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Single European Act

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The Single European Act (SEA) was the first major attempt made by member states to amend the arrangements made in the Treaty of Rome (1957).  Although the European Economic Community, which would eventually become the EU, had been in operation for nearly thirty years, it had not achieved its aim of establishing a genuine common market as many regulatory barriers remained. The SEA’s main purpose was to set the deadline for the creation of a full single market by 1992.

It also led to further integration within the EU by making it possible to pass more laws without unanimous consent, by strengthening the EU Parliament and by laying the basis for a common European foreign policy.

By the mid-1980s the European Economic Community had 12 member states: France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Greece, Spain and Portugal.  The community was having problems effectively introducing changes and working toward further integration. The need for unanimous consensus on decisions in most areas made it difficult to move forward, particularly with the creation of a single market, as not all members could reach agreement.

In 1984 Jaques Delors was appointed as the President of the European Commission. Under his leadership the European Union underwent significant change.

In response to a request from Delors on how to move forward with the single market project, the British Commissioner, Arthur Cockfield, produced a report of recommendations so that it could be brought into being. These led to the signing of the Single European Act in February 1986, which became effective in July 1987.

What did the Single European Act do?
The SEA introduced changes that would allow the EU to reach the target of a full single market by 1992. It had a significant impact in reducing the power of individual nation states and increased the power of the EU institutions.

The changes made it easier for laws to be passed by the Council of Ministers by increasing the number of areas covered by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). Measures designed to establish the single market, other than those relating to taxation, employment rights and freedom of movement, would now be decided by QMV. This meant that in a number of new areas, especially those relating to the single market, no individual country could veto changes.

The SEA also sought to improve democracy by strengthening the power of the European Parliament. It gave the parliament the power to veto the admission of new member states and increased the parliament’s ability to examine and suggest amendments for new laws in areas where QMV is used by the Council of Ministers. The SEA also officially included the procedure through which European parliamentary committees could modify laws in the legislative process. The Council could still overrule parliament with a unanimous vote.

The SEA included an article to ensure member states work to create a common European foreign policy. It also introduced changes that would increase the EU’s involvement in policy surrounding science, technology and the environment.