What you might need to know

This lesson focuses on the Single Market and the Customs Union, two concepts you might have touched upon already or maybe not.

It starts with a map of the EU with countries of different colours depending on when they joined the EU, if they’re candidate countries or part of the European Free Trade Area. The European Free Trade Area is made up of four countries: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. They all participate in the Single Market, which means they pay into the EU budget but they have no seat at the decision table. They are not members of the Customs Union though which allows them to strike bilateral trade deals and not let the EU make those deals like it is the case for full members of the EU like Ireland.

In any case, the map allows children to see how information can be mapped out without words.

The Customs Union is a mechanism whereby all countries come together to form a trading block. All the goods inside the Customs Union are sold without any tariff. So an Irish harp sold in Berlin cannot see a tariff be applied because it is sold inside the Customs Union. This tariff can be applied if it is sold in the USA if the USA decides too.

Countries in the Customs Union believe they are stronger together. The compromise is that they share the sovereignty (power) to make decisions with all the other countries on trade deals. It is the EU which negotiates trade deals and which decides on the Common External Tariff for goods coming into the EU. Trump decided in 2018 to increase the tariff (tax) by 20% on washing machines coming from outside the USA to be sold on the American market. The idea is to protect the American washing machine makers. The EU does exactly the same but in the case of the EU, individual countries like Ireland or France cannot decide to set a tariff. It has to be decided by the EU together.

The Single Market means that the European Union is one territory without internal borders or other obstacles linked to regulation. It is essential to understand that the Single Market functions on the basis of four freedoms of movement: freedom of movement of people, goods, services (like jobs) and capital. Ultimately, over the years, the EU has been quite flexible with members who didn’t want to do certain things like Denmark and the UK deciding that they didn’t want the Euro. They could opt out. However when the UK said it didn’t want to implement the freedom of movement of people, accommodating the UK became impossible. Because those freedoms of movement are the very DNA of the EU. Without them, we don’t have the European Union anymore.

The Single Market means that beyond tariffs between each country being abolished, regulation on standards or ways of making things has become increasingly similar. For example, if you look at any bulb package or soft toy or puzzle, you will see the label CE which is the French acronym for European Conformity. It means that those items all meet the EU standard of safety, even if they’re made in China.

At the same time, it doesn’t mean that special know-how should be made uniform across the EU. The EU has put in place a special labelling which acknowledges regions producing food in a very specific way which makes this food very special. The lesson includes a game on this and another where children will have to juggle between the Single Market and the Customs Union to answer the questions.