Politics & Economics

The EEA and the Single Market, a future together is possible

May 2024
By Editorial Staff

The European Economic Area (EEA) agreement marked its 30th anniversary today, an alliance with a long path ahead to a future full of possibilities within the Single Market. Or, at least, this was the gist of the keynote speech made by Enrico Letta during the “30 years of the European Economic Area: A Unique Partnership Fit for the Future” conference hosted in Brussels by the Belgian Presidency of the EU Council.

In fact, in Letta’s view, the EEA EFTA countries represented today by their Foreign Affairs Ministers – Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein – are the “best advertising for the Single Market within the EU countries”, for they joined the economic area without being part of the Union. Countries that wanted to be together in the past must stick together even more to address today’s problems and lead toward a better future, navigating in a world full of complexities and putting different expertise, competencies, and ideas on the table.

According to Letta, this isn’t possible without discussing the future of the Single Market, still stuck in the past dimension which saw its insurgence, by Jacques Delors’s hands. “When Delors started thinking about the idea of the Single Market in 1985 – Letta recounted — we still had the Soviet Union, there still was a separated Germany, and China and India together made 4% of the world GDP”. Today, the main challenges come from Russia’s threats, and from China exerting its commercial power over the EU. Delors’s anticipated Fifth Freedom of the Single Market (alongside goods, capitals, services, and persons) is key to finding a solution, as Letta already said in past presentations of his Single Market Report. But today he doubled down on his claims: “We need a Vice-President for the Fifth Freedom in the next European Commission, with a strong focus on Innovation and Research”, he said, addressing the public.

There’s even more: as he explained in his recipe on the Single Market renewal, we need to take into consideration the “leftovers” of the original idea. Telecom, energy, and financial services were the first “yes, but” of Jacques Delors’s first endeavor, something in which the Member States said, “These are our business, not yours”. And 30 years ago, this could even work, because “the dimension of the world was different: the biggest European countries were competitive enough by themselves, within a national dimension”. Today, without a European dimension, this is not sustainable anymore on a competitive level. Furthermore, the focus on financial services becomes central when the problem of how to finance the three transitions – green, digital, and just – arises. And for this, said Letta, “we need public and private money together, not competing against each other”.

Ultimately, Letta called for unity, in the wake of change in the Berlaymont. “After five years in which we had to react to repeated crises, now we need to act, with long-term ideas and plans. We are a great family, and looking into the future, we can see that it’s a positive one, where Europe will find a way to find a solution to today’s concerns”.