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Europe still fails to make enough of its size — here’s how to fix that

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Europe still fails to make enough of its size — here’s how to fix that

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“Economic giant, political dwarf” — the epithet so often used about Japan and Germany — has been used about the EU, too. Many of its leaders nowadays see their challenge as finding the political influence to match the bloc’s economic heft.

But even in economic terms, the EU still punches below its weight. That, in essence, is the warning issued last week by two former Italian prime ministers: Enrico Letta, who presented his report on the single market, and Mario Draghi, who in a speech gave the first hints of his forthcoming report on European competitiveness.

Both underline that the EU’s economic institutions were built for a different world, with less international interdependence and fewer geopolitical threats. The forms of integration adopted in the 1980s and 1990s are no longer sufficient — and can even turn into a brake on growth.

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Europe still fails to make enough of its size. As Letta notes, some sectors were left out of the single market for political reasons; others — services and data especially — neglected because they were a less important part of cross-border trade than they have since become.

As a result, some of today’s most vital sectors remain in effect national, hopelessly small when rivals enjoy the continent-sized markets of the US and China. Letta and Draghi zoom in on defence, telecoms and energy infrastructure as sectors that need to become truly European markets. Many other industries are not as “single” as all that. And all sectors suffer from the lack of a seamless banking and capital market.

What to do? One of Letta’s punchiest proposals is for a “28th regime” in corporate law — an EU-level business code European companies could opt in to that would make it easier to scale up and attract investors from the whole EU (and beyond), without navigating 27 sets of rules on everything from licensing to creditor rights. This could be the rare policy that offers profound change while sidestepping the political thicket of harmonising national rules. A well-designed, minimally bureaucratic EU business code could be a game-changer for the ability of small businesses and start-ups to expand fast.

Other ideas include a “fifth freedom” (on top of those for people, goods, services and capital) for education, innovation and research to facilitate, for example, data processing at a European scale — with strong consumer protection. Letta also wants a much more integrated European health sector.

Beyond specific policies, there is the politics. To fulfil the single market’s potential, there is no way around more EU-level governance. Letta recommends a greater use of regulations (which are identical for all, unlike directives, which member states implement as they see fit) and stronger EU regulators. He rightly wants more effective enforcement of single market rules.

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It is also unavoidable to manage more public spending jointly — through joint procurement, harmonised subsidy systems or more common debt for common public goods. Equally important is to harness private capital. Letta takes aim at an EU sacred cow — its structural trade surplus — by lamenting “the annual diversion of around €300bn of European families’ savings . . . primarily to the American economy”. His solution is a “savings and investment union” where households can easily invest in promising EU companies.

Politicians must be prepared for consolidation in sensitive industries, from telecoms (where Draghi counts at least 34 operators against the US and China’s handful) to finance, rail transport and utilities. Caution is required here not to throw out the baby of Europe’s level playing field with the bathwater of fragmentation. Europe could no doubt have fewer telecoms operators, but each consumer in every country must have a genuine choice of supplier.

All this is politically demanding, and leaders last week shrank from the challenge. But a key message from Letta is the need to see two things as flip sides of the same coin: on the one hand, the deepening of the single market, and on the other, the strategic goals of Europe’s green and digital transformation and securing the bloc from dependence on geopolitical adversaries. Doubling down on economic integration is a prerequisite for achieving anything else.

That connection is too rarely made. Single market deepening risks death by boredom — a technical matter with little political reward. There is no popular clamour for it and plenty of special interests keen to preserve narrow advantages.

But the same was true of the original single market programme. It took all the political efforts of leaders as strong and as different as Jacques Delors and Margaret Thatcher to make it a reality. The leaders who listened to Letta last week must prove they can do the same.

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martin.sandbu@ft.com

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Idaho Democratic Caucus Results

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Idaho Democratic Caucus Results
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Key moments ahead in the UK election campaign

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Key moments ahead in the UK election campaign

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Rishi Sunak’s decision to call a general election on July 4 has set in train a series of political and constitutional events unforeseen 48 hours ago.

With an election now six weeks away, these are the some of the key moments in Britain’s new political calendar.

What does the election mean for parliament?

The prime minister’s decision to hold a July 4 poll has led to a frenetic clearing of the legislative decks before parliament is officially “prorogued” — or suspended — on Friday.

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The surprise calling of a summer election has forced Sunak to hurriedly drop key bills including measures to crack down on smoking by young people and create a new football regulator for England.

Parliament will be officially dissolved on May 30, at which point all seats fall vacant. Some MPs resent the fact that they have had little time to say their farewells to colleagues.

