Which has more of a “single market,” the United States or the European Union, and why? Most scholars and policy-makers will expect easy answers. Surely interstate exchange faces fewer regulatory barriers in the fluid American arena than between European countries. We argue that this common wisdom profoundly mischaracterizes both polities. The US never attempted to complete a project remotely like Europe’s SMP. Europeans have now removed or mitigated a lengthening list of barriers that Americans retain. Across the “four freedoms” of goods, services, persons and capital, today’s EU unambiguously claims and actively exercises more authority to require interstate openness than the US has ever considered. Existing explanations that privilege economic flows, institutional path dependence, or cultural attitudes struggle with these actual outcomes. Our explanation highlights contingent connections that political movements in each arena forged between ideas about markets and governance, channeling the 20th-century “return to markets” into contrasting varieties of neoliberalism.
Matthias Matthijs is Associate Professor of International Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and Senior Fellow for Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, DC. Since May 2019, he also serves as the chair of the Executive Committee of the European Union Studies Association (EUSA). He is the author of Ideas and Economic Crises in Britain (2012) and co-editor (with Mark Blyth) of The Future of the Euro (2015). He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in the fields of comparative and international political economy, on the politics of economic ideas, and on European integration. He is currently working on a book-length project that delves into the fall and rise of national elite consensus around European integration.