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Week Ahead (16 October)


Week Ahead

W/C Monday, 16 October – Polish politics enter a new era; PiS expected to be ousted by pro-EU centrist coalition

Coalition talks for a new government will begin in Poland this week, following Sunday’s general election. According to the latest exit polls, the ruling PiS has finished first, securing around 36.6% of the vote, followed by the centre-right Civic Platform, led by former President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, which has won around 31% of the vote.

Nevertheless, despite coming first, the PiS fell short of winning the 231 seats needed for a majority in the lower-house Sejm even with the support of the far-right and largely Eurosceptic Confederation, which finished fifth with 6.4% of the vote, performing well below expectations. The Civic Platform is now expected to join forces with the two other leading pro-EU opposition parties, the centrist Third Way Coalition (13.5%) and the social-democratic New Left (8.6%), since they have secured a combined 248 seats. Former Prime Minister Donald Tusk is naturally expected to lead this coalition.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Civic Platform made a significant push to mobilise supporters calling for massive rallies across the country. On 1 October, nearly one million people gathered in Warsaw and other major cities to protest against the current government. This can partly explain the record election turnout of 73%, the highest since the fall of communism in 1989.

Meanwhile, a widely-criticised last-minute referendum orchestrated by the PiS took place in tandem with the nationwide elections, covering issues such as state-owned enterprise privatisation, retirement age increase, EU relocation mechanism for immigrants, and the removal of the border barrier with Belarus. Yet, it was invalidated due to low turnout, failing to reach the 50% threshold, in another sign of PiS’s diminishing levels of nationwide support.

Tuesday, 17 October – EU energy ministers to discuss electricity market reform; prospects of a deal remain low, despite a breakthrough in talks last week

On Tuesday, EU energy ministers will hold a meeting in Luxembourg to seek a general approach to the proposed electricity market reform, following months of negotiation impasses.

In June, EU ministers reached an agreement on certain aspects of the reform of the EU's electricity market. One of the key agreements is on the proposal for a regulation on wholesale energy market integrity and transparency (REMIT), which aims to promote fair competition and prevent trading based on inside information and market manipulation. However, the overall reform of the European electricity market, proposed by the European Commission in March, was postponed until the second half of 2023 due to a lack of consensus on a series of issues. More specifically, a key point of contention in the negotiations was the inclusion of existing nuclear power plants in contracts for difference (CoD), which guarantee a fixed price for electricity and refund the difference if the actual price deviates from the agreed-upon price. France, a strong backer of nuclear power, demanded that CoDs apply to existing nuclear plants that extend their lifespan or increase their capacity. However, Germany, Spain, and Luxembourg, among others, opposed this demand.

The Spanish presidency of the Council is currently working on softening the differences. Last Wednesday, it presented a compromise proposal aimed at breaking the prolonged deadlock. The Spanish proposal primarily revisits the issue of state-backed investments, limiting subsidies to only new energy facilities. In their meeting in Hamburg last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron played a pivotal role in rejuvenating the talks. Germany remains particularly concerned about the possibility of its industries relocating to France, attracted by lower electricity prices due to its nuclear energy. Germany Economy Minister Robert Habeck indicated that the two sides have reached a common understanding, with potential solutions focusing on putting a limit on the amount of state-subsidised electricity in France to prevent dumping.

Last Friday, the EU ambassadors met to iron out details of a potential compromise deal, however, they concluded that a decision should be taken at a political level at tomorrow’s Energy Council meeting. Nevertheless, the prospects of a deal appear more likely at the end of the month.

Wednesday, 18 October - ECB Governing Council to announce whether it moves ahead with the digital euro’s ‘’preparatory phase’’

On Wednesday, the ECB Governing Council will decide whether the ECB should move into the digital euro’s ‘’preparatory phase’’, following the completion of the project’s 24-month investigation phase. Launched in October 2021, the investigation phase aimed to address key issues regarding design and distribution. The currency is expected to be introduced in the coming years, in light of the decline in the use of cash with Covid-19.