After the election, parliament will meet on July 9, when the first business will be the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons and the swearing-in of new MPs. The State Opening will take place on July 17.

When will the manifestos appear?

Labour says its manifesto, or programme for government, is ready but it has yet to set a publication date. According to party insiders it will be “a reasonably slim document”. Sunak claims Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition party, has “no plan” for the country. 

The Labour manifesto has been pulled together by Rav Athwal, a former academic and Treasury official, but under tight political control from Pat McFadden, the party’s campaign co-ordinator, and campaign chief Morgan McSweeney.

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Party insiders say McFadden and McSweeney have “bomb-proofed” the manifesto to avoid it exploding in the course of a six-week campaign. Expect a focus on “stability” with promises to reform worker rights, planning and a pledge to invest in the green transition.

Allies of Sunak say the Conservative manifesto is “in good shape” and is intended to show the party has not run out of ideas. “It’s not going to be bland,” said one. The party says it expects to publish the document early in the campaign.

Will Tanner and James Nation, two policy advisers, “held the pen” on the document. Expect red-blooded commitments on tax cuts, migration, welfare reform and extra defence spending.

Will there be TV debates?

Although they feel like a long-standing tradition in British politics, TV debates between party leaders started only in 2010, a remarkable 50 years after Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy went head to head in the US presidential race in 1960.

Typically the underdog in an election has more to gain from such an encounter, so Sunak’s team have challenged Starmer to take part in a televised debate during every week of the six-week campaign. 

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“Don’t you think the British public deserve to know what you actually stand for?” asked Richard Holden, Tory chair, on social media platform X. It is highly unlikely Starmer will agree to such an intense schedule.

“I’ve been saying bring it on for a very, very long time,” Starmer said in January. “I’m happy to debate any time.” 

There has been speculation that the Labour leader might only take part in two debates on the BBC and ITV. A spokesperson for Starmer declined to comment, but insisted: “We’re up for it.”

How will candidates be picked?  

A frantic rush by all the parties to select their final candidates will now take place before the June 7 deadline to submit nomination forms to the Electoral Commission, the elections watchdog. 

Both the Conservatives and Labour have scores of vacancies left to fill, with additional openings arising on Thursday after a new clutch of MPs announced they would be stepping down at this election. 

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The latest departures include Tory MPs Dame Eleanor Laing, deputy Commons speaker, plus ministers Jo Churchill and Huw Merriman. Labour MPs Holly Lynch and Kevan Jones have also now said they will leave parliament.

The heaviest scrutiny will fall on empty Labour and Tory “safe” seats, into which party bosses are likely to try and parachute favoured figures. The central party machines enjoy far greater influence in these eleventh-hour selections.

Will international meetings be affected?

Sunak’s decision to go for July 4 throws up some significant political and diplomatic challenges. Downing Street’s working assumption is that he will still attend the G7 summit in Bari, Italy, between June 13 and June 15.

More interesting is the fact that whoever emerges as prime minister on July 4 — opinion polls suggest it will be Starmer — will be thrust immediately on to the world stage with two big upcoming international summits.

The newly elected UK leader will travel to a Nato meeting in Washington starting on July 9, where the Ukraine war will be high on the security alliance’s agenda.

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Then crucially on July 18, the new premier is scheduled to host a meeting of the European Political Community at Blenheim Palace. London’s sluggishness over fixing this date for the grouping of more than 40 European states had already riled allies.

A change of prime minister would further complicate matters. Sunak intended the event to focus on irregular migration, while Starmer is likely to favour a broader agenda.

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Some NFL fans see disparities in its responses to Harrison Butker and Colin Kaepernick

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Some NFL fans see disparities in its responses to Harrison Butker and Colin Kaepernick

Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, pictured at a December 2023 game, sparked conversation and controversy earlier this month with his commencement speech at Benedictine College in Kansas.

Noam Galai/Getty Images for The Gordon Parks Foundation and Jamie Squire/Getty Images


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Noam Galai/Getty Images for The Gordon Parks Foundation and Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Harrison Butker’s controversial commencement speech — and the reaction — continue to dominate conversation off the field, with key figures in the NFL weighing in publicly for the first time this week.

The Kansas City Chiefs kicker stirred up a culture war skirmish with his remarks at Benedictine College earlier this month, in which he denounced abortion rights, Pride Month, COVID-19 lockdowns, “dangerous gender ideologies” and “the tyranny of diversity, equity and inclusion,” while also encouraging female graduates to embrace the “vocation” of homemaker, all in 20 minutes.

