The EU single market

In the EU’s single market – sometimes called the internal market – people, goods, services and money can move around freely. Mutual recognition guarantees that any product lawfully sold in one EU country can be sold in all others. EU citizens can study, live, shop, work and retire in any EU country – and enjoy products from all over Europe.


EU businesses benefit from

  • a 'home market' of over 450 million consumers for their products
  • easier access to a wide range of suppliers
  • lower unit costs
  • greater commercial opportunities

EU citizens benefit from

  • lower prices
  • more innovation and faster technological development
  • higher standards of safety and environmental protection


Legislation on the single market for goods aims to ensure that products placed on the EU market meet high health, safety and environmental requirements and that products allowed to be sold in the EU can circulate without barriers to trade, keeping the administrative burden to a minimum.

Key elements

The internal market for goods has the following key elements

  • safety – products marketed in the EU have to meet high safety and environmental requirements
  • standards – standards define technical or quality requirements for products, production processes, services or test methods. Standardisation is a tool for industry to ensure performance, safety and the interoperability of products. More about European standardisation
  • conformity assessment – a conformity assessment procedure must be carried out before a product can be placed on the EU market. A manufacturer can only place a product on the EU market if it meets all the applicable requirements. More about the conformity assessment procedure
  • accreditation – accreditation is the last level of public control in the European conformity assessment system. It is designed to ensure that conformity assessment bodies have the technical capacity to perform their duties. More about accreditation.
  • notified bodies – a notified body is an organisation designated by an EU country to assess the conformity of certain products before they are placed on the market. More about notified bodies
  • market surveillance – market surveillance ensures that non-food products on the EU market do not endanger Europe’s consumers and workforce, and that other public interests – such as environmental protection, security and fairness in trade – are protected. More about market surveillance
  • ICSMS – the Information and Communication System on Market Surveillance (ICSMS) is an IT platform to facilitate communication between market surveillance bodies in the EU and EFTA countries. More about ICSMS.
  • CE marking – the CE mark signifies that a product sold in the EU meets all applicable safety, health and environmental protection requirements. More about CE marking
  • legal metrology – the application of legal requirements to measurements and measuring instruments. The EU’s legislation on legal metrology is one of the pillars of the single market for products. EU requirements aim to promote technological innovation, protect health and the environment, ensure public safety, and promote fair trade. More about legal metrology
  • external borders – EU countries check products that come from outside the EU’s territory.
  • new legislative framework – to improve the internal market for goods and strengthen the conditions for placing a wide range of products on the EU market, a new legislative framework was adopted in 2008. More about the new legislative framework.

Free movement

Many products on the EU market are subject to harmonised rules that protect consumers, public health and the environment. Harmonised rules preclude the adoption of possibly divergent national rules and ensure the free circulation of products within the EU. However, some sectors are still governed by national provisions. The principle of free movement of goods ensures that these provisions do not create unjustified barriers to trade. 

Harmonised sectors

Harmonised sectors are subject to common rules across the EU. They provide a clear and predictable legal framework for businesses. If manufacturers follow these rules, their products can be sold freely in the market

  • in the majority of sectors (e.g. electronic and electric equipment, machinery, lifts and medical devices), EU legislation is limited to essential health, safety and environmental protection requirements - to demonstrate compliance with these requirements, manufacturers may voluntarily use standards or other technical specifications.
  • In other sectors (e.g. automotive and chemicals), legislation provides detailed requirements obliging certain types of product to have the same technical specifications
  • EU harmonisation legislation that provides for the free movement of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment is managed by the Directorate-General for Environment

Non-harmonised sectors

Non-harmonised sectors are not subject to common EU rules and may be covered by national rules. These sectors should still benefit from Treaty provisions governing free movement of goods according to Arts. 34-36 TFEU. National rules on these products are subject to a notification procedure that ensures they do not create undue barriers to trade.

To ensure the free movement of goods in non-harmonised sectors, the principal of mutual recognition, the 2015/1535 notification procedure and the application of Arts. 34-36 TFEU are essential.

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