Plan to bolster single market enforcement

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Series Details Vol.2, No.44, 28.11.96, p1
Publication Date 28/11/1996
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Date: 28/11/1996

By Tim Jones

EIGHT months after negotiations to revise the Maastricht Treaty began, member states are preparing to come forward with proposals to beef up the European Commission's powers to police the single market.

Negotiators at the Intergovernmental Conference have so far steered clear of suggesting measures to boost the Commission's ability to enforce laws agreed in the Council of Ministers but flouted by member states.

But Internal Market Commissioner Mario Monti now detects a change in their approach.

"Several member states are now considering ways of improving the enforcement of the single market," he said in an interview with European Voice this week.

"It would be very interesting to see a challenge which would test the loyalty of member states to the single market. If a country were to propose actual improvements to the enforcement process, I believe that could not be criticised."

In recommendations tabled before the IGC began, the Commission urged member states to speed up and strengthen its powers to act against infringements of the single market.

Monti has become more and more frustrated by snail-like progress towards the implementation, transposition and enforcement of internal market legislation.

Recent figures showed that only just over half of the directives signed up to by EU governments have been transposed into national law in every member state and in some areas - such as insurance and the market for public contracts - an internal market exists only on paper.

But Monti's powers to cajole or punish recalcitrant member states do not compare with those of his competition colleague Karel van Miert. "There are obvious assymetries between the Commission's enforcement powers in the fields of competition and state aid on one hand and in the field of the single market on the other," he said.

"While some people say that it is easier in the competition field because the counterparts to the Commission are enterprises and not member states, they should remember that in the case of state aid, it is a combination of enterprise and member state, yet there are strong enforcement powers."

Although the Santer Commission has significantly increased the use of infringement proceedings against member states for breaking single market rules, Monti argues this is not enough.

Once the formal notice of proceedings is published, it must be followed by a 'reasoned opinion' from the Commission and, eventually, the bringing of a case at the European Court of Justice.

"Even then, we are running ex post after a potential breach of the single market has taken place whereas, in the field of competition and state aid, prior notifications are required so it is possible for the Commission to intervene before the breaches of the rules take place," said Monti.

He believes this problem could be addressed by changing the rules to identify certain categories of measures in key areas of the single market which would have to be notified to the Commission and other governments by member states.

"We must look ahead," said Monti. "Once we have a single market with a single currency, but with only a limited number of member states in it from the beginning, and we extend the market to new countries, then it will be a wider and inherently more diverse creature than it is now.

"Keeping it solid and united against fragmentation may well require stronger enforcement instruments than are needed in a simpler single market."

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