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FirstFT: EU poised to withhold €100m from Poland

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Brussels is prepared to withhold more than €100m from Poland to cover unpaid fines imposed by the EU’s top court, the bloc’s justice commissioner has warned.

Didier Reynders told the Financial Times that the commission will send a letter to Warsaw demanding payment of €69m in accumulated daily fines, racked up between early November and the start of this week.

If Poland does not comply within a 60-day period, the commission will withhold the fines from EU payments due to be disbursed to the country, with interest payments to be imposed on top, he said.

Poland is involved in a long-running dispute with Brussels over moves by the country’s conservative nationalist ruling party to gain powers over its judiciary, including via a disciplinary chamber that can punish judges.

Warsaw was ordered last October to pay daily fines of €1m for failing to comply with measures imposed by the European Court of Justice demanding the suspension of aspects of the judicial disciplinary regime.

Thank you to those who took part in our poll yesterday. Seventy-eight per cent said UK prime minister Boris Johnson should resign over his attendance at a lockdown-breaking event in 2020. Here’s the rest of today’s news — Jennifer

1. Google purchases $1bn London building The Silicon Valley giant has said it will buy an office building near Tottenham Court Road even as it is also building a huge headquarters in nearby King’s Cross, a big bet on its employees going back to work.

2. Negative-yielding debt tumbles to $10tn The wind-down of pandemic monetary policy has pushed global levels of negative-yielding debt down to $10tn for the first time since April 2020, as investors prepare for central banks to lift interest rates and end large-scale asset purchases. Bond yields, in turn, have jumped to their highest level since before the crisis.

3. Kremlin: US-Nato security talks ‘unsuccessful’ Russia said the talks in Geneva and Brussels have failed to address its security grievances, casting doubt over whether a western diplomatic push will defuse Moscow’s threat of military action against Ukraine. It was a conclusion that western governments and negotiators had feared but expected.

4. MI5 warns of ‘political interference’ by Chinese agent British MPs have been warned by MI5 that a Chinese agent has been “engaged in political interference activities” in parliament for the Chinese Communist party, including donating more than £420,000 to one Labour member.

5. Prince Andrew to lose royal titles Buckingham Palace announced that the Duke of York will stop using the title “his royal highness” and lose his role as a royal patron to scores of organisations as controversy continues over his links with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, attends a ceremony with the Grenadier Guards at Windsor Castle
Prince Andrew will also lose his long list of honorary military titles including his ceremonial role as colonel of the Grenadier Guards © Dominic Lipinski/PA

Coronavirus digest

  • UK health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that the Covid-19 self-isolation period will be cut in England from seven days to five following pressure from businesses and the health sector over staff absences.

  • British recruiters have benefited from a boom in profits as companies battle for talented staff, pushing up wages.

  • Victoria has imposed ticket sales restrictions on the Australian Open owing to rising infections. Tennis star Novak Djokovic’s fate remains in the balance after the Australian prime minister deferred a decision on whether to deport him.

  • The US Supreme Court has blocked Joe Biden’s mandate directing big companies to impose “vaccine or test” mandates on employees, although it upheld a rule requiring healthcare workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

  • The FT View: Pandemic-era managers deserve our sympathy.

  • The worst harm anti-vaxxers do is to their families, writes Simon Kuper. How will the grief of losing an unvaccinated loved one shape the millions of bereaved — and their relationship to the rest of us?

For more on how the global economy is bouncing back from the pandemic, sign up to our Road to Recovery newsletter.

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The days ahead

US bank earnings Investors’ hopes are high as JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo kick off proceedings with fourth-quarter results. Asset manager BlackRock also reports its latest financial results.

Ashes Test cricket In Australia, the fifth and final match against England begins in Hobart. The home team leads the series, 3-0, with a match drawn.

Economic data Germany releases full-year gross domestic product figures, while the UK will provide a GDP update for November as well as industrial production, trade and productivity data. In the US, December retail sales are likely to reflect the impact of supply shortages and rising inflation after rising modestly in November. France has consumer price index data out while the EU releases monthly international trade figures. (FT, WSJ)

Covid restrictions France will pave the way for UK tourists to start returning today after lifting most restrictions on vaccinated travellers. On Sunday, protesters are due to march in Amsterdam in opposition to the Dutch coronavirus response.

Serbia constitutional referendum The Balkan country will vote on whether to strengthen judicial independence on Sunday. (FP)

What else we’re reading and listening to

Bain & Co, tax and Jacob Zuma As the fiscal bulwark of a young democracy, South Africa’s revenue service was renowned as one of the continent’s most effective tax gatherers. But a judicial report this month has criticised management consultant Bain & Co as an enabler of graft, shining a light on the muddy nexus between politics and corporations.

Washington’s Wall Street problem There is outcry inside the Congress and across the US over investments made by public officials, which have raised questions about unfair market opportunities and prompted lawmakers to pursue bills to ban active investing. Who among the powerful should be allowed to trade?

Don’t deride the Davos prophets of doom Each winter, the World Economic Forum polls its members about perceived risks. This year’s survey of Davos-goers is startlingly gloomy. Doubly striking is the detail about what scares the Davos elite, writes Gillian Tett.

Gillian Tett: ‘The list of social concerns features problems that have never cropped up in this ranking before’
Gillian Tett: ‘The list of social concerns features problems that have never cropped up in this ranking before’ © Efi Chalikopoulou

Kazakhstan’s power struggle After initial speculation that Nursultan Nazarbayev’s grip on power would be undone by protests, the real impact on Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet leader and his allies is now less clear-cut. The struggle that will set the country’s course is within the regime itself.

Bridging the workplace generation gap Often in the office, there can be dissonance between the “wisdom and experience” of Gen X and Boomers, and the “innovative energy” of those in their twenties and thirties. But what are the perks and pitfalls of working with people much older (or younger) than you? Isabel Berwick explores on the Working It podcast.

Books

From the homespun wisdom of a cheerleading coach to how to deal with the “jerk” at work, here are this month’s top business reads.

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