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DAILY BRIEFING

DAILY BRIEFING

A half-hearted chameleon?

Written by Javier Maquieira, senior associate 
Edited by Tom Gillingham, associate partner
15 December 2021

Good morning,

Emmanuel Macron wants the European Union to be defined by one thing and one thing only: power. The French president said so himself last Thursday, when he presented the major European priorities that France will carry during its six-month presidency of the Council of the EU from 1 January 2022.  
 
Macron’s assertive tone over the two-hour press conference reflected his ambition to elevate “European sovereignty” as the only means for the continent to come to grips with an autocratic China and a United States whose focus has moved away from Europe.
 
The French president’s determination to transform the bloc into a political powerhouse is most obvious in the fields of defence and migration. A long-standing advocate of “strategic autonomy” for Europe, he outlined plans for a security summit in March to galvanise joint European military exercises and development of a shared defence industry.
 
As the migration issue continues to divide the 27 EU member states – to say nothing of France itself – the French presidency also promises to revolve around a reform of the Schengen area of free movement of goods and people with plans to tighten the union’s external borders.
 
The cascade of objectives in Macron’s speech also included a Euro-African meeting in February to “rebuild” relations and offer a “new deal” for Africa; measures to turn Europe into “a digital power”; the creation of a six-month “European civic service” for citizens under 25; and promotion of growth of strong European industries in technology sectors such as semiconductors, batteries for electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel, and cloud computing.
 
The French leader, who has yet to officially announce that he will be seeking a second term, is holding to a vision of Europe led by him, especially after the retirement of former German chancellor Angela Merkel, long seen as the de facto EU leader.
 
Ahead of the French presidential election, which is set to interrupt France’s presidency of the Council of the EU between 10 and 24 April, Macron’s ambition to act as Europe’s leader could appeal to centre-right voters.
 
But it is migration that has become the central focus of campaign speeches in France, including far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour and conservative Les Républicains candidate Valérie Pécresse, all of whom like to define the incumbent president as a “caméléon sans conviction (a half-hearted chameleon).
 
In a sense, they aren’t wrong. We’ve indeed become accustomed to Macron’s use of his pro-EU stance as leverage for his domestic and international policy ambitions, sometimes in opposing ways. However, the French presidency of the Council of the EU offers him a unique opportunity to align both strategically.
 
As we brace for an even more assertive version of the French president in the months to come, our readers will be forgiven for thinking that when Macron states that Europe’s focus should be on “relaunch, power and belonging”, he’s talking as much about the EU as it is about France.

News

The House of Commons has passed Boris Johnson’s “plan B” Covid-19 measures for England, despite the UK prime minister facing his biggest-ever rebellion since taking office. MSPs approved the introduction of coronavirus passes with 369 votes in favour and 126 against. From tomorrow, people in England will be required to show proof of either at least two Covid vaccine doses or a negative test to enter venues with more than 500 people.
 
In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged everyone to limit indoor social mixing to no more than three households over the festive season but insisted Christmas celebrations can go ahead as planned. The Scottish government will also amend regulations to put a legal requirement on businesses to minimise the risk of transmission.
 
The US has surpassed 800,000 deaths from Covid-19, the highest reported toll of any country in the world. Most deaths have been recorded among the unvaccinated and the elderly, while more Americans died in 2021 than in 2020. It comes as the country, which accounts for approximately four per cent of the world’s population, reached 50 million confirmed cases on Monday.

Business and economy

The International Monetary Fund has warned Britain that it should be “ready to redeploy” some form of furlough aid in the event of a virulent Covid wave requiring widespread lockdowns. The Washington-based body said fresh waves of coronavirus represented a “major risk” to the UK economic outlook, as it pointed to a “mild slowdown” in growth in the new year as latest restrictions designed to tackle the spread of the Omicron variant bite.
 
