Brussels Edition: Welcome to the Balkans

Brussels Edition

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

The EU's planned expansion into the Balkans is facing yet another obstacle. At today's virtual meeting of European affairs ministers, Bulgaria is set to oppose the start of accession negotiations with North Macedonia unless the former Yugoslav republic recognizes the Bulgarian roots of its language and confirms it has no territorial aspirations. But as is so often the case in the Balkans, there's more to it than that. It involves not just short-term political considerations, but also claims to the heritage of long-dead folk heroes, conflicting identity narratives and arguments that normally fall within the remit of philologists rather than ministers. EU governments are about to be reminded of the scale of the challenge posed by the bloc's enlargement plans. Welcome to the Balkans.

— Slav Okov and Nikos Chrysoloras

What's Happening

Budget Blocked | Ministers will also today debate the EU's stalled budget and jointly-financed stimulus package, after Hungary and Poland blocked the deal from which they stand to receive at least 180 billion euros in grants between them. No solution is immediately visible, and EU leaders will likely have to weigh in when they hold a call on Thursday.

Virus Update | The video call of the leaders is likely to be focused on the latest from the unfolding pandemic disaster. The good news is that another promising vaccine candidate has emerged. The bad news is that — for now — the uncontrolled spread of the virus is forcing more EU governments to adopt tighter restrictions. Here's the latest.

Spanish Woes | A piecemeal response to the pandemic by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's minority government is threatening to push Spain's economy into an Italian-style trap of sluggish growth and stubbornly-high debt, Jeannette Neumann reports.

Melting Mountain | France's largest glacier once looked so mighty sliding down the granite slopes of Mont Blanc, Europe's tallest peak, that it left early explorers at a loss for words. Now it's losing volume at record pace. Have a look before it disappears.

In Case You Missed It

Taxing Carbon | Fresh pledges from some of the world's largest polluters to slash emissions further may curb EU plans for a carbon border levy. The European Commission is drafting a law, to be unveiled next year, that would start penalizing imports of certain goods from countries with weak pollution rules. But things could change.

ECB Plans | European Central Bank policy makers signaled that they're coalescing around emergency asset purchases and long-term bank loans as their main options for boosting monetary stimulus next month. They will have to make a decision at a time when national lockdowns threaten a new economic contraction.

Strategic Autonomy | The EU must push on with its efforts to develop the capacity to act independently in technology, international finance and defense, even after President-elect Joe Biden takes over in the U.S., according to French President Emmanuel Macron. Expect to hear more about the EU's so-called strategic autonomy push when the bloc's defense ministers meet virtually on Friday.

Work Anywhere | Last week, we told you about a Greek plan to lure the work-from-anywhere crowd with tax breaks. The reality, though, is that the dream of the digital wanderer will soon hit some uncomfortable truths, our columnist  Lionel Laurent writes, citing a series of hurdles — from travel restrictions to cash-strapped governments unwilling to let "digital nomads" escape taxes.

Chart of the Day

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines under development are based on mRNA technology designed to transform the body's own cells into vaccine-making factories. Once injected, the vaccines instruct cells to make copies of the coronavirus spike protein, stimulating the creation of protective antibodies. Here's how they stack up.

Today's Agenda

All times CET.

  • 9 a.m. German Chancellor Merkel delivers a speech and takes part in a Q&A at a Sueddeutsche Zeitung conference
  • 10 a.m. Video conference of EU European Affairs ministers to discuss rule of law, enlargement process in relation to the Republic of Albania and North Macedonia, bloc's long-term budget
  • 10 a.m. EU industry chief Breton discusses industrial strategy at CEPS think tank event
  • 10:45 a.m. EU Commissioner for Justice Reynders speaks at European Business Summit
  • 11 a.m. ECB President Lagarde speaks at Bloomberg's New Economy Forum

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