In June, the European Commission published a legal framework for the digital euro that would serve as a complement to physical cash and included stronger language on privacy safeguards. The CBDC enjoys wide-ranging support from all member states, although citizens seem to be more reserved about the prospect of its introduction. Indicatively, there are fears of the ECB knowing people’s spending patterns and conspiracy theories suggesting digital euros could be used to gather data on European citizens spreading across Europe.

Moreover, last month, six conservative MEPs urged the ECB to temporarily halt its digital euro plans until a clear legal framework is negotiated in Brussels. In their statement, the MEPs expressed concerns about the lack of clarity on the progress of the digital euro initiative, emphasising the need to avoid launching an incomplete currency that could disrupt the legislative process. However, ECB's Panetta intervened with a letter earlier this month to clarify that the upcoming phase, previously termed the "realisation phase" and now referred to as the "preparatory phase," does not signal a decision to issue a digital euro, assuring them that a decision on issuance would only occur after the adoption of necessary legislation by co-legislators. The preparatory phase, set to be announced this week, will involve additional experiments and pilot tests over approximately two years.

Wednesday, 18 October - Deadline for X to provide information on its response to online terrorist propaganda, following launch of preliminary investigation by the Commission

In a letter sent last Tuesday, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, issued a warning to Elon Musk, owner of the social network X (formerly Twitter), regarding the spread of graphic images related to the violence in Israel on the platform. On Thursday, Breton sent similar letters to the CEOs of TikTok and Meta, calling them to ‘’urgently step up efforts’’ to prevent circulation of violent content and misinformation. The following day, YouTube became the latest online platform to be warned by the EU over possible circulation of misinformation.

Following the expiration of a 24-hour deadline for Elon Musk to respond to a series of demands regarding the removal of such content, the European Commission decided to launch a preliminary investigation to assess whether X failed to adequately address graphic illegal content and disinformation related to the Israel-Hamas conflict. This marked the first time the EU has taken such action under the Digital Services Act (DSA), which came into effect in August. The EU has sent a formal request for information, and X has until Wednesday to explain its response to online terrorist propaganda and other problematic content associated with Hamas’ attacks on Israel.

Overall, the DSA aims to force tech companies to increase advertising transparency, take more responsibility for illegal content on their platforms, including any content promoting terrorist organisation, and improve data access. It also outlaws advertising that is targeted at users on the basis of their race, gender, politics, or religion, as well as any advertising aimed at children. The probe could lead to fines of 6% of X’s global revenue.

Thursday, 19 October – By-elections to take place in English constituencies of mid-Bedfordshire and Tamworth

Labour will be looking to take advantage of anti-Conservative sentiment in England by winning by-elections in two constituencies with significant Tory majorities. In Hamworth, a victory would require a swing of just under 20,000 votes. This is similar to that achieved by the Labour party in a 1996 by-election which was ultimately a harbinger of the landslide Labour enjoyed in the 1997 general election.

Similarly, in mid-Bedfordshire, a swing of just under 25,000 votes would be required for Labour to win back the seat which would represent the largest majority to be overturned in by-election history. Despite a 16% lead in national polls, the outcome of these two by-elections is uncertain. Should the Conservatives lose both, this may represent the death knell of Rishi Sunak’s slim chance of remining in office after the next general election.

Thursday, 19 October – Deadline for the Commission’s decision on Pfizer’s $43 billion acquisition of Seagen

On Thursday, the European Commission is expected to announce its decision on Pfizer’s $43 billion acquisition of Seagen. Last Thursday, the deadline for Pfizer to offer potential concessions to the European Commission for its proposed deal expired, with the company opting against offering any remedies. Pfizer, the US pharmaceutical company, announced the deal in March to acquire Seagen, a Washington-based pioneer of antibody-drug conjugates designed to target cancer cells, with the two companies targeting completion in late 2023 or early 2024. 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 concerns about competition distortion arise.

Pfizer, seeking approval, did not receive a fast-track status for the deal, indicating potential antitrust considerations. According to Pfizer’s announcement of the deal in March, the acquisition aims to ‘’enhance its position as a leading company in oncology’’, providing access to Seagen's drug development pipeline and proprietary antibody-drug conjugate technology. The deal is also under preliminary investigation in the US, with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting in July additional information about the transaction.

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