Innovation & Competitiveness: 30 Years of the Single Market

Author: Carla Donohoe. Editor: Elizabeth Moody

Dublin October 2023: The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and European Movement Ireland hosted an in-person event, 'Innovation & Competitiveness: 30 Years of the Single Market'


Matthias Barner, Director, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung UK & Ireland opened the event with a brief address which highlighted the importance of a strong, innovative Single Market for the future of Europe and the benefits of the Single Market over the last 30 years. It is estimated that on average, the GDP of each Member State is 9% higher as a result of the Single Market. In times of crisis, the Single Market serves as a unique instrument to addressing shared challenges and strengthens Europe’s position with the largest democratic market in the world.

The keynote address from Commissioner Mairead McGuinness highlighted that while it is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate 30 years of the Single Market, the work is not yet done, particularly regarding the free movement of capital and services.

For Europeans, the Single Market is the everyday things such as a removal of customs checks or the lack of need for a visa when travelling within the EU. Without even noticing, the Single Market removes trade barriers and reduces costs. In recent times, the Covid-19 vaccine process was a clear example of the benefits of Single Market membership. During the pandemic, the EU manufactured 3.3 billion doses, 2.2 billion of which were exported. In addition, Brexit has highlighted in recent years the challenges that come with exiting the Single Market.

Despite the benefits, there are some key areas for improvement. For example, banking whilst abroad should not be affected by country specific IBAN’s, and overall greater effort needs to be given to the development of a strong banking Union. The EU also currently exists as 27 c Capital Markets Unions, none of which are fully developed or fully integrated. In addition, there are continuing challenges for service providers, and sending someone abroad to provide temporary services for companies can come with administrative difficulties and red tape. Moreover, discussions regarding development are often approached with a ‘cross-border’ mindset, rather than a Single Market approach.

In her conclusion, Commissioner McGuinness welcomed the event as an opportunity to discuss the smaller changes, as well as the larger ones necessary for the continued development of the Single Market over the next 30 years.

After the Commissioner’s address, Noelle O Connell, CEO, European Movement Ireland welcomed and introduced the members of the panel. She encouraged audience members to have questions for the panel members as part of the discussion. Each panel member was directed an opening question to start the discussion.

Leo Clancy, CEO, Enterprise Ireland discussed some of the ways in which Enterprise Ireland has had to adapt since Brexit.  On the Single Market, he commented on how it helps greatly with the ease of doing business, and in terms of innovation there are tangible benefits such as ‘having friends across Europe’ and the human element which is often forgotten when it comes to trade.  These human connections allow for knowledge transfer and increased innovation. Going forward, harnessing the synergies and creating connections between companies across Europe is essential.

Dr. Frances Ruane, Chair National Competitiveness & Productivity Council highlighted that despite the progress made, there are many challenges to entering the European market, owing to the fact that the EU remains 27 individual markets with varying consumer needs. In the case of Ireland, it was difficult in 1993 to fully realise the effect the Single Market would have on the Irish economy and growth. For example, the Single Market allowed for an all-island approach to economics in Ireland. With this addressed, it allowed greater space for co-operation and innovation. The big issue going forward for Ireland, is to ensure that the competitiveness remains and removing the Irish barriers which hinder Irish companies’ ability to sell abroad.

Simon Dauber, President of the German-Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce pointed to the success of Ireland in connecting with Europe after Brexit, and the strength of Irish/German relations in terms of exports, and strong diplomatic ties. The role of Ireland has developed within the EU, and going forward there are fantastic opportunities for Ireland to export green energy and Germany to import it.

The conversation re-directed to energy transition, with Commissioner McGuinness pointing to the necessity for Ireland and the EU to invest quickly and heavily in renewable energies. The importance of a strong public dialogue on what that means was also referenced.

Following the opening discussion points, Noelle O Connell open the discussion up to the floor for audience questions:

First question raised was on the topic of competitiveness and the risk of protectionist policies from some of the larger EU economies. The panellists cited the importance that Europe does not over-react to developments such as the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act. Additionally, State Aid such as grants can be very useful for innovation but must form a transparent system that does not lead to protectionist actions. The role of open strategic autonomy was highlighted by Commissioner McGuinness.

The panel also discussed the importance of fostering a European innovation culture which prioritises European values and stability and is not overly influenced by American start-up culture. On this, panellists disagreed in terms of how the capital market should be viewed, but there was agreement that Europe needs to invest more in innovators and start-ups, so they remain in Europe as they begin to scale-up.

On the earlier topic energy transition, the Irish/German bilateral relations on energy and electricity were further discussed. Ireland has huge opportunity for developing its wind power sector in the coming years and reducing European reliance on non-renewable forms of energy.

Finally, the panel was asked to speak on the Digital Euro and whether it will be difficult to garner public support for such a project considering the volatility of crypto currencies. Here the Commissioner outlined the intention to protect cash as an accepted form of payment and outlined that the Digital Euro is a medium-long term goal, rather than a key priority for the upcoming elections. It will be critical to provide the public with information regarding the difference between Digital Euro and contactless payments such as ApplePay.

Noelle O Connell closed the event by thanking the panel for their insights and thoughts throughout the event, Matthias Barner and Katie O’ Connor at KAS, the staff at European Movement Ireland for their help that day and the audience for joining in for the event.




Katie O'Connor