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Week Ahead (21 February)

Monday 21 February - Truss and Šefčovic to attend EU-U.K. Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee meeting

The EU-UK Committee on the Withdrawal Agreement will formally meet today for the first time since June 2021 to push for a conclusion to the long-standing issue of Northern Ireland’s trade position post-Brexit. Inter-party talks have been ongoing for many months; a breakthrough in the areas of medicinal supply to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK is the only confirmed achievement talks to date, although some understanding on the future of customs arrangements has also been agreed.

Today’s meeting is taking place against the backdrop of Russian aggression against Ukraine, which both the UK and EU are opposed to, and as such serious disagreements are unlikely to be aired between the sides. Indeed, the UK Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, has said that she wants the Northern Ireland Protocol issue to be settled so that a stronger relationship can be built which would allow both sides to focus on “external issues”, citing the Russian situation directly.

Tuesday, 22 February – CSO data on wholesale price index

On Tuesday, Ireland’s Central Statistics Office will release data incorporating imported and home produced goods sold by manufacturers and wholesale outlets. Much of the focus will be on energy costs and specifically the Building Materials, Capital Goods and Energy Products indices covering home production and imports of these commodities.

Figures released in December show that there were very large increases in wholesale electricity prices during 2021, with prices up 260.4% compared to the 2020 average. Other wholesale energy fuels also increased in price, and the index for all energy products was up by 160.6% on 2020. These trends are likely to have continued into 2022 and will continue to fuel inflation. Irish consumer price inflation in December reached 5.5% - the highest level for two decades.

Wednesday, 23 February – New EU data act to be published

The new Data Act is expected to be introduced by the European Commission on 23 February. The possibility of a Data Act was brought up in February 2020, when the Commission issued a communication on a European strategy for data to facilitate business-to-government data sharing while serving the public interest and business-to-business data sharing.

Since then, the Commission has conducted an evaluation of the intellectual property rights framework and an inception impact assessment published in May 2021. The impact assessment outlined that the Data Act will address a number of key issues, including the use of privately held data by the public sector, data access and use in business-to-business situations, the role of the Database Directive, the increase of the use of “Smart Contracts”, and establishing more competitive markets for cloud computing services.

Wednesday, 23 February – Oireachtas Finance Committee to consider Buy-now-pay-later and other provisions of Consumer Protection (Regulation of Retail Credit and Credit Servicing Firms) Bill 2021

EU Member States are increasingly concerned about the role of BNPL providers. This concern at national level is well reflected by the decision of certain Member States, such as Germany, to apply some of the EU consumer credit directive’s provisions to all consumer credits, regardless of the interest rate charged.

In Ireland, the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Retail Credit and Credit Servicing Firms) Bill 2021 will bring BNPL providers under the Consumer Protection Code. The Bill will bring “deferred payments” and “other similar financial accommodation” within the definition of “credit”. It will also amend the definition of “retail credit firms” to include businesses providing direct or indirect credit. On Wednesday, Sean Fleming, Minister of State at the Department of Finance, will discuss the bill with members of the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach.

Wednesday, 23 February – Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey appears before the Treasury Committee

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey will appear before the Treasury Committee on 23 February. It is likely that Bailey will be questioned on his recent comments on pay rises, in which he stated that workers should not pressure their employers to raise wages since the economy needs time to recover from the record-high inflation. MPs are also likely to question why Bailey is focused on wage demands and not companies’ attempts to protect their profit margin by increasing prices.

MPs can also be expected to put pressure on Bailey to expose any ideological leanings which would see him discourage workers demanding higher salaries while he himself draws a salary of £500,000 a year.

Friday, 25 February – Eurostat data on energy prices in the EU

Eurostat is expected to publish the EU’s energy prices on 25 February. The price of natural gas has gone up by 450% in the last year, which has contributed significantly to high inflation throughout the EU. In recognition of the negative impact this is having on consumers, the European Commission will issue a communication on rising energy costs on 3 March ahead of launching a new strategy on international energy engagement on 3 May.

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