As the S&D Group shadow rapporteur on the own-initiative report on non-tariff and non-tax barriers, my priority was to fight not only for a consumer, worker, and business-friendly internal market where unjustified barriers are removed but also to make sure that economic freedoms do not take precedence over fundamental rights.
The European Parliament has previously addressed the issue of non-tariff barriers, and has made recommendations to tackle them in a resolution approved in 2016. However, the focus of the current report is broader as it also concerns non-tax barriers, and also adopts a more progressive approach than the previous document.
My political group strongly supported the identification of unjustified barriers to cross-border activities. These included inadequate implementation and enforcement of EU law, restrictive national regulations, geoblocking, territorial supply constraints, red tape and gold plating.
“It is self-evident that upholding the rule of law strengthens the integrity of the single market and that rules must always be applied in a justified, proportionate and non-discriminatory manner”
All of these may have negative consequences at EU and national levels, depriving citizens of jobs, consumers of choices and entrepreneurs of opportunities. At the same time, we have not lost sight of the fact that Member States have the right to regulate and pursue legitimate public policy objectives such as environmental protection, consumer and employment rights, as well as food safety.
While we all know that it can be challenging to strike the right balance between the national legitimate goals, we equally had to ensure that, for example, the well-functioning Single Market does not undermine legitimate consumer protection goals. I believe that the current report manages to achieve this.
As members of the S&D Group, we also found it crucial to clarify that economic freedoms cannot prevail over, or undermine, fundamental rights, including social, labour and trade union rights. Furthermore, we managed to insert clear references to the Paris Agreement and the European Pillar of Social Rights.
As a progressive political group, it is self-evident that upholding the rule of law strengthens the integrity of the single market and that rules must always be applied in a justified, proportionate and non-discriminatory manner.
We also did not shy away from explicitly referring to specific cases. One S&D amendment stated that we agree with the assessment of the European Commission that several provisions of the Hungarian Law of 15 June 2021 on ‘Taking more severe action against paedophile offenders and amending certain Acts for the protection of children’ were at risk of violating several provisions of EU law.
For us, it was of utmost importance that the report expressly states that any form of state-sponsored discrimination, such as against people with disabilities or discrimination based on economic position, nationality, age, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, profession, sex or sexual orientation (including LGBTIQ-phobia) must be avoided.
As a result of another S&D amendment, the Committee rightly highlighted that such provisions must be viewed as non-tariff barriers, as they prevent consumers from benefitting from the achievements of the single market and prevent both manufacturers and service providers from delivering the same goods and services equally to all EU customers.