Brussels Edition: Degrees of Delay

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

Remember that midnight handshake in Strasbourg? After the U.K. Parliament rejected every Brexit scenario except a delay, Prime Minister Theresa May has somehow managed to keep alive the deal she struck with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday night. With one week to decide whether to ask the EU to postpone Brexit Day by a little or a lot, May will make one final attempt at pushing the Brexiteers over the line by March 20, a day before the EU summit.

What’s Happening

Orban’s Fate | Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban sent a letter apologizing to the EU’s largest political group after calling some of its members “useful idiots” for demanding his party’s expulsion. Whether that was enough will be seen next week, when EU Christian Democrats vote on whether to eject his party from their group.

Merger Powers | Companies embarking on cross-border mergers to lower their tax bill are likely to be stopped as EU countries are set to have new powers to reject such moves, Bloomberg Tax reports. A compromise between EU nations and the European Parliament means members can, for the first time, impose conditions and restrictions on company movements within the single market.

Spanish Dilemma | Spain is heading into an election next month with the divisions created by Catalonia’s 2017 breakaway bid still raw. For the first time, there are five significant parties to watch — two of them with populist origin stories. Here are the key players to watch.

Huawei Warning | Germany plans to start an auction of 5G airwaves next week, as intelligence officials are pushing the government to stop Huawei from playing a part in the building of the ultrafast network infrastructure, amid concerns that it could help China steal German corporate secrets.

In Case You Missed It

Vestager’s Ambition | The time for a woman to lead the European Commission has come — at least that’s according to Margrethe Vestager, one of the potential female candidates for the job. While her term as the EU’s antitrust chief ends this year, Vestager is not ready to leave the world stage.

ECB Help | The ECB’s latest round of stimulus comes with renewed calls on governments to step up their game in nurturing the economy. It’s an acknowledgment by President Mario Draghi and fellow policy makers that they’ll do what they can — but their options are sorely depleted if the current economic weakness worsens.

Airline Subsidies | The EU will be able to challenge subsidies to foreign airlines more easily after the European Parliament lowered the bar for triggering investigations into possible market-distorting state aid. The new legislation lets the Commission start a probe into possible subsidies on the basis of a complaint by a single EU carrier or government, rather than the airline “industry.”

Comedy Act | There’s nothing funny about why a comedian is getting a shot at becoming president of Ukraine, a country at war. Faced with failed attempts to root out systemic corruption and familiar candidates offering more of the same, voters appear to be turning to the absurd. Television comic Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose show takes aim at a hated elite, is leading opinion polls ahead of the March 31 election.

Slovak Exception | In Slovakia, Zuzana Caputova, a lawyer whose biggest claim to fame was stopping a businessman from building a landfill, is now the favorite to become president. Support for her pro-EU, rule-of-law message marks a departure from the political mood in neighbors Poland and Hungary, whose nationalist governments have clashed with the bloc over the erosion of democracy.

Chart of the Day

Brussels Edition: Degrees of Delay

America’s NATO allies are risking another bustup with President Donald Trump after spending figures released yesterday showed little movement toward a more equitable sharing of the costs of collective defense. Just seven NATO members met the alliance’s guideline on defense spending, while Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg spent less than half of the target. Washington accounts for some 70 percent of NATO’s military expenditures, prompting Trump to accuse Europe on several occasions of taking advantage of the U.S.

Today’s Agenda

All times CET.

  • 11 a.m. Eurostat publishes February inflation (HICP) reading
  • EU Employment and Social Policy ministers meet in Brussels
  • EU-Turkey Association Council in Brussels
  • EU Council President Tusk visits the Hague, where he will meet Netherlands Prime Minister Rutte

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