
All businesses are granted complete freedom to do business in other single market countries, the same goes for the consumers who wish to purchase goods in other countries outside their own without incurring additional tariffs. According to the European Commission website, the single market accounts for up to 500 million consumers and 21 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It also accounts for 70% of all economic activity within the EU. This would point towards the single market being a massive success and helping all member states to prosper.
In June of 2016, the United Kingdom decided in a historic referendum to leave the European Union. There are doubts about what this could mean for their participation in the single market. Many hardcore Brexiteers support a ‘hard-Brexit’ which would involve leaving the single market. If this does happen, the United Kingdom will be the first country to leave the European Single Market after joining. It is unclear what this would mean but it would create difficulty with countries, such as Ireland, that rely on the UK for a large portion of trade.
Perhaps the biggest difficulty with the UK leaving the single market is what will happen to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Many have suggested that Northern Ireland, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, could receive special status and stay in the single market to avoid a hard-border. This suggestion has been met with disapproval from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who favour a hard-Brexit. Many hope a solution can be found soon to dispel all uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the future of the UK within the single market.
Digital Single Market
The European Commission hopes to introduce a new aspect into the Single Market; the Digital Single Market. The aim of the Digital Single Market is to improve access to digital goods and services, in a similar way the physical single market does. The European Commission hopes that improve access to cross-border e-commerce and making the process of buying goods from another EU country a lot simpler and faster. To implement this the Commision wants to create the right environment by providing high-speed, secure and trustworthy infrastructures and supports for digital networks.