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EU leaders to hear shake-up needed to match global rivals

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By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders will hear on Thursday how the bloc could act to catch up to the United States, China and other rivals in a global race in new green and digital technologies.

Former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, tasked by leaders with assessing the shortfalls of the EU single market, warned they could not consign a 147-page report he will present to them to a drawer and hope for the best.

“This is a last opportunity and last window that is open,” he told a news conference.

The report says the rise of geopolitical tensions and protectionism threaten EU economic security and undermine its push into technologies from artificial intelligence to clean tech.

The EU faces new challenges from massive U.S. subsidies drawing in investment and China’s domination of new tech supply chains, on which it is dependent.

EU leaders will set out a nine-point plan, including deepening the single market and creating capital markets and energy unions, according to draft conclusions.

The big question is whether the bloc’s actions will match its words. Plans for a capital markets union, which could unleash the private money required for the twin transition, date back a decade, but have stalled because EU members do not want to relinquish their control of national financial rules.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country holds the six-month EU presidency, said the report highlighted the right elements.

“Now comes the next step and the next step is to put it into practice,” he told reporters.

Letta said the greatest impact could come from steering the 33 trillion euros ($35.12 trillion) of private savings from current accounts to the real economy.

The European Commission has said additional investments of 620 billion euros per year are needed for the green and digital transitions.

Lobby group BusinessEurope said it agreed with the report’s key message that the single market needed a reboot and Letta’s call for simpler EU rules.

Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, who will deliver a separate report on EU competitiveness later this year, said in a speech on Tuesday that the EU needed consolidation and collaboration to create the scale to compete.

He also called for investment in common goods such as energy networks and a comprehensive strategy on securing essential resources.

Highlighting the challenge, non-ferrous metals association Eurometaux said on Thursday the bloc would need to open at least 10 new mines, 15 processing plants and 15 recycling plants by 2030 to meet its critical mineral goals.

($1 = 0.9397 euro)

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