Brussels Edition: Patchwork pandemic rules

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

With the omicron variant detected in at least 17 EU countries, the bloc is still pursuing piecemeal policies to fight the latest wave of Covid-19 as scientists assess the likely impact of the new strain. Several European countries are continuing to make life harder for the unvaccinated. Starting today, Italy is requiring a green pass — proof of vaccination, recovery or a recent negative test — for buses, metro, local trains and hotels. France says it wants to avoid any new health rules, while Belgium resisted experts’ calls to close schools, choosing instead to add one week to the Christmas vacation as the virus races through classrooms. Even these measures are spawning a backlash: Protesters marched outside the EU’s headquarters in Brussels yesterday. As Europe braces for the spread of omicron, here’s what we know so far about omicron.

—Kevin Whitelaw

What’s Happening
Tense Standoff | Russia said it will protest officially to the U.S. about an incident over the Black Sea on Saturday, when civilian aircraft diverted from their routes because of a U.S. spy plane. We also have details on a testy dinner exchange between the countries’ top diplomats last week, ahead of a video call Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden plan to hold tomorrow.

Euro Focus | IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva will be in Brussels today to present euro-area finance ministers with the group’s recommendations to strengthen the monetary union. The Eurogroup will also discuss national budgets for next year as members states keep spending to fuel the recovery amid the worsening covid situation and inflationary risks.

Travel Travails | The U.K. defended its decision to require all travelers entering the country to take a pre-flight covid test, even though the rules threaten to dent the peak season for airlines. British Airways said the rule, which applies to everyone regardless of vaccination status, was “out of step” with the rest of the world.

Trade Spat | Lithuania’s dispute with China over Taiwan’s status escalated after local media reported that goods from some of its companies were barred from entering Chinese ports. Vilnius said it will seek assistance from the EU this week, with Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis saying it’s “unprecedented when one EU member state is being partially sanctioned.”

In Case You Missed It
New Competitor | France’s Republicans nominated their first female presidential candidate in a primary that sharpened the focus of the challenge facing Emmanuel Macron in next year’s election. Valerie Pecresse, who leads the region that includes Paris, said she would work to save public services, reassert the value of work, raise France’s global standing and reform Europe. 

Battling Greenwashing | EU legislators are looking to tighten the region’s planned green bond standards and make it harder for issuers of environmentally friendly debt to overstate their promises. So far, the proposed rules are voluntary, but some lawmakers want to see the standards become obligatory for sustainable bond issuance.

Green Laggard | Europe’s market for green mortgages is lagging well behind most other kinds of ethical debt. Lenders like ABN Amro, UniCredit and Swedbank market those loans to homebuyers, but the consumer demand isn’t there yet. The take-up appears to be so poor that banks aren’t revealing how many such mortgages there actually are.

Amazon Slapdown | The European regulator that slapped Amazon with a record 746 million-euro daily privacy fine over its handling of data told the retail giant to work out for itself how to avoid another round of penalties, saying it’s not a “help desk for Amazon.” The company says it has no guidance on what it’s supposed to do. 


Chart of the Day

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Italy secured its first credit rating upgrade in four years last week, a signal of confidence in Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s policies that helped the economy grow faster than the European average. Fitch raised Italy one notch to “BBB,” citing high Covid-19 vaccination rates and more public and private spending. Economic output is expected to grow 6.3% this year, according to Italy’s national statistics institute. But debt remains a problem: The government has forecast it at 153.5% of GDP in 2021.

Today’s Agenda
All times CET

  • 5:45 p.m. IMF chief Georgieva news conference after Eurogroup meeting
  • EU finance ministers meet in Brussels
  • EU employment and social affairs ministers meet in Brussels
  • Council President Charles Michel in Senegal for the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa
 
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