The European Union is undoubtedly sailing troubled waters with people increasingly casting a critical eye on politicians' navigational skills, yet it is telling that no government has considered abandoning ship. With the current crisis, it is easy to forget how successful the EU has been in creating wealth and jobs for its member states. That is why countries have always been keen to join and why, even now, several are in the waiting room.
The crowning achievement has no doubt been the single market, the EU's common area where goods, services and people from all 27 member states can circulate freely. Far from an abstract, bureaucratic project, the single market has noticeably improved the every day lives of Europeans It has been credited with creating 2.8 million new jobs, improving European companies' competitiveness dramatically and providing consumers with lower prices and a wider choice. Its 20th anniversary will be celebrated from 15-20 October.
The 20th anniversary is not only a celebration, but also an occasion to discuss how the single market could be improved further, as it is far from completed. Take professional qualifications, for example. Only seven out of 800 regulated professions have theirs automatically recognised in another member state. There are also issues with cumbersome social security procedures, discriminatory employment practices, tax barriers for cross-border workers and employers and various obstacles to discourage companies from taking part in tenders in other member states.
Parliament is only too aware of these problems and wants to help to make things better. MEPs support the idea of a European professional card as a way of improving the mobility of qualified labour. They also call for the reinforcement of mobility programmes for young people and for the Your Europe portal to be turned into a digital one-stop shop to provide info on the single market. MEPs also want member states to transpose single market laws correctly and in a timely manner, to modernise public administration and encourage the use of electronic tools. They will invite the Commission to come up with concrete plans to solve the single market's remaining problems.
It is important to note that the EU has been able to develop not despite crises, but because of them. Its predecessor, the European Coal and Steel Community, was launched to prevent the chaos and devastation of World War II from happening ever again, while the single market was set up in response to the economic lethargy of the 1980s. It is too early to tell where the current crisis will lead the EU, but it is sure to act as an incubator for drastic change. Already member states are discussing options that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, like banking union and a financial transaction tax. Perhaps one day this period will be looked back on as the start of something as momentous as the single market.