"The Single Market is our best protection in times of crisis" - Interview
M. Barnier talks about the need to relaunch the Single Market, the implementation of the Services Directive, the financial regulatory package and the European patent. Eurochambres News.
1. What are in your opinion the main elements for fostering a renewed and refreshed relationship between the Single Market and businesses/citizens/consumers?
I believe the Single Market is our best protection in times of crisis, but citizens and businesses don't always see all its tangible benefits. I believe that financial regulation, for example, improves the daily lives of European citizens. I am thinking in particular of the conclusion of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) project and the Packaged Retail Investment Products (PRIPS) initiative. These are both measures that will simplify the daily lives of citizens and businesses and bring them the transparency and security they expect from Europe.
But we need more than financial services. Our internal market is full of untapped potential. We need to break down the remaining barriers. That's why I want to launch "the single market act" later this year - a series of concrete measures to kick-start sustainable growth.
2. How will you ensure that all EU member states fully and properly comply with the provisions of the Services Directive, the implementation of which was due to be completed by late December 2009? Will you consider an extension of the Directive's scope in the coming years in the framework of its review clause?
The implementation of the Services Directive is key to economic growth as the services sector represents more than two thirds of our economy and we expect the benefits of implementing the Directive in all Member States to be between 60-140 billions euros which would represent 1.5% GDP!
I am fully aware that the implementation is a complex process - especially as this is such a wide-ranging directive. That is why we are now closely working with Member States to make the transposition of the Directive into national law a success. To give you an example, only last week, I travelled to Sweden to discuss the implementation with the authorities there. It is a good way for me to be in touch with all actors involved and get a good grasp on how progress is made on the ground. And an opportunity to learn from each other. Once the Directive is fully transposed in all Member States, it would certainly be useful to evaluate the Directive's net effects for the economy. That will allow us to decide on next steps.
3. How can you ensure that the financial regulatory package adequately takes into account business needs, particularly SMEs, and creates a framework in which the financial system facilitates the sustainability and growth of the real economy?
I am very much aware of how difficult it can be for SMEs, especially now, to access the finance they need in order to prosper. When the Commission makes proposals, it must properly evaluate the impact of its proposals - both costs and benefits - for business and the wider economy. I fully support this approach, and you can expect all proposals in my area to undergo the rigorous assessment they deserve.
I firmly believe that capital markets must remain attractive to SMEs. One improvement could be to ensure that listing requirements are proportionate to the size of the issuers - without undermining investor protection. This might help SMEs access finance on the markets.
Accounting requirements are another area that makes a real difference to SMEs on a daily basis. In my first couple of weeks as Commissioner, the European Parliament voted in favour of changes which I believe will really make things easier for small businesses, by making their accounting standards simpler.
4. Your services are working on a solution for simplifying the requirement for the multi translation of patents. Are you confident that, once this issue is solved, a new European Patent system will be realised?
This is an area where rapid progress is needed. It costs ten times more in Europe than in the US to protect your ideas. This is not an incentive for European businesses to innovate! Innovation is a key driver of growth. So lack of agreement has an impact on our economic growth and on the recovery of the whole European economy.
One key element of the European patent is the issue of translations. I will make a proposal at the end of June and I hope we come to an agreement with the European Parliament and the Member States to solve this issue as soon as possible.
5. Considerable efforts are devoted to modernising company law for listed companies, yet projects related to SMEs such as the European Private Company Statute (SPE) are considered by many to be a lower priority, especially in times of crisis. Do you share this opinion?
The European Commission proposed the Statute for a European Private Company (SPE) in order to help SMEs to reap the benefits of the Single Market. The European Parliament supported the adoption of an SPE Statute but unfortunately a compromise could not be reached amongst Member States last December. In particular, Member States could not agree on some aspects of the text, in particular on employee participation, the seat of the SPE and the applicable minimum capital requirement. The Commission, and I, still attach great importance to this project. SMEs did not cause the crisis but suffer from its consequences. So helping them to do business in the Single Market should continue to be a priority.