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General policy framework

The single market is all about bringing down barriers and simplifying existing rules to enable everyone in the EU – individuals, consumers and businesses – to make the most of the opportunities offered to them by having direct access to 28 countries and 503 million people.

The cornerstones of the single market are often said to be the “four freedoms” – the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. These freedoms are enshrined in the EC Treaty and form the basis of the single market framework. But what do they mean in practice for everyone in the EU?

  • Individuals: the right to live, work, study or retire in another EU country
  • Consumers: increased competition leading to lower prices, a wider choice of things to buy and higher levels of protection
  • Businesses: much easier and cheaper to do business across borders

If you would like to know more about how the single market came about, then please see our historical overview.

The single market is also enabled by additional laws (“Directives”) that bring down further barriers in specific areas and are implemented at national level by Member States themselves.

Of course, it is vital that Member States adopt these laws both on time and correctly. If they do not, then everyone loses out. Please see monitoring and reporting for more information on how we ensure that Member States do what they have agreed to do.

The single market is not merely inward-looking – virtually all single market policies have to some extent an international aspect. Read more in external dimension about how we represent and promote single market principles worldwide.

Yet, despite its achievements so far, the single market is not complete. Read more in completing the single market about what still has to be done.