TCS Daily

Single Minded

By Christian D. de Fouloy - February 6, 2003 12:00 AM

Considering that ten new countries are going to join the EU in 2004, implementation of the 'acquis communautaire', the EU body of law, is of paramount importance for a well-functioning single market and a high-level playing field for all member states.
There are 31 chapters of the 'acquis' and it is important to note that in the negotiation process, the closing of a chapter only signifies that the EU and the candidate countries have reached an agreement to the terms of their implementation. It does not mean that that the candidate countries have already implemented the requirement.

What must be remembered is that implementation of the 'acquis' does not only involve the adoption of legislation. Candidate countries must also demonstrate an adequate level of administrative capacity in the relevant areas. In some areas such as improvement of the environment, or the liberalization of energy or telecommunications sectors, the European Commission will monitor candidate country implementation for many years after accession.

But how well has the EU done this for current member states in the ten-year history of the Single Market?

The Commission provides a regular Internal market Scoreboard. This shows a deficit in terms of the percentage of EU internal market laws currently in force that member states have not yet passed into national law - even though the deadlines agreed by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers have passed.
Over the last 10 years, the EU's average implementation deficit has fallen from 21.4% in 1992 to 2.1%.

At the Barcelona summit in March 2002 EU leaders set a target of having an implementation deficit of 1.5% or less by spring 2003. So far only 5 member states (Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands and the UK) now meet this target.
Three countries (France, Greece, Portugal) have implementation deficits more than double the Barcelona target. As of October 2002, France 3.8%, Greece 3.3% and Portugal 3.1%.

Given the volume of legislation that will come on stream in the next six months, some member states will need to act swiftly if they are to meet the target of 1.5% implementation deficit by spring 2003.

The Barcelona summit also set a 'zero balance' target for spring 2003 for directives whose implementation is two years or more overdue. Being this late may be a symptom of serious political difficulties of reluctance to implement the laws member states themselves approved in the Council. Finland is the only member state that has achieved the target with Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark coming close. Four member states (France, Germany, Luxembourg, Greece) will need to implement 10 or more 'old directives' to meet it.

How can the EU credibly call for action, for example, to unleash the potential of biotechnology when more than two years after the agreed deadline, nine member states have still not implemented the measures under the 1998 Biotechnology Directive aimed at encouraging investment and research and development in this sector?

More work is needed to complete the internal market in other ways. For example, the number of breaches of EU law remains stubbornly high with over 1,500 infringement cases currently open against member states. France and Italy continue to have the highest number of cases pending against them, together accounting for nearly 30 percent of all cases, and other countries have seen their numbers go up. What is more, over half of all cases take more than two years to be resolved.

What these results demonstrate is that building an internal market without frontiers is a continuous, long-term process - not a one-off event. There are still loopholes to plug and barriers to be dismantled. But it is clear that member states need to meet the targets they have set themselves for implementing correctly into national law the directives they have themselves agreed to.

If they don't, it's Europe's economy and all of its citizens that pay the price of delays.

Christian D. de Fouloy is an international business consultant based in Brussels. He is the author of The European Information Society Who's Who and the forthcoming Enlargement and The Influence Process. He is also chairman of the Belgium chapter of Republicans Abroad.

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