History of the Single Market and European Immigration

A key aspect to Brexit negotiations will be a trade-off between access to the Single Market and free movement of people both have been a key aspect of the Community. However, the origins of both freedom of movement and the single market are greatly interlinked.

The Single Market which allows free movement of goods, capital and services was an objective the Community worked towards throughout the 1980s. This was spurred on through the President of the European Commission Jacques Delors. Delors felt that economies of Europe were struggling which had led to a stagnated period in the European Union, this was a period known as ‘Eurosclerosis’ which Delors wanted to breakaway from. He had thus made it his goal to begin the completion of the Single Market, which would be an immense task as it needed the approval of all member states.

Britain too played a significant role in the process as Lord Cockfield who was appointed as a European Commissioner in 1985 to assist in completing the Single Market. He did this initially through a White Paper entitled ‘Completing the Internal Market’ which was published June 1985. It contained almost 300 legislative proposals that would eliminate physical, technical and fiscal barriers. This eventually culminated in the signing of the Single European Act (SEA), which removed many barriers in 1986. It also set a date for the completion of the Single Market for 1992. Aside from this the SEA changed the manner of voting in the Council of Ministers it meant unanimous decision making was replaced with qualified majority voting – a major moment for the Community as matters under majority voting code be resolved quicker than before.

Thatcher had herself readily agreed to the Single European Act, seeing the economics benefits of the free market, but would later comment that it was a grieve mistake signing the SEA.  In the time period from 1986-92, Delors wanted to remove borders across Europe, which would allow the free movement of people. Delors and other member states were keen to see a single currency achieved by 1992. This was vehemently opposed by Thatcher and Britain as a whole. Regarding borders Thatcher also opposed Delors as she believed Britain should be able to manage its own borders. In stark contrast to the present day immigration was not an area of large concern from 1979-92, with net migration in 1990 actually being reduced compared to 1979. Thatcher left the area of immigration untouched, however, did fear immigration seeing it as a threat to British identity. British identity historically being a key factor in British decision making.

In 1992 negotiations had begun in Maastricht regarding these matters. Britain at this time was led by John Major, who managed to secure opt-outs of certain aspects of the treaty. This meant Britain did not have to join the single market, unless Westminster felt the need to at a later date. Nevertheless in 1992 the Maastricht Treaty was signed which introduced free movement of people – and in 1997 through the Treaty of Amsterdam the Community gained legislative responsibility over immigration.

Maastricht was a large moment for the Community, as it changed the dynamics of the European Union from an economic orientated organisation to a politically driven one of committed member states. This was a key aspect of the community which remains prevalent to this day which is that deeper integration is provided as a means to ease economic difficulties. Maastricht however, did provide stricter financial regulations. This is very important as the Cold War had just ended and this was a method to deter a mass of applications form newly formed Eastern European nations.