Monday, 15 January – First Eurogroup of the year to be held
The Eurogroup meets today to discuss inter alia the external competitiveness of the euro area, taking stock of energy prices and their impact on the economy. The director of the EU Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER), Christian Zinglersen, will also attend the meeting, updating ministers on recent energy market developments.
In his meeting with Baltic finance ministers and central bankers last week, Eurogroup president Paschal Donohoe warned that 2024 will be another year of endurance. However, he also highlighted the resilience demonstrated by the eurozone countries most affected by inflation following the war in Ukraine, praising the role of the single currency.
Furthermore, part of the agenda will be a discussion of the draft recommendations for Eurozone economic policy for 2024 before their approval at the ECOFIN Council the following day. Finally, Donohoe will unveil the Eurogroup work programme, covering the first half of 2024.
W/C Monday, 15 January – European Commission likely to announce decision on acquisition of German renewable electricity aggregator by TotalEnergies
This week, the European Commission is likely to announce its decision on whether to allow the acquisition of German renewable electricity aggregator Quadra Energy by the French oil and gas company TotalEnergies.
Quadra Energy has 9GW of capacity as a "virtual power plant," purchasing electricity from 5,000 wind and solar plants and reselling it on German wholesale markets. The acquisition is expected to enhance TotalEnergies' position as an integrated power business in Germany and accelerate the development of its integrated power activities in the country. According to the agreement, announced in October, Quadra Energy’s 40-strong workforce will be integrated into TotalEnergies.
Subsequently, on 18 December the involved parties filed a notice of the proposed deal to the European Commission, pursuing a simplified procedure. The Commission’s potential green light this week could pave the way for the deal’s finalisation in the coming months. The financial terms of the agreement have not been disclosed.
Wednesday, 17 January – Deadline for concessions to the European Commission for IAG’s €400 million acquisition of Air Europa
By Wednesday, International Airlines Group (IAG) and Air Europa will have to submit concessions in order to secure the European Commission’s green light for their proposed deal.
Last year, IAG, the parent company of British Airways and Iberia, agreed to acquire the remaining 80% stake in Spanish low-cost airline Air Europa for €400 million. This marks IAG's second attempt at the deal, having abandoned a previous attempt in 2021 due to regulatory concerns. On 11 December, the involved parties filed a notice of their proposed deal to the European Commission.
IAG has already expressed its readiness to offer a set of remedies to address any competition concerns raised by the European Commission aiming to complete the transaction in 2024. The acquisition is seen as a strategic move to enhance IAG's access to the Latin American market and position Madrid as a key European hub. However, concerns have been raised about the potential impact on ticket prices and competition on specific routes.
The European Commission has a decision deadline for Phase 1 of the deal on 24 January. The EU antitrust regulator may clear the deal after the completion of the preliminary review this week or initiate a four-month investigation if serious competition concerns arise.
Thursday, 18 January – ECB to release minutes of December meeting
On Thursday, the ECB will release the minutes of its December meeting, indicating the level of support for the governing council’s decision to keep rates unchanged at 4% for a second time, following ten consecutive interest rate hikes since July 2022.
Following, a better-than-expected performance in the second half of 2023, with inflation dropping to 2.4% in November, its lowest point in over two years, the ECB has shifted its focus from raising rates to keeping them sufficiently high for as long as it takes to curb inflation.
Although there is still uncertainty regarding when the ECB will initiate easing, the latest significant decline in inflation, coupled with a weakening Eurozone economy, could force an earlier than an originally projected rate cut. Last Thursday, ECB’s President Christine Lagarde stated that the ‘’hardest part is behind’’, adding that rate cuts could occur when there are clear indications that inflation has fallen to 2%.
Nevertheless, there are challenges ahead complicating the ECB’s job. Core inflation has been more persistent, while wages are still growing at a rate of 4% year over year, exceeding the 2% inflation target. In addition, inflation rebounded in December, rising to 2.9%, ending a seven-month streak of declines and once again sparking a rate-cut debates. νIn the event of a dramatic resurgence of energy and food prices, driven by an unforeseen geopolitical shock, the ECB may be forced to push back a rate cut for the second half of 2024.
Thursday, 18 January - CJEU’s Advocate General to publish opinion on Commission’s appeal against General Court’s decision on Intel case
On Thursday, the EU Court of Justice Advocate General Laila Medina will publish her opinion on the European Commission’s bid to overturn a 2022 decision of the General Court which partly annulled a Commission finding against Intel. The decision came in May 2009 when the Commission found Intel had engaged in a single and continuous infringement of Article 102 TFEU and Article 54 of the EEA Agreement from October 2002 to December 2007. The imposed €1.06 billion fine was a record fee at that time. The Commission contended that Intel implemented a strategy to foreclose its significant competitor, AMD, from the market. The decision claimed that Intel's anti-competitive conduct reduced consumer choice, stifled innovation, and harmed competition.
Intel challenged the decision, leading to a 2014 General Court judgment, which upheld the Commission's decision. Intel appealed this decision to the EU’s highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), and in 2017 the CJEU upheld Intel’s appeal and referred the case back to the General Court. In January 2022, the General Court ruled on the case for the second time, partially annulling the Commission’s decision primarily due to procedural errors made during the investigation process, promoting the Commission to launch a new probe. In April 2022, the Commission filed an appeal against the 2022 General Court ruling with the CJEU and the CJEU Advocate General will give her initial assessment of this appeal on Thursday. Although the Advocate General’s ruling is not legally binding the Court tends to follow their recommendations. A final ruling is expected in the coming months, following her recommendation.