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Wednesday's Business and Politics round-up

20 Mar 2019

Commuters reading daily news on their journey to work

Good morning!

Germany and Belgium have put forward a proposal for a mechanism to monitor rule of law and democratic freedoms in the EU. 

The mechanism would be a peer review conducted by member states, although breaches would not have “binding legal consequences”. 

It comes amid a shift to the right in countries including Poland and Hungary. 

An existing mechanism, called the Article 7 procedure, allows the EU to suspend certain rights in cases where member states breach core EU values. It was triggered for the first time in 2017 when Poland enacted an overhaul its judiciary system. 

Germany and Belgium emphasised the proposed mechanism would be in addition to and not replace Article 7. German state secretary Michael Roth said he hopes the measure can “build bridges” and “overcome stereotypes”. 

Meanwhile Polish European Affairs minister said Konrad Szymański said “We will join such a mechanism when we have full guarantees of impartiality, objectivity, the role of EU institutions and states and relations with other procedures regarding fundamental rights.”

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Tell me what you want, what you really, really, want

The Prime Minister will not ask the EU for a long extension in her request for a delay to Article 50, according to Number 10. 

Downing Street said "There is a case for giving Parliament a bit more time to agree a way forward, but the people of this country have been waiting nearly three years now”. It added "They are fed up with Parliament's failure to take a decision and the PM shares their frustration". 

It is believed May is writing to the EU to formally request an extension. She has previously floated the idea of a three-month delay to 30 June. The Prime Minister will travel to Brussels tomorrow for the European Council summit. 

Yesterday EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said at a press conference it was up to the UK side to formally request any extension, which includes proposing a length and stating its purpose. 

Last week MPs voted in favour of the Government seeking an extension to the Article 50. The motion suggested that if no deal was approved by 20 March, the EU would “require a clear purpose for any extension, not least to determine its length”. 

Work it 

The number of working people in the UK is at its highest in decades, as new figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 32.7 million in employment between November and January. 

Unemployment dropped by 35,000 to 1.34 million in the same period, meaning the rate was under 4% for the first time since 1975. The jobless rate of 3.9% is considerably below the 6.5% EU average.

Average weekly earnings, excluding bonuses are thought to have increased by 3.4%, lower than the previous month but still outstripping inflation. 

Employment Minister Alok Sharma said the figures demonstrate “how our pro-business policies are delivering record employment." The 76.1% employment rate is the highest since records began in 1971.

Tej Parikh, IoD Senior Economist, said "Businesses have been steadfast in bringing on board new staff and in creating vacancies […] But with uncertainty around Brexit reaching a crescendo, firms are becoming more and more cagey over their hiring decisions." 

Tej was widely quoted, including in the BBC, the Guardian, the I, and City AM

Searching for solutions

Google is changing how it presents some search results in Europe in an effort to avoid a competition probe by the EU.

Today the tech giant will be fined in its third and last antitrust investigation by the Commission, having paid €7 billion in fines so far. It now wants to overhaul some of its practices to avoid future probes.

The changes include developing plans to ask Android users which browser and search apps they wish to use and considering how Google treats its rivals in job and local service searches like Tripadvisor.  

Margrethe Vestager, EU Competition Commissioner, said recently “some of those business that depend on the large platform, they feel they are being unfairly treated… complaints, they just keep coming in”. 

Kent Walker, senior vice president at Google, said “We’ve been listening carefully to the feedback we’re getting, both from the European Commission, and others. And as a result, over the next few months, we’ll be making further updates to our products”. 

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