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The Single European Act



Single European Act


  • The Single European Act (SEA) sought to revise the Treaties of Rome setting up the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community.
  • This was in order to add new momentum to European integration and to complete the internal market (an area with no internal borders and in which there is free movement of goods, persons, services and capital) by 1 January 1993.
  • The SEA amended the rules governing the operation of the European institutions and expanded the powers of the then European Community in a number of policy areas.
  • By creating new Community competencies and reforming the institutions, the SEA opened the way to further political integration and economic and monetary union that would be enshrined in the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht Treaty).



  • The inter-governmental negotiations which culminated in the SEA had a dual mandate to conclude:


  • The SEA consists of a preamble and 4 titles and includes a series of declarations adopted by the conference.
  • The preamble states the fundamental goals of the treaty and expresses the signatories’ determination to transform their relations as a whole with a view to creating a European Union. The preamble also establishes the unique character of the act, which brings together the common rules as regards cooperation in the field of foreign policy and the European Communities. Lastly, it focuses on the two objectives of revising the treaties, i.e. ‘to improve the economic and social situation by extending common policies and pursuing new objectives’ and ‘to ensure a smoother functioning of the Communities’.
    • Title I contains rules common to political cooperation and the European Community.
    • Title II is devoted to amendments of the treaties establishing the European Communities.
    • Title III concerns European cooperation in the field of foreign policy.
    • Title IV concerns general and final rules.

Institutional changes

  • To enable the creation of the single market by 1993, the SEA introduced an increased number of cases where the Council could take decisions by a qualified majority rather than by unanimity. This simplified decision-making and meant that the frequent delays inherent to the search for a unanimous agreement among the then 12 member countries could be avoided. Unanimity would no longer be required for laws designed to establish the single market, with the exception of measures concerning taxation, the free movement of persons and the rights and interests of employed persons.
  • The SEA established the European Council, which formalised the conferences or summits of the Heads of State or Government, although the competencies of this body were not specified until later in Article 15 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU).
  • Parliament’s powers were enhanced by including the requirement for its assent when concluding enlargement and association agreements. The SEA introduced the cooperation procedure, which strengthened the Parliament’s position in interinstitutional dialogue and gave it the possibility of two readings of draft laws proposed under a limited number of legal bases — thus paving the way towards Parliament’s future role as co-legislator with the Council.
  • The SEA clarified certain rules concerning implementing powers. Article 10 enabled the Council, as a general rule, to give the Commission implementing powers for the rules which the Council laid down. The Council could only reserve the right to exercise directly implementing powers in specific cases. The SEA also created the foundations for the Court of First Instance (CFI) — now the General Court.

Policy areas

  • Under the SEA, qualified majority voting became the new norm in four of the existing areas covered by the treaties:
  • The SEA introduced several new policy areas in which decisions would be taken by qualified majority. These included:


The SEA applied on 1 July 1987.


The history of the European Union — 1980-1989 (Europa).


Single European Act (OJ L 169, 29.6.1987, pp. 1-28 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT))


Completing the Internal Market — White Paper from the Commission to the European Council (Milan, 28-29 June 1985) (COM(85) 310 final, 14.6.1985)

last update 04.04.2018