Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the conference 'Working together to strengthen the Single Market for EU businesses and consumers' in Amsterdam

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Single Market is a bit like summer: it has many fans and few detractors. And that makes sense, because the Single Market is like the sun on the skin of the European economy. It provides positive energy. It provides growth and renewal. In fact, we can't get enough of it. We've just heard the same thing from the European business leaders onstage today. And if you'll allow me to sum up your message: a deeper, better Single Market will benefit everyone, so we urgently need to step up the pace. Well, let me tell you, I couldn't agree more. And the Dutch EU Presidency is committed to making it happen.

The Single Market was a hit from the start. Next year it will be 25 years since the EU introduced free movement of people and goods. Thanks in part to business leaders like you, and to the European Round Table of Industrialists, who were the voice of business in Europe even back in the early 1980s.

One of the Single Market's earliest fans was Margaret Thatcher. In the late eighties, she said this:

  • 'Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers -visible or invisible - giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world's wealthiest and most prosperous people.
  • Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep. […]
  • It's not a dream. It's not a vision. It's not some bureaucrat's plan. It's for real. […]'

Lady Thatcher was right. The Single Market - now a market of 500 million consumers - has given the citizens and businesses of Europe a great deal in the past quarter-century. I see it as the biggest achievement of European cooperation since the Treaty of Rome. The Single Market is the engine block of European cooperation. Not only in the sense of driving our material prosperity, but also of holding together a Union of 28 member states, old and new.

And that engine would be so much more powerful if we could tap its full potential. According to the European Parliament's research, the EU is missing out on more than a trillion euros a year - mainly in the market for services, and in the digital market. The figures add up to roughly twice the size of the Dutch economy. That's almost the size of the Spanish economy. Which means millions of jobs. And considering Europe's unemployment figures right now, it's an opportunity we simply can't afford to miss.

So we need to push forward as hard as possible and as fast as possible. We need to move the Single Market up a gear. And I believe that this conference - this call to action - has come at exactly the right time.

In recent months, the EU agenda has been dominated by migration and terrorism. That's understandable, and those issues will certainly be in the headlines for a while longer. But we would be foolish to let our most acute challenges make us lose sight of the chronic problems we face. Because, in fact, the need to create growth and jobs is just as urgent and just as critical. Europe is emerging from the deepest economic crisis since the Second World War. We are seeing cautious economic growth. Yet still one out of every five young people is out of work. And that's unacceptable.

As you know, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission have all expressed ambitions and announced plans and measures to bolster the Single Market. In their respective capacities they've all made the same case, and I've no doubt that the main topics have already been covered today. It's about finding ways to combat red tape and restrictive rules. For example by introducing a services passport and the Single Digital Gateway and by simplifying VAT declarations. It's about promoting an accessible labour market and fair working conditions. It's about investing in the real economy. And it's about giving consumers secure and easy access to paid digital content and online stores abroad. There's actually wide consensus on these and other aspects of the Single Market agenda. And as we've heard from the business leaders here today, removing all unnecessary barriers would make a world of difference.

The Single Market will be high on the agenda at the European Council at the end of June. In the run-up to that meeting the Commission has again called on governments to take political decisions that are 'urgently needed to strengthen and accelerate the necessary reforms'. I fully endorse that plea. But I believe something extra is needed: a self-imposed commitment.

After all, we already have plenty of plans and good intentions. What we need now is an implementation agenda that compels action and generates momentum. And for that we need commitment at the highest level. The June European Council is a good moment for us to agree on two things. First, that all measures currently under review will be adopted no later than the end of 2018, together with timeframes and implementation plans. And second, that the European Council will take stock of the progress every June, on a leader-to-leader basis and in all openness.

I say we should prove Margaret Thatcher right about the importance of the Single Market. It's not a dream. It's not a vision. It's not some bureaucrat's plan. It's for real. So let's make it happen.

Thank you.