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24th Jun 2018

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Zuckerberg and Trump top the EU's agenda This WEEK

  • EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and US president Donald Trump: shaky alliance (Photo: European Commission)

All eyes in Brussels will be on two Americans next week: Mark Zuckerberg will show up in Brussels, but only present himself to the leaders of the European Parliament and shy away from a public hearing.

Donald Trump will be on eurocrats' mind as the EU gets ready to protect European companies threatened with US sanctions after the US president abandoned the Iran nuclear deal, and European leaders struggle to avoid a trade war following Trump's threat to impose steel tariffs.

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On Tuesday (22 May) afternoon, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will brief the group leaders and the president of the European Parliament on the data mishandling scandal.

The meeting will take place behind closed doors, which prompted a backlash from MEPs and justice commissioner Vera Jourova, despite European Parliament president Antonio Tajani's effort to portray the meeting as win for the parliament protecting European consumers.

European Peoples Party group leader Manfred Weber supported his fellow EPP member Tajani, while liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt said he will not participate in the meeting in protest of it being a closed discussion.

Zuckerberg will also travel to Paris to talk to French president Emmanuel Macron, but he will not be answering questions at the UK parliament.

The 34-year-old CEO travels to Brussels and Paris only a few days before the EU's new data protection legislation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), enter into force on Friday (25 May).

The new rules will give more control to citizens over their personal data, and could see companies such as Facebook fined billions for future data violations.

Dealbreaker

In the meantime, the EU gets ready to provide cover for European companies that might be hit by US sanctions for doing business in Iran, after US president Donald Trump quit the nuclear deal aimed at curbing Tehran's atomic ambitions.

"So long as Iran sticks to the terms of the deal, so will the EU," said an EU official, adding that the EU's goal is protect European companies that invested in Iran from US sanctions that are expected in August and November.

The EU is updating the so-called 'blocking statute', an EU regulation dating back from 1996 that states that EU companies "should not" take into account decisions by non-EU jurisdictions.

It also plans to make Iran an eligible country for loans for EU projects by the European Investment Bank (EIB), and is proposing to EU governments to make direct transfers to Iran's central bank to bypass the US financial system and avoid US penalties.

Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete is in Tehran over the weekend to discuss the idea with Iranian officials. Iran's central bank governor and one advisor are however under US sanctions.

EU officials insists that the US remains a key partner and ally of the EU. "EU leaders however have a duty to protect their companies," one official added.

Trade tussle

The EU is also getting ready to negotiate opening its markets wider to US imports in an effort to avert a potential trade war with Washington.

EU leaders agreed on Wednesday (16 May) in Sofia that in exchange for permanent exception from new US steel and aluminium tariffs the bloc is willing to engage in limited trade talks to address some of the US concerns about imbalances.

France has opposed the move worried about giving in to Trump's aggressive policy, while Germany was more open to appeasing the US administration.

The EU is possibly open to more cooperation on market access for industrial products, including cars, government tenders, energy, notably liquefied natural gas (LNG), and reform of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

European trade ministers are expected to discuss the issue in detail at their next meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (22 May).

Debt

On Thursday (24 May) the last Eurogroup will take place before the decisive one in June, where eurozone ministers will decide on how Greece's bailout will end in August.

Debt relief will be a key issue as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) needs to reach an agreement on the debt relief with Greece and its EU creditors by next week to be able to disperse money to Athens. Greece has a massive 180 percent debt-to-GDP after three bailouts.

We will also find out how citizens feel about the EU and the European Parliament on Wednesday (23 May), when the latest Eurobarometer public opinion survey is unveiled. The poll will also cover campaign topics, and political parties ahead of the EP elections next year.

Sofia summit: EU leaders search for a Trump strategy

"With friends like that, who needs enemies?" European Council Donald Tusk asked on Wednesday, as EU leaders were trying to come up with a reply to the US president's questioning of the transatlantic relationship.

Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline

The EU starts enforcing its general data protection regulation on 25 May - but Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia won't be ready. The delay will cause legal uncertainty.

Greece and Merkel's fate top This WEEK

Eurozone ministers are expected to give the green light to the final disbursement of aid to Greece and agree on measures to help with its debt burden. Meanwhile, the government in Berlin is shaken by Bavarian rebels over migration.

Greece and creditors proclaim 'end of crisis'

After late-night talks, the Eurogroup agreed on a €15bn disbursement and debt relief measures for Greece, while setting out a tight monitoring when the bailout ends in August.

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