British Airways has announced a return to short-haul flights from London Gatwick next year, as it confirmed the go-ahead of its planned subsidiary, BA Euroflyer. The airline, which stopped flying from the West Sussex airport soon after the Covid pandemic started, will relaunch its short-haul leisure network in late March 2022, ending a break of almost two years.
 
A study by the Centre for Economic Performance has found that half of UK businesses are struggling to recruit new staff, as increasing numbers of people are leaving their jobs. While 10% of those surveyed mentioned the UK immigration regime as a factor, 20% of employers cited a skills gap as the main concern. In an attempt to recruit more candidates and retain existing staff, a third also said they had increased wages as an incentive.

Columns of note

Reflecting on the series finale of HBO’s ‘Succession’, Fani Papageorgiou writes in the Financial Times about the so-called “great resignation” trend affecting the US and other countries. As hundreds of thousands of workers tired of corporate bureaucracy and seeking flexibility leave their jobs, Papageorgiou anticipates that the shake-up in the workplace will look very different once it has reached executives, who are now considering other life options. As the old order is breaking down in reality and fiction, she concludes, we need novels and television series to explore the new dynamics. (£)
 
In The Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi denounces the lack of action from social media networks on online abuse faced by women and marginalised groups. Despite constant pledges to improve user safety, tech companies whose business models rely on engagement can’t be expected to stop “feeding the trolls”, she argues.

Markets

What happened yesterday?

London stocks closed lower on Tuesday after a report indicated US wholesale prices rose at a record pace last month. The FTSE 100 ended the session down 0.18% at 7,218.64, while sterling was stronger both against the dollar by 0.07% at $1.33 and versus the euro by 0.21% at €1.17.
 
Stocks also fell across the pond. Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 closed 0.7% lower, while the technology-focused Nasdaq Composite slid 1.1%. Microsoft shares, which fell 3.3%, contributed to the dip in both indices.
 
In company news:
 
Ocado Group jumped 5.47% after the online supermarket group said it had won a patent infringement lawsuit filed by Norwegian robotics company AutoStore Holdings at the International Trade Commission.
 
IAG was 1.73% firmer after the UK government confirmed it was scrapping the red list for international travel from Wednesday.
 
National Express Group ascended 1.7% after it agreed to buy Stagecoach in a deal that would see two of Britain’s biggest public transport operators combine in the wake of the pandemic.
 
BT Group slid 4.29% after French telecoms giant Altice said it had increased its stake in the London-listed firm to 18%.
 
Rentokil Initial slumped 12.3% after agreeing to buy Terminex in a stock-and-cash deal that valued the business at roughly $7.6bn.

What’s happening today?

AGMs
Gcp Student Liv
Kingswood H.
Asia Dragon
Prs Reit
Dx Plc 
Softcat
Grc Intl

Final results
Hollywood Bwl
Jersey Electricity
Pressure Tech

Interim results
Baltic  
Currys Plc
In The Style G.

Source: Financial Times

did you know

The United States spent an estimated $778bn on its military in 2020. That is more than the net worths of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg combined. (Source: @8fact)

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Oral questions
Scotland
 
Prime Minister’s Question Time
 
Ten Minute Rule Motion
Child criminal exploitation
 
Legislation
Professional Qualifications Bill [Lords]: Second reading
 
Adjournment
Role of the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland and the UK Government’s plans for legislation to address the legacy of the Troubles

House of Lords 

Orders and regulations
Affirmative instruments laid before the House under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 – motions to approve
 
Affirmative instruments laid before the House under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 – motions to decline
 
Oral questions
Implementation of the Build UK roadmap to eliminate cash retentions in the construction sector by 2025
 
Number of young people in alternative education
 
Supporting the International Day of Democracy
 
Emergency application for the use of neonicotinoids on sugar beet
 
Legislation
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – report stage (day 3)

Scottish parliament 

Portfolio Questions
Health and Social Care
 
Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
 
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Debate
Backing the North East Economy
 
Ending the Not Proven Verdict
 
Approval of SSIs (if required)
 
Members’ Business
S6M-02426 Mark Ruskell: Protecting Rural Bus Services

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