Single European Act and the Four Freedoms

The Single European Act in 1985 aimed to create a single European market based on the four freedoms: free movement of goods, services, people and capital. Much of this was accomplished by the target date of 1992, with the abolition of customs controls at borders and the recognition of common product standards. However, the single market in services, such as energy and digital products, has not yet been completed. Different national policies present obstacles to this. The free movement of EU citizens to live and work in other member states was guaranteed from 1995 by the Schengen agreement. The UK and Ireland negotiated opt-outs from the Schengen area, while a further four states (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus) are expected to join in due course. Some states have introduced temporary restrictions on internal movement within the EU in response to the 2015 migrant crisis. This saw more than one million refugees arriving in EU states bordering the Mediterranean as they sought to escape conflict in parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Tensions arose between states that were willing to accept asylum seekers, and those that feared that their infrastructure could not cope with the rising numbers. 2020 some EU states introduced restriction on the movement of people in response to the Covid 19 pandemic.

In Britain and some other countries the issue of free movement has become controversial, particularly from poorer Eastern European nations. In a 2014 referendum, Switzerland voted for controls on migration, which, if imposed, could mean the nation loses access to the single market.

According to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, there are just over 3 million non-British EU citizens living in the UK – up by about 2 million since 2004 when the first Eastern European countries joined the EU.Around 1.3 million Britons are living in other EU countries.

While EU migrants are net contributors to the public finances of their destination countries, some politicians argue that the right to free movement encourages “welfare tourism” and puts pressure on public services, making it more difficult for local people to find work. While in reality it is very difficult for EU migrants to access welfare in the first five years in the UK - it is still ans issue people believe exists.

What would Brexit mean for the Four Freedoms?