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The speech, which has since racked up nearly 2 million views on YouTube, resonated with some football fans and conservative public figures, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley. Online sales of Butker’s jersey spiked, becoming the Chiefs’ best-seller.

But the speech has drawn widespread criticism from many corners of the internet, including some current and former students of the Catholic liberal arts college, an order of affiliated nuns, Kansas City officials and fans of Taylor Swift, whom Butker quoted in the speech as “my teammate’s girlfriend.”

The NFL distanced itself from Butker’s comments in a brief statement last week, saying he made them “in his personal capacity” and “his views are not those of the NFL as an organization.”

“The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger,” it added.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell echoed that idea while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.

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“We have over 3,000 players,” Goodell said, according to Yahoo Sports and the Associated Press. “We have executives around the league that have a diversity of opinions and thoughts just like America does. I think that’s something that we treasure, and that’s part of, I think, ultimately what makes us as a society better.”

But some social media users were quick to contrastGoodell’s comments with hisreaction to another high-profile controversy involving a football player exercising his right to self-expression: that of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

When it comes to players’ self-expression, some see a double standard

 Kaepernick, who is biracial, began sitting on the bench during the playing of the national anthem in the 2016 preseason to protest what he called “the injustices that are happening in America.”

He continued to kneel during the anthem for the rest of the season, inspiring some other players but prompting criticism from many — including then-President Donald Trump — who accused him of being anti-American.

Goodell bemoaned Trump’s comments as showing “an unfortunate lack of respect” for players but had already made a similar critique of Kaepernick’s protest himself.

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“I think it’s important if they see things they want to change in society, and clearly we have things that can get better in society, and we should get better,” Goodell said in his first public comments on the protest in 2016. “But we have to choose respectful ways of doing that so that we can achieve the outcomes we ultimately want and do it with the values and ideals that make our country great.”

The following year, as the number of players kneeling — and the backlash to them — grew, Goodell told NFL teams in a memo that “everyone should stand” during the national anthem.

“The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues,” he wrote. “We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”

Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers in the spring of 2017 but wasn’t signed by any NFL team afterward, which led his supporters to accuse league owners of freezing him out because of his political beliefs. Kaepernick alleged the same in a grievance filed against the NFL later that year, which he withdrew after settling in 2019.

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He hasn’t played professionally since but has continued his career as a civil rights activist and author.

In June 2020, as protests against racial injustice and police brutality rocked the U.S., and after players called on the NFL to speak out, Goodell released a video statement condemning racism and acknowledging the league’s shortcomings in that area.

“We, the National Football League admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” he said, without naming Kaepernick.

Goodell doubled down in a series of remarks that summer, including encouraging an NFL team to sign Kaepernick as a free agent and publicly apologizing.

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“I wished we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to,” he said.

On Wednesday, X (formerly Twitter) users and op-ed writers called Goodell’s comments hypocritical and wondered aloud what Kaepernick thinks of them. Some acknowledged that their situations differ, since Kaepernick protested in uniform during games while Butker made his speech off the field.

Kaepernick hasn’t commented publicly on Butker’s speech or Goodell’s response.

Last week, as controversy over Butker’s comments brewed, The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg said Butker and Kaepernick deserve equal respect for expressing their views.

“These are his beliefs and he’s welcome to them,” she said of Butker. “I don’t have to believe them, I don’t have to accept them, the ladies that were sitting in that audience don’t have to accept them.

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“The same way we want respect when Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, we want to give respect to people whose ideas are different from ours because the man who says he wants to be president … he says the way to act is to take away people’s right to say how they feel. We don’t want to be that, we don’t want to be those people.”

Some Chiefs leaders have also spoken up for Butker

More members of the Chiefs acknowledged the controversy on Wednesday, coming to Butker’s defense.

Star quarterback Patrick Mahomes told reporters, “There are certain things that he said that I don’t necessarily agree with but I understand … he’s trying to do whatever he can to lead people in the right direction.”

He added that he’s known Butker for seven years and considers him a good person.

“I judge him by the character that he shows every single day,” he said. “That’s someone who cares about the people around him, cares about his family and wants to make a good impact in society.”

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Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid also addressed the response to the speech, though stayed away from its contents. He said he hadn’t talked to Butker about it because “I didn’t think we needed to.”

“We’re a microcosm of life,” he said of the team. “Everybody is from different areas, different religions, different races, and so, we all get along, we all respect each other’s opinions and not necessarily do we go by those, but we respect everybody to have a voice … My wish is that everybody could kind of follow that.”

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