Speech by Henk Kamp, Minister of Economic Affairs, High-Level Stakeholder Conference on the Single Market, Amsterdam, 13 June 2016

Ladies and gentlemen,

The youngest generation cannot remember a time when there were actual border posts between Belgium and the Netherlands, between Germany and Poland or Spain and Portugal. Open borders is what the single market has brought us, since it was launched in 1992.  

Ever since the treaty of Rome in 1957, connection and collaboration have given us growth, peace and progress. But now, Europe is facing strong headwinds. The financial crisis, the attacks on Paris and Brussels, the unprecedented influx of migrants, and the threat of a Brexit. These events are testing our commitment to the path we have been following for seven decades. I have no doubt that Europe will persevere. This does, however, require us to further intensify our economic co-operation. And a single market is key to this.

This single market has already brought us a lot, but it is not perfect. Cross-border services only represent 5 percent of GDP, less than a third of trade in goods.  Although services represent 75 percent of the EU economy, intra-EU trade in services is only 20 percent of total trade. In 2015, 16 percent of consumers purchased online from another EU country, while 47 percent did so domestically.  Numerous restrictions prevent the development of cross-border on-line sales. Over the years, I have heard many examples, from all industries and all member states, of unnecessary and outdated obstacles and regulatory barriers. I even experienced it myself recently at a ministerial meeting. We wanted to serve 3D-printed biscuits but couldn’t, because no certification for 3D-printed food exists!

Around twenty years after removing the physical barriers between member states, the time has come to remove the virtual ones and all other obstacles as well. This will be tremendously valuable. Unifying the EU’s digital markets and markets for goods, services and capital could generate upwards of €1 trillion per year.  This is why the single market is a priority of the Netherlands Presidency of the European Council and why we organised this conference. And it is why we have worked hard to put the single market at the very top of Europe’s political agenda during our Presidency.

Specifically, we have pursued three goals: 

-           One, to improve the implementation and enforcement of existing single market rules across Europe;

-           Two, to accelerate national reforms which remove barriers to buying, selling, and accessing goods and services across member states; and

-           Three, to make new EU rules that harmonise regulations across member states in areas with the greatest economic impact.

Much of this work has focused on the three main strategies currently on the table: the Single Market Strategy, the Digital Single Market Strategy, and the Capital Markets Union. We have used our Presidency to provide the Commission with political guidance early on in the policy development process.

For example, we have focused on accelerating the delivery of the Single Market Strategy, in particular in the field of services. Businesses tell me how they struggle with the many and widely differing rules for providing services across Europe. Forced to adjust their business model per country, they slow down their expansion or simply give up. We cannot allow this in a Europe that needs to grow and compete, which is why we are seeking to introduce a services passport. This would make it easier for, say, architects and accountants to offer their services across Europe.  

We are also trying to get rid of unnecessary red tape, for example, by accelerating the implementation of country-specific recommendations in fields as diverse as taxation, infrastructure investment, and public procurement. And we are strengthening existing tools such as Solvit, which assists businesses and consumers if public authorities breach their rights.

I am also proud of the progress that we have made on the digital single market. E-commerce alone is an area of incredible untapped potential, considering only 16% of consumers buy online from another EU country compared to 47% domestically.  This is why a personal highlight of the Netherlands Presidency was when competitiveness and telecoms ministers agreed last month on how we could realise the Digital Single Market Strategy.

This meeting was very fruitful. We determined joint goals and decided on actions that will enable consumers to access their online content services across all member states. We also agreed on priority policy areas for accelerating the digital transformation of industry. This includes the modernisation of public services, getting the right infrastructure in place, and standardisation.

The fruits of these discussions is apparent. Take standards, for example. Standards are not only important in digital services, they are key to the growth and competitiveness of Europe. Businesses have been telling us that standards can ensure the quality and interoperability of products and services, and encourage innovation and collaboration.

That is why I am pleased that just an hour ago, the European Commission and around 50 other parties signed the Joint Initiative on Standardisation. This initiative unites Europe’s key players behind a joint vision and aligns their work through actions that will prioritise, accelerate, and streamline the delivery of standards. I am proud to have signed on behalf of the Netherlands.

And finally, the Netherlands Presidency has been keen to support SMEs, start-ups, and innovative businesses. Why? Because these businesses are the backbone of Europe. They are a valuable source of economic growth and a key generator of jobs. In the Netherlands, for example, 42% of jobs come from companies set up in the last five years. 

We need to help these businesses grow, in part by tackling whatever prevents them from realising their vision. This includes limited access to finance. Venture capital in Europe represents only 1% of SME financing compared to over 8% in the US.  And mid-sized companies receive five times more funding from capital markets in the US than they do in the EU.  To remedy this, we are seeking to create a Capital Markets Union. By opening up to a wider range of funding sources, we aim to mobilise capital and investments in Europe and channel them to the real economy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Europe has made great progress on the single market since its launch. However, many obstacles remain. To finish what we have started, we must realise a single market in services, goods, digital, and capital.

I am proud of what the Netherlands Presidency has contributed to that goal. Our work has helped shape the design of the various single market strategies and initiatives that will impact Europe for decades to come. It has helped open up Europe for business and laid the foundations for a competitive, innovative, and thriving economy. 

This great progress would not have been possible without the support and the expertise of all of you. The fact is, policymakers cannot do it alone. So I am grateful that so many of you have come here today to tell us about the obstacles you face and the opportunities you see. And that you have been willing to provide a reality check on Europe’s single market policies. All of this makes today’s conference a vital milestone on the collaborative path to a stronger, more competitive, and more prosperous Europe.

Thank you.