Imagine the European single market is 30 years old and nobody cares.

Certainly, there is no shortage of ceremonies, guest contributions and speeches to celebrate the anniversary.

The European Parliament has already celebrated the free movement of goods, services, people and capital, and the EU Commission wants to follow suit in February.

There is every reason to.

The opening of the internal borders for goods and people on January 1, 1993 brought unique prosperity to the EU.

440 million consumers today benefit from a larger and cheaper selection of goods, 17 million people live or work in another EU country, 24 million companies are located in the internal market and produce 15 percent of all goods traded in the world there.

Exports within the EU, i.e. from one EU country to another, have increased fivefold since the beginning of 1993.

Nevertheless, all the speeches and contributions seem like lip service.

The EU internal market does not play a major role in day-to-day politics.

One can interpret that positively.

Then the single market would be a victim of its own success.

His charm lies in the fact that you don't notice him.

That only changes when smooth – or rather limitless – access to the market gets stuck.

The Brits can sing a song about it.

Disinterest is a missed opportunity

The corona pandemic has shown the rest of Europe how fragile the internal market is.

Suddenly there were controls at the internal borders again, trucks were backed up and trade in important goods was restricted.

The Commission then created a new internal market emergency instrument to prevent such frictions in new crises.

But that was ultimately no more than an attempt to maintain the status quo, an emergency fix.

Indeed, the disinterest of day-to-day politics in the single market is a missed opportunity.

Because the internal market could make an important contribution to solving one of the biggest challenges facing the EU today: How can European companies, despite the likely years of higher energy prices and state aid in the three to four-digit billions in the US and China keep up in international competition?

It was competition in the internal market that gave European companies new impetus and made them fitter for global competition.

The domestic market continues to have this power – especially since the market definitely still has room for improvement.

Above all in the service sector, but not only there, there are still numerous obstacles that impede trade.

Unexploited billion potential

However, only a few see that in Brussels.

"No one is perfect at 30, not even the single market," said Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in a speech.

"It's our job to make it better.

Raising the untapped potential achieves much more than all state aid ever can.” Vestager estimates this potential at 713 billion euros by 2029.

That's a lot more than the $369 billion by 2032 from the US Inflation Reduction Act that has so alarmed the EU.

Vestager's words must be read as criticism of the course taken by the EU Commission.

The responsible internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, sees himself primarily as an industry commissioner.

His focus is not on the untapped potential of the single market.

He wants to strengthen sectors that he believes are important and provide them with high levels of state aid.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, on the other hand, is fully focused on the EU's subsidy race with the USA and China.

She has urged Vestager to soften EU state aid rules to allow for generous aid from states.

Above all, however, she is pushing for new EU funds of her own in order to be able to promote green technologies, following the example of the United States.

At best, von der Leyen uses the single market to justify new EU debt.

If financially strong countries like Germany subsidize their companies with billions, but countries like Italy or Spain cannot keep up, that distorts the internal market, she argues.

So the EU, i.e. the Commission, needs new funds to compensate for this.

Of course, the companies are happy to take all the money.

With the reduction of bureaucracy, regulatory burdens and hurdles in the internal market, the Commission could do so much more important to convince them of the EU as a location.

However, noble words on the 30th birthday of the single market are hardly enough.