Brussels Edition: Orban’s Move

Ian Wishart and Zoltan Simon

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

What to do about Hungary? The EU is still figuring that one out, but there are a few signs that criticism of the country’s alleged descent into authoritarianism could be having an impact. After a rebuke by a group of member states, Prime Minister Viktor Orban is now scrambling to respond to the backlash, amid a pandemic bound to hit the country’s economy. For many in Berlin and Brussels, though, the whole matter is an unwelcome distraction at a time when the viral outbreak is ravaging Europe. And even those who feel they’ve had enough, know that there’s little they can really do other than applying public pressure. The question is whether it will be enough. 

What’s Happening

What’s Next? | As the coronavirus rages across the continent, EU officials are starting to draw up plans for the day after. With the death toll still spiraling upwards and no end in sight to the restrictions that have brought the bloc's economy shuddering to a halt, various proposals are being floated ahead of a finance ministers meeting on Tuesday. At the top of the agenda will be having to make a decision about helping Italy.

Homecoming Hopes | EU foreign ministers today will hold their second video conference in as many weeks as they seek to repatriate more than 200,000 European citizens still stranded abroad as result of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as weigh assistance for the world's weakest nations.

Johnson’s NHS | The cult of Britain's National Health Service has been key to so many political fortunes over the decades, but no other leader has weaponized it more than Boris Johnson after years of austerity measures implemented by his Conservative Party. While peers across Europe come under strain fighting the pandemic, few have more to gain or lose from the ability of the health system to cope than the British prime minister.

Back to Work? | As global infections cross 1 million, companies and governments are trying to strike a balance between confinement and productivity. But, as Bloomberg’s Tara Patel writes, workers remain wary as countries impose strict lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19, while at the same time urging some to return to work to avert a total collapse of the economy.

In Case You Missed It

Where’s Brexit? | Prime Minister Johnson says he won’t delay the U.K.’s final parting with the EU by extending the transition period beyond the end of the year. But empty meeting rooms suggest delay is all but inevitable. Business lobbyists say government officials have canceled most Brexit meetings as civil servants deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Diesel Claims | Volkswagen AG could face compensation claims over the diesel emissions scandal wherever car owners live, according to an adviser at the bloc’s top court. In an opinion that could pave the way for VW lawsuits across the EU, Advocate General Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona of the EU Court of Justice said customers claiming their vehicles lost value shouldn’t have to sue the German carmaker in its own backyard.

Wanting More | Some of Europe’s biggest companies like Iberdrola SA and Volkswagen are urging the European Central Bank to speed up short-term debt purchases to shore up industry liquidity and funding of their daily operations. The ECB last week said it would extend its corporate bond purchases to include non-financial firms’ commercial paper, helping to ensure companies don’t lose access to a vital source of short-term cash for things like payrolls and inventory.

Refugee Ruling | The EU won backing for its refugee policy after the bloc’s top court said Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic failed to comply with a decision requiring them to resettle refugees in line with national quotas. The European Commission took the three nations to court in 2017 for failing to comply with directives two years earlier requiring EU nations to help relocate migrants who had fled to countries such as Italy and Greece during the biggest influx of asylum seekers to Europe since World War II.Horror Hospitals | Romania is the one EU member state where hospitals might be as dangerous as the the virus itself. Take a tour of a healthcare system where cancer sufferers with internal bleeding can be accidentally set on fire by an electric scalpel during an operation (true story).

Chart of the Day

Denmark just conducted its biggest currency interventions in over a decade to support the krone, after a wave of market panic caused by the spread of Covid-19 put pressure on the country’s exchange-rate regime. In March, the central bank in Copenhagen bought 64.7 billion kroner, equivalent to $9.4 billion, it said yesterday. The interventions culminated in an interest rate hike on March 19, as Denmark fought to defend the krone’s peg to the euro

Today’s Agenda

All times CET.

11 a.m. Informal video conference of EU foreign affairs ministers 2:15 p.m. European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis participates in a Facebook live event Eurostat to release retail trade reading for February  

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