Brussels Edition: Blueprints for revival

Welcome to the Brussels Edition, Bloomberg’s daily briefing on what matters most in the heart of the European Union.

Nine months after EU leaders agreed on the bloc’s landmark 800-billion euro pandemic stimulus, the time has finally come to see how they intend to turn words into action. Most countries will, over the coming week, submit their recovery plan to Brussels, outlining how they aim to best use EU funds to revive their economies and underpin a green and digital transition. And the biggest beneficiaries are moving fast. Portugal was the first to file its draft and Italy aims to submit its own blueprint imminently. Yet the risk of delays still looms: some countries are expected to miss the April 30 deadline. And the parallel process of ratifying the deal that will allow the EU to raise the money for the disbursements also needs to be completed. Still, the real test will be whether member nations can make use of all the available funds and see through a torrent of tricky reforms and ambitious investment projects that could radically overhaul their economies.

What’s Happening
Climate Talks | Adaptation to climate change, both at home and globally, will be on the agenda of an informal meeting of EU environment ministers in Lisbon today. The gathering takes place as countries worldwide discuss stepping up emissions-reduction commitments on the second day of a summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden.

Space View | The need to take action is becoming even more pressing as these images of Europe taken from space show. Even as economies were placed into coronavirus lockdown, there were record temperatures, rising seas and spreading wildfires.

Astra Action | The European Commission is preparing to start legal action within days against AstraZeneca after the company’s failure to hit vaccine delivery targets undermined the EU’s inoculation campaign. The move is aimed at ensuring the company delivers on commitments for this quarter, and comes as the bloc’s drugs regulator plans today to issue an update on its review of the shot and a link to very rare clotting incidents.

Opening Up | Meanwhile, Western Europe is beginning to loosen restrictions to contain the coronavirus, offering relief for the pandemic-weary region as vaccination programs turn the corner. Italy will ease many restrictions on Monday, and Greece will follow suit in early May. France will begin a "cautious" reopening from the middle of next month, saying it's overcome the latest infection peak.

Orban Visit | Viktor Orban will meet Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels today amid lingering concerns over corruption and the rule of law in Hungary. Orban’s government sought to appease the EU ahead of the meeting, filing amendments to contested legislation that underpinned state attacks on universities and NGOs, and which were struck down by the bloc’s top court.

In Case You Missed It
No Phase-Out |
ECB President Christine Lagarde said the central bank isn’t discussing the phasing out of its emergency bond buying even as it sees signs that the economy is starting to shake off the pandemic. Her comments came as the ECB left its crisis-fighting tools unchanged, asserting that its current stimulus settings are powerful enough to put the economy on track for a rebound later this year.

No Rush | The EU’s financial services chief said the bloc isn’t under any pressure to help London firms access the market and warned there won’t be any decisions soon while Britain plots different rules for the industry. Mairead McGuinness told us that the EU could hold a meeting on market access issues by mid-year, but it is still finalizing the recently-agreed memorandum of understanding on post-Brexit regulatory cooperation.

China Shield | With about 200 billion euros of European recovery funds set to pour into Italy, Prime Minister Mario Draghi has redoubled efforts to shield local companies from foreign takeovers, particularly from China. Germany, France and Italy all took steps last year to increase their powers to block investments from outside the bloc as the pandemic devastated their economies and depressed equity valuations, leaving firms vulnerable to foreign bids.

Carbon Hike | Prices in the EU’s emissions trading system broke records every day this week as European lawmakers reached a deal on stricter pollution targets and investors got a glimpse of how the bloc will set green standards in the future. The surge in the world’s largest carbon market shows that making industry pay to pollute is working, just as world leaders participate in Biden’s climate gathering.

Hydro Trains | The first hydrogen-powered passenger trains built by Alstom are set to debut in Germany and establish a toehold for the technology in Europe. Commercial operations will begin next March, and Alstom’s 14 Coradia iLint trains will ply a regional line between Buxtehude, outside Hamburg, and the beach town of Cuxhaven.

Chart of the Day

Progress in national vaccination campaigns varies hugely across the EU, according to an internal memo circulated to government envoys in Brussels this week. Member states had access to the same number of doses relative to their population from the contracts struck with major drug makers, yet Malta has already administered 67 doses per 100 adults, while Bulgaria is only at 11 doses per 100. The average for the whole EU is 31.6, with countries including Hungary, Estonia and Denmark leading the push, and Latvia and Croatia among those lagging behind.

Today’s Agenda
All times CET.

  • 9 a.m. Informal virtual meeting of EU environment ministers
  • 10 a.m. German Chancellor Merkel testifies to the Wirecard parliamentary inquiry in Berlin
  • 11 a.m. Eurostat releases data on general government deficit and debt in 2020 and in 1Q 2021
  • 11 a.m. High-level Economic and Green Investment Forum EU-Africa, with press conference by Augusto Santos Silva, Portuguese Minister of State and Foreign Affairs, and Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank
  • EU Commission President von der Leyen receives Hungarian Prime Minister Orban in Brussels
  • U.S.-led leaders summit on climate via video conference continues
  • EU Health Commissioner Kyriakides holds a videoconference call with the G7 Health Ministers
  • Euro-area flash PMI readings
  • Von der Leyen visits the Pfizer Global Manufacturing site in Puurs, Belgium
Viktoria Dendrinou