Good morning and welcome to Europe Express.
Today, the European Commission is set to start tabling parts of its green policy package dubbed ‘Fit for 55’ (a reference to the bloc’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 55 per cent by 2030, not some middle-aged exercise regime). Further pieces of the puzzle will be unveiled tomorrow, Friday and next week.
Senior EU officials were holed up in last-ditch talks over details, including convincing sceptical commissioners of the need to phase out diesel and petrol cars by 2035. The target is sealed but will be fought over by member states and MEPs. (Here is a primer on what to expect.)
Over in the capital of eurozone finance, plans for a digital euro are likely to be set in motion today. We will explore what they entail and which questions remain unanswered.
After a “good exchange” with Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki last night, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is preparing legal proceedings against both Poland and Hungary over their anti-LGBTI+ legislation. We got ahold of the charge sheet and will unpack its arguments.
Last but not least, we will have a closer read of Emmanuel Macron’s speech, which was not only about getting French care workers vaccinated — it was also his first statement in the unofficial campaign for next year’s presidential election, which has definitely started.
Today is D-Day for the European Central Bank: decision day on the digital euro for the Frankfurt-based institution, which is almost certain to announce it will press ahead with plans to launch a digital currency, writes Martin Arnold.
The Bahamas is the only country whose central bank has issued a fully functioning digital version of its currency — the sand dollar. The ECB said it expected to spend the next two years designing and testing a digital euro, which would then take three years to launch.
But despite the long wait before the project is expected to produce tangible results, it has already managed to stir up strong opinions among proponents and critics. Here are some big questions the ECB still needs to answer:
The number of European companies represented on the list of the world’s top 20 asset managers has fallen from eight to five in the 10 years to 2019. But there may be some solace in the argument that size is not necessarily what they should be aiming for anyway. Rather, they should focus on smaller strategic deals into high-growth markets. (Read more here)
Emmanuel Macron did not just order health workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19 vaccines and put pressure on the rest of France to do the same in his pre-Bastille Day address to the nation this week.
The French president also made the first big speech of his 2022 re-election campaign, writes Victor Mallet in Paris.
The hot news from his declaration on Monday night was that carers must be vaccinated by mid-September, and that from August no adult can go to a bar or restaurant or take a flight without a “health passport”. (No surprise that Doctolib, the medical appointment booking site, was taking a record 20,000 vaccination bookings a minute immediately after Macron spoke. In a few hours, 1.3m signed up.)
But the rest of the speech was not really about the pandemic. It was about Macron’s achievements and what he plans to do next if he wins the presidential election in April next year.
With the Eiffel Tower behind him, Macron laid out his political stall. And as one might expect from the candidate who won the Elysée Palace in 2017 by being “neither right nor left”, he had something for everyone.
For the right, he promised law and order and fiscal discipline — and no new taxes. He said he would continue economic reforms to encourage investment and reward hard work, including a delayed tightening up of the country’s generous unemployment insurance system.
For the left, Macron had appetisers too: big investments in “reshoring” industrial production to reduce dependence on imports, including a €7bn programme for the healthcare sector, as well as a further drive to train the young and retrain the long-term unemployed.
The challenge, he said, was to scale up innovation and high-tech business “to once again became a great nation of research, innovation, agriculture and industry; to reindustrialise and reconcile growth and the environment”.
To understand how carefully Macron steered a middle path, one needs only look at what he said on the vexed matter of updating the pension system, a reform regarded by the centre-right as financially necessary and long overdue and by many on the left as an outrageous assault on the hard-earned privileges of rail workers and others with special retirement schemes.
Macron repeated some hard truths — that the system was unfair and unsustainable and the French would have to work longer — but he softened the blow by saying that he would not launch the reform until the pandemic was under control and economic recovery assured.
It was masterfully non-committal and presented no easy targets for his political enemies. The French election campaign is gathering pace.
The European Commission is preparing to launch legal challenges over discriminatory policies in Hungary and Poland, two countries already at loggerheads with Brussels on multiple fronts, writes Sam Fleming in the EU capital.
According to a draft document seen by Europe Express, the commission is set to start an infringement action against Hungary over the government’s bill to ban content depicting or promoting LGBTI+ people in schools and the media. It will also take action connected to Poland’s so-called LGBT-ideology-free zones.
The actions, expected tomorrow, will open up a front in the battles between the EU and the two member states, which are accused of flouting the rule of law, media freedom and minority rights.
The move against Hungary comes at a charged moment for diplomatic relations after Prime Minister Viktor Orban was upbraided at a summit last month over the anti-LGBTI+ bill. Budapest’s recovery plan is set to be delayed for weeks as the commission pushes for tougher rule of law provisions.
The EU’s infringement action is set to warn that the bill violates the right to freedom of expression and information as well as non-discrimination. A second infringement action relates to a disclaimer imposed on a children’s book with LGBTI+ content.
The disciplinary measure against Poland relates to resolutions adopted by dozens of municipalities declaring themselves free from “LGBT ideology”. The commission’s infringement action is expected to relate to Poland’s refusal to respond fully to information requests as Brussels assessed the compatibility of the zones with anti-discrimination laws.