Saturday, August 18, 2007

Single Market Review.... where are the real barriers to Europe....?

In the next months, the European Commission will publish its Single Market Review. It will be a stock taking high-level assessment and announcement of plans, undoubtedly seeking to charm the citizens into Europe by taking easy one-liners and ideas. The FD reports some of the top issues (conveniently leaked by the commission):
- energy prices,
- prices for mobile phoning,
- pricing of bank services.

It is one thing to devote all this attention to price levels and the conception that by regulation those should be harmonised. But it would be another thing to acknowledge the real root cause of insufficient competition in Europe: uneven, nationally inspired implementation of Directives in combination with national supervisors that interpret their competencies in a domestic manner rather than with the European spirit and legislation in mind. This same commission knows this, as they ordered some academics to writethis contribution to the Single Market. Which contains amongst many others the observation:
The adoption and transposition into domestic law of EU Directives is a necessary but insufficient condition for the well-functioning of the Internal Market. Although the SMP and successive Internal Market strategies have been aimed at creating a level playing field by providing a set of rules to be applied across the Community territory, some provisions have lacked clarity and precision. The result is divergent, occasionally even conflicting interpretations by different Member States, which often result in the distortion of competition. Problems resulting from an uneven application and weak enforcement of EU regulation have been highlighted by many respondents of a recent public consultation carried out by the Commission on the future Single Market policy.

Suppose you have a house with a number of rooms and one central heating system and knobs on the individual radiators in the room. And you note that the temperature in the rooms is different, whereas you would prefer it to be equal in all rooms. Would it be smarter to adopt another extra regulation to align these temperatures, or would it be more intelligent to order the government officials in the individual rooms to back off from the radiator knobs and let the central heating do its work?

I hope the Single Market Review comes up with a structural suggestion other than the 'better regulation' mantra, to solve that problem. Because national sentiments and rules and interpretations of domestic regulators are at the heart of the non-existence of a real Single Market.