Book chapter

The Single European Act (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

The Single European Act (SEA) of 1986 was the first major reform of the founding treaties of the three original European Communities, the forerunners of the European Union (EU). The main purpose of the SEA was to facilitate implementation of the Single Market Program by the end of 1992, notably by making it possible for national governments to enact the necessary legislation in the Council of Ministers by means of qualified-majority voting (QMV). To complement the shift of decision-making from unanimity to QMV, the SEA also increased the legislative authority of the European Parliament by introducing the cooperation procedure. This was intended to help close the EC's perceived democratic deficit, or at least to prevent it from widening. The SEA included changes in other policy areas as well as the single market, such as cohesion policy, environmental policy, research and technology policy, and intergovernmental cooperation on foreign policy (European Political Cooperation). The SEA, and the Single Market Program with which it is closely associated, became synonymous with the acceleration of European integration in the late 1980s. Procedurally and substantively, the SEA set a precedent for other, far-reaching treaty reforms, especially the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. Jacques Delors, who became commission president in 1985, is widely credited with having engineered the SEA. The leaders of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom may have played a more important role, especially as the SEA emerged out of a complicated intergovernmental conference, which culminated in a meeting of the European Council in December 1985. From the perspective of more than three decades later, with the EU facing serious setbacks, the SEA looks like a shining light in the history of European integration.