It was 20 years ago today

Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission and architect of the Single European Act (source European Commission)

The Single European Act was signed in Luxembourg on 17 February 2006. Who would have thought then what kind of European Union would lead to? The EU now has 25 members: back then, there were only 12. Those members include 8 countries that were then subject to Communist rule. Some of us pro-Europeans might have dreamed of such a development, but now it is reality.

Many of the things we now take for granted in daily life have only become possible because of the single market. The wide and growing range of foodstuffs in our shops, mobile phone roaming, budget airlines. Anyone who has ever flown Ryanair or Easyjet has the Single European Act to thank.

And what was it that made it possible to create the single market? A strong Commission, majority voting in the Council, and an increased role for the European Parliament. The success of the market cannot be distinguished from the success of the institutions. That was true then, it is true now, and it will be true in the future. To see why, think about the price of gas.

Gas prices are rising because of a range of factors including rising demand for commodities of all kinds in the emerging economies of south and east Asia and concern about the environmental implications of burning fossil fuels. Which of these was foreseeable 20 years ago?

There is also an attempt by Russia to exert influence over its neighbours, which was very familiar back then.

The way we can deal with these problems is by acting together through the European Union. A report published by Ofgem suggests that tough action on competition could bring UK gas bills down by up to £3 billion a year. That turns out to be the same as we pay to the European Union budget. Effective enforcement of competition policy could see the EU pay for itself, even before we look at the other benefits. We could also negotiate collectively with the Russians to get the best deal on gas, rather than each member state try to bargain on its own.

However, we can only get these benefits if the institutions are able to act effectively. If the Eurosceptics had their way, the EU system would be weakened and unable to act.

The lesson is clear: only if we can act together within an effective European Union can we get the results we need.

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