Socialist Worker

The single market is a tool for the bosses

Issue No. 2533

Bosses use the European single market to help themselves

Bosses use the European single market to help themselves (Pic: Tim Sanders)


Ordinary people are told that it is in their interests to support the European Single Market. In reality the single market was designed to nurture and protect giant corporations.

Single market rules instruct member states to run market economies with free competition.

The single market opens up all industries for privatisation and rules out nationalisation.

And it cuts costs for the bosses by allowing them to operate more freely across different countries.

It is built on “four freedoms” for the bosses—to move goods, services, workers and capital.

Anything judged to obstruct those freedoms can be taken to the European Court of Justice.

Regulations on food, drink and advertising have been overturned by firms eager to expand.

Construction workers in Sweden struck in 2007 after a Latvian firm refused to sign their collective agreement—meaning it could pay Latvian workers less.

The union was fined for breaching its freedom to provide services.

Bosses running a ship between Finland and Estonia similarly used the court against union resistance. They were moving from a Finnish to an Estonian flag to use weaker labour regulations.

The one positive aspect of the single market is the one its defenders are prepared to sacrifice—the free movement of labour.

This allows nationals from one European Union (EU) country to live and work in another.

But it is full of loopholes that allow governments to deny some EU migrants benefits and public services. And it brutally represses immigration from outside the EU.

The single market sought to do on a bigger scale what nation states did to help capitalism

Creating a single market was a defining goal of European integration.

It would do on a bigger scale what nation states had done to help capitalism grow. A nation state with uniform laws, taxes and infrastructure meant capitalists faced few barriers in exploiting any opportunity they saw to make profit. This could be combined with restrictions on foreign competitors.

The state ruled to make market forces sovereign. But by the Cold War, competition between national markets in Europe paled before their common rivalry with other power blocs.

Demolishing the protectionist tariffs and regulations that each state used to promote its own capitalists was a big gamble for Europe’s rulers.

It took until 1993 to successfully launch the single market Its rules are still unevenly applied by governments with one eye on their national markets and nationalist politics.

Its principles mirror the TTIP, TPP and Ceta trade deals. These have rightly attracted opposition because they are bids to entrench corporate power.

The single market is seen as more progressive partly because of then-European Commission president Jacques Delors’ promise of a “social Europe” in the 1980s.

That promise was hollow.

And backing the single market reflects a deep pessimism that we can’t fight for anything better.

Some in the ruling class oppose the EU and the single market because of divisions over what’s best for the bosses.

But after eight years of economic crisis, rulers across Europe agree that to restore their profitability they must attack workers’ living standards.

They cling to their single market because it is one of their weapons. Workers must take every opportunity to disarm them.


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.