Brussels Edition: Fast Lane, Slow Lane

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

Euro-area finance ministers will all agree on one thing while having a fierce debate about another when they meet in Brussels today. They’ll quickly sign off on the nomination of Ireland’s Philip Lane to become the European Central Bank’s chief economist, probably the least contentious of several key EU vacancies to be filled this year. The ministers will then have a “robust discussion” about the controversial euro-area budget that was agreed in principle last year — the typical spat over what the money will be used for, where it comes from and who will be in charge. 

What’s Happening

We Meet Again | The job of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, should have been more or less over when a withdrawal deal was struck with Theresa May’s government in November. Instead, Barnier holds talks today with the third Brexit chief on the British side, Stephen Barclay, to look at how their negotiating teams can make the accord more palatable to the U.K. Parliament. Meantime, the clock is ticking down to a crash exit

ECB Appointments | There are quite a lot of empty chairs at the helm of the ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism, and one more will be added today. The embarrassing vacuum means that the watchdog of the region’s biggest banks may wake up on Brexit day led solely by Andrea Enria, who has been in his job for only a month, and one other ECB official.

Italian Needling | Expect more jabs between Rome and Paris this week after Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio mocked French President Emmanuel Macron for acting like an offended royal. The two governments are positioning themselves as champions of the two visions of Europe ahead of May’s European Parliament elections. Taking a dig at Macron is also a convenient way for Italy’s populists to divert attention from their own infighting. 

Wage Gambles | The two countries with the highest unemployment rates in Europe — Greece and Spain — have decided to test economic theory through double-digit increases in minimum wages. The unprecedented 22 percent hike is a gamble for Spain amid warnings from businesses and the central bank that thousands of jobs could be destroyed. Economic experiments isn’t the only issue besetting Spain, as Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez feels the heat from both sides of the thorny issue of Catalan separatism.

In Case You Missed It

Iranian Anniversary | The ten-day celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution conclude today, but the organized fist-pumping only masks the sanctions, cronyism, inequality and creaking banking system that have come to burden the Islamic Republic, Golnar Motevalli and Marc Champion report. The U.S. envoy to the EU told us that companies using the recently unveiled European funding vehicle to bypass sanctions risk provoking American retaliation.

Paris Rentals | Paris became the latest EU city to try to restrict short-term apartment rentals and handed Airbnb a hefty fine. The San Francisco-based online platform now accuses the city’s authorities of breaking EU regulations. The spat is poised to continue as an ever increasing number of European countries are tightening oversight.

Brexit Spoils | Another weekend counting the winners and losers of Brexit: Amsterdam has seen a surge in the number of companies seeking to relocate from London to the Dutch capital, while a German study concluded that some 100,000 jobs in the country — especially in the automotive heartland — could be jeopardized by a hard Brexit. 

Musk Visits | Tesla’s Model 3s started arriving in Europe, and the company’s larger-than-life chief executive, Elon Musk, crisscrossed the continent over the weekend to review how the service is going. Europe is a key market for Musk’s ambition of reaching annual global sales of between 500,000 and 1 million vehicles, which would put the battery-operated car on par with the Audi A3 or VW Golf.

Chart of the Day

Brussels Edition: Fast Lane, Slow Lane

The European Parliament elections in May will be the most important in the legislative body’s history, with anti-European parties poised to win more than a third of the assembly’s seats. These groups will try to work together to derail projects supported by pro-European politicians like Macron, especially over issues on which mainstream parties in the assembly are divided, according to a report by the European Council on Foreign Relations, set to be published this week.

Today’s Agenda

All times CET.

  • 2:15 p.m. Joint press conference by Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg, and Michel Barnier, EU chief Brexit negotiator, following their meeting in Luxembourg
  • 3 p.m. Euro-area finance ministers meet in Brussels to discuss a proposal for a euro-area budget and nominate the Irish central banker for ECB’s executive board
  • Barnier meets Stephen Barclay, U.K. secretary of state for exiting the EU
  • EU Parliament plenary begins in Strasbourg 

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