Brussels Edition: Digital showdown

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

European lawmakers aren’t wasting their last chance to alter the EU’s new tech rules during a vote this week in Strasbourg. The proposed Digital Services Act includes major changes to the way tech companies handle online content, and the parliament’s lead committee agreed to the strictest version yet last month. The text now faces dozens of amendments, including one that would completely ban ad targeting and another making it harder for news articles to be taken down. Legislators will debate the rules today and vote tomorrow, but what they decide could complicate talks when the parliament negotiates with the commission and council. The French, who currently hold the rotating EU presidency, are wary of any radical additions to the text that could delay a final agreement.

—Jillian Deutsch and John Follain

What’s Happening

Target Pipeline | German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made it clear that the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline would be a target for retaliation if Russia uses energy as a weapon. U.S. concerns about the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine are growing, while the U.K. told its Foreign Office staff to be ready to move into “crisis mode” at very short notice. Top U.S. diplomat Antony Blinken will meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva on Friday.

Front Line | Civilians on Ukraine’s frontline believe war with Russia won’t come, despite daily shelling and gunfire from Kremlin-backed separatists. They think war would prove too costly for Moscow to want to start, they told us during a visit on the ground. About 14,000 people have died on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine since it started in 2014.

Tories Rebel | A meeting of rookie Tory lawmakers sparked a flurry of activity in Westminster as Boris Johnson's parliamemtary enforcers tried to contain a growing rebellion against him. Johnson is under fire after a week of revelations linking the prime minister to parties in 10 Downing Street in apparent breach of lockdown rules.

Relax Rules | The EU is finding areas of “broad agreement” on revisions to its fiscal rules that would allow debt-stricken countries to escape severe austerity cuts after massive expenditure during the pandemic, Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said. But French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire’s demand that the EU swiftly adopt new rules for a global minimum tax met with renewed skepticism from some member states. 

Banker’s Advice | The governor of France’s central bank waded into the economic debate ahead of April’s presidential elections, warning candidates they have little room to promise tax cuts or spending increases and should focus instead on improving labor supply to raise growth potential. Francois Villeroy de Galhau also said the ECB’s inflation forecasts aren’t a “blind certitude” and that the institution will take action if the price surge proves more persistent.

Metsola Picked | Roberta Metsola, a lawmaker from the conservative European People’s Party, was chosen to replace the late David Sassoli as the next president of the European Parliament. The election makes Metsola, 43, the youngest president and the third woman in charge of EU legislators. EU lawmakers will have a busy year, with parliament playing a key role implementing the bloc’s new climate strategy for 2030.

In Case You Missed It

Brexit Waiver | Mairead McGuinness, commissioner for financial services, said she will propose extending a temporary waiver that allows banks and money managers to clear trades in the U.K. into 2025. The existing temporary waiver expires in June. Meanwhile, a report showed the balance sheets of Ireland’s biggest banks have risen by two-thirds since the Brexit vote.

Energy Relief | Italy’s government is readying as much as 4 billion euros to offer immediate help to consumers hit by high energy prices, while it works on a wide range of longer term measures. The aid won’t require parliament to authorize fresh debt, and can rely instead on other revenue streams such as carbon emission rights.

Smelters Appeal | Europe’s leading metal producers have called on the continent’s politicians to deploy measures, including tapping state aid and national gas reserves, to ease the regional power crisis. Eurometaux sent a letter to the commission warning that more producers could be forced to cut output or shutter plants entirely without additional support to protect smelters from the surge in power costs.

Data Bounty | EU data protection fines targeting Amazon.com and Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp helped push penalties to record levels last year, in a sign that the bloc’s tough privacy rules are starting to bite. Luxembourg’s data protection authority last year slapped Amazon with its biggest fine since the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation took effect almost four years ago.

Chart of the Day

Unemployment in the EU may be declining, yet that doesn’t take into account about 7.5 million people who are willing to work but have given up on searching for a job. The so-called underemployment rate was worse in Spain, Italy and Greece at the end of the third quarter, according to Bloomberg calculations based on labor market data published by Eurostat. The three countries account for more than half of the total in the bloc.

Today’s Agenda

 

All times CET.

  • 11:30 a.m. French President Emmanuel Macron delivers address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on France's EU presidency; gives press conference at 2 p.m.
  • 1 p.m. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speech and Q&A at virtual World Economic Forum event
  • 2.30 p.m. Council President Charles Michel participates in European Parliament plenary debate in Strasbourg
  • Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides holds video call with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on COVID-19
  • Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager participates in European Parliament debate on the Digital Services Act

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