Brussels Edition: Spanish Showdown

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

The Catalonia drama threatens to claim the scalp of a second Spanish prime minister in less than a year. Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez needs the votes of pro-independence parties to get his budget through parliament today, but Catalan lawmakers are reluctant to be seen lining up alongside the central government when their comrades are in the dock at a trial which started yesterday. Sanchez has indicated that he may have to call a snap election if he can't get his spending plans approved.

What’s Happening

Going Nuclear | NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels and Russia’s “blatant violation” of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty will be high on the agenda, according to the Alliance’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg. The landmark 1987 disarmament accord, which restricts the deployment of missiles with a range of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers, can still be rescued, NATO says, but Europeans had better start planning for a world with more nuclear arms.

New-Look Web | The internet could soon start to look a little different in Europe based on rules expected to be finalized as soon as today. Under the bloc’s new copyright regulations, users will likely be blocked from uploading videos and music that platforms like Google and Facebook don’t have licenses for. Links to news articles could appear without extracts if platforms opt not to pay publishers for the snippets. A separate set of rules will force web platforms to be more open about how they rank products or search results.

Banking Blacklist | EU banks will face higher hurdles in dealing with clients from countries including Saudi Arabia as the bloc moves to tighten controls on illicit financial flows. The European Commission will today sign off on a blacklist of nations identified as posing higher risks for terrorist financing and money laundering. The roll call of 23 countries will also include Panama, Iran and North Korea.

Dutch Vision | Mark Rutte, one of the leaders tipped as a potential candidate for a top EU job, will make a speech today in Zurich setting out his vision for the EU’s place in the world. The Dutch prime minister is expected to call for a more “streetwise” EU on the global geopolitical stage and talk about China, Russia and the U.S., urging the bloc to make more coherent use of its powers.

Belgian Strike | Brussels-based readers: beware. Public transport will face serious delays today as the whole country is affected by a general strike. Think twice before taking your car to work, or at least share with a friend, as morning traffic is likely to be even worse than usual.

In Case You Missed It

Overheard in Brussels | Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, discussed the U.K. prime minister’s latest Brexit plan in a Brussels bar on Monday evening within earshot of a reporter from ITV, the British broadcaster said. Robbins apparently said May is planning to wait until the last minute before putting her deal to parliament, warning that a long delay is the only other option. The report is likely to infuriate MPs at both ends of the Brexit spectrum.

Sovereignty Rules | EU finance ministers poured cold water over plans by the bloc’s executive arm to scrap national vetoes on tax policy, highlighting the deep opposition to an initiative many nations see as encroaching on their sovereignty. At a meeting in Brussels yesterday, several finance chiefs questioned the merit of switching to a different way of decision-making on tax matters, an already sensitive area for many nations.

Eastern Crackdowns | A former chief executive of PKN Orlen, Poland’s largest refiner, was detained as the country’s populist government presses a widening crackdown on corporate leaders — a campaign that aligns with a major plank of the ruling Law & Justice party’s anti-corruption message before the 2015 election. Meanwhile, in Hungary, people formed a human chain around the Academy of Sciences building in Budapest, saying the 200-year-old nerve center of research in the country is poised to fall prey to the suppression of independent voices.

Prague Nights | There are too many strip clubs, the beer is cheaper than water, and Sundays at Prague’s airport can resemble a walking-dead film as the hungover survivors of drinking jaunts wait for cheap flights home. Now the Czech capital has a “night mayor” to fix all this. He has his work cut out for him, Lenka Ponikelska reports.

Chart of the Day

Brussels Edition: Spanish Showdown

Like fellow Eastern states, Estonia’s population plunged after the collapse of communism and, later, following EU membership and the accompanying travel privileges. But unlike its neighbors, Estonia has begun to reverse the trend of late, with enhancements to child benefits and tax cuts playing a role. Its experience could prove instructive to places like Bulgaria, whose population is set to dip to levels last seen after World War II, Aaron Eglitis and Ott Ummelas report.

Today’s Agenda

All times CET.

  • 11 a.m. Eurostat to publish December industrial production data

  • 11:30 a.m. Press conference by EU Commissioner Vera Jourova in Strasbourg

  • EU lawmakers in Strasbourg will decide whether to approve the free trade and investment protection agreements between the EU and Singapore, which will remove virtually all tariffs within five years and allow for free trade in services, and open up the Singaporean procurement market to EU companies

  • General strike in Belgium

  • NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels

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