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Brussels Edition: Big tech on tight leash

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Brussels Edition
Bloomberg

Welcome to the Brussels Edition, Bloomberg’s daily briefing on what matters most in the heart of the European Union. A series of thematic newsletters this week preview the bloc's major policy plans for 2021. Today, our primer on industry and tech.

The EU may once again be two steps ahead of the U.S. when it comes to regulating tech giants. Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton has already invited Washington to join forces on the bloc's Digital Services Act, new rules proposed by the European Commission in December under which companies could face fines of as much as 6% of global revenue if they don’t comply with orders to remove illegal content, including violent hate speech. The unilateral decisions by tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter to ban President Donald Trump have also highlighted the grip a few giants maintain over the internet as a whole, issues the EU wants to address in its Digital Markets Act. In 2021, those two landmark proposals will start moving through the slow process of becoming law. For now, they're in the hands of the European Parliament and the bloc's member states, who will likely make amendments. Here’s a look at what else is in store for tech and industry in Brussels in 2021. 

Natalia Drozdiak and Aoife White

What’s Happening

Digital Rules | The Commission is due to unveil a legislative proposal early in the year around the use of artificial intelligence, under which high-risk systems could face tests by authorities before deployment. Gig economy workers could also see improved working conditions following measures due to be outlined in an EU paper in February. A legislative proposal may come at the end of the year.

Tech Probes | They haven't gone away. Amazon now has two investigations to fend off, Apple three, Facebook two early-stage probes and Google at least one into data practices as well as scrutiny of parts of its search business and criticism of how it's complying with earlier antitrust orders.

Digital Tax | The EU may push on with threats to draft its own tax on tech giants' revenues -- something France has already introduced -- if they can't all agree on a global deal. The measures, which could come in the second quarter, risk inflaming a dispute with the U.S. just as Europe looks to reset ties under the incoming Biden administration.

State Aid | EU state aid rules have been relaxed to allow governments to pour money on pandemic-struck economies. The current loosening is due to end in June. The European Commission may face pushback for trying to tighten the purse-strings. It's also got some tough state aid cases to weigh in the coming months, including Italy's plan to save eternally troubled airline Alitalia.

China Crackdown | The EU will lay out proposals as soon as the second quarter for public procurement and a level playing field on foreign subsidies, which could curb Chinese state-owned firms' investment in Europe. The commission is also overhauling how it views markets after criticism from France.

In Case You Missed It

Big Deal | London Stock Exchange Group's $27 billion purchase of Refinitiv gained approval from EU regulators, clearing the last major hurdle to the creation of a financial data powerhouse. Obtaining EU approval clinches a transformational deal for the 300-year-old London bourse, giving it global scale as firms vie to meet surging demand for data and analytics in increasingly computerized financial markets. 

Italy's Troubles | Italy’s government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte risks collapsing after a junior coalition partner pulled out. The timing of the crisis could hardly be worse, with Italy battling a worsening pandemic and recession, and just now taking over the presidency of the Group of 20 nations.

Food Supply | The French government is opposed to Alimentation Couche-Tard buying France’s retailer Carrefour. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he's not in favor of the roughly $20 billion trans-Atlantic deal because “food sovereignty comes before everything.”

Economic Forecasts | The European Central Bank’s latest projections for economic growth in the euro area are still “very clearly plausible,” despite the resurgent virus and renewed lockdowns, President Christine Lagarde said. The ECB chief also took aim at Bitcoin’s role in facilitating criminal activity, saying the cryptocurrency has been enabling “funny business.”

British Equivalence | U.K. financiers are keeping the faith that despite being left out of the Brexit trade agreement, their industry can win back some access to the EU in the next round of talks, according to a poll of hundreds of executives. Meanwhile, European regulators are warning that some in the City of London are already resorting to “questionable practices” to improperly preserve their previous business arrangements.

Eating Bugs | Insects just moved a step closer to European dinner plates. Dried yellow mealworm, the larval form of the mealworm beetle, is safe for human consumption in both its whole form and as a powder additive, the EU's food watchdog said. Here's why it's safe to eat bugs

Chart of the Day

Ireland will be the main beneficiary of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve, a special fund created to help counter the adverse consequences from the U.K's withdrawal from the EU. That's according to a "fiche" circulated by the European Commission to national delegations this week.

Today’s Agenda

All times CET.

  • 10 a.m. Members on the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committees will debate the EU-U.K. Trade and Cooperation Agreement

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How are we doing? We want to hear what you think about this newsletter. Let our Brussels bureau chief know.

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