Business Elites and the European Single Market

While scholarship on the origins of the European Union has focused on the agency of nation states and the agreements made between them, there is considerable evidence that private sector actors – namely large multinational corporations – drove the stalled integration process forward in the late 1970s and 1980s and shaped the region’s single common market. Some work has been done to consider the influence of organized business interest groups in Brussels, but archival documents and interviews with European Commissioners reveal that business elites, not interest groups, made the greatest impact on regional policymaking.

This paper analyzes the convergence of interests between European Commissioners and European business elites in this period. It builds on previous scholarship on the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) and studies the processes by which corporate executives from a variety of elite industry groups like the European Automobile Manufacturers Association and the Association for the Monetary Union of Europe not only helped to ‘set the agenda’ for the completion of the single market, but also urged the Commission to allow their firms to set the regional standards that would eliminate non-tariff barriers to trade.

After examining the submission and implementation of policy proposals by business elites to the Commission, this paper reflects on the degree to which corporate interests successfully shaped the common market and did so to their own advantage.