The Brief: All eyes are on the money in Florence

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Theresa May’s speech in Florence tomorrow is her chance to bring order to the Brexit chaos. Brussels will look on with interest but will pay closer attention to the reaction of May’s colleagues and her party than to the prime minister herself.

So why Florence? The speech had to be delivered on EU turf, but Germany and France have their minds on other things, Belgium can hardly be seen as neutral territory and many Brits have never heard of Luxembourg. The only founding nation left to choose from was Italy.

May hopes the Renaissance city will offer a sympathetic stage for her vision of the UK’s post-Brexit “deep and special partnership” with the EU, a topic that Brussels only wants to hear about once the issues of the Irish border, citizens’ rights and the Brexit bill are settled.

And unlike for her speech at the UN this week, she will hope that more than half the seats are filled.

Details of the speech have been kept tightly under wraps, but expect the “open and generous offer” to begin with polite references to Europe’s shared values and history, followed by banalities about Britain’s “global” future and the importance of continued cooperation with the EU.

This is all well and good, but the attention of Michel Barnier – and May’s own cabinet – will be on the money.

May’s mooted offer of a €20bn divorce settlement is a sign that the UK is finally ready to start negotiating seriously.

The Commission, of course, is unlikely to accept such a low-ball bid on its €60bn figure without a fight. But at this stage, that is neither here nor there: it will at last (or at least?) give both sides something concrete to dig their teeth into at next week’s talks.

What really matters, and what Barnier and co. will be looking out for, is the reaction of May’s own Conservative Party. This will show them whether she is to be taken seriously or whether her time is up.

With that in mind, €20bn is a well-chosen starting point.

Aim too low and mountain-man Barnier would simply tell the Brits to take a hike; too high and the recent skirmishes in the cabinet could balloon into all-out war, costing May her job and potentially derailing the Brexit negotiations altogether.

That May is ready to make an offer at all shows she realises Britain needs a Brexit deal and that the only way to get one before time runs out is to stop squabbling and start negotiating like grown-ups.

If she manages to bring her party to heel, May might yet steer Britain clear of the Brexit cliff-edge.

The Roundup

The Commission unveils its ideas for taxing digital companies, in an effort to link profits to where sales are made.

Europe’s fear of being bought up by China could stifle much-needed investment. European industry and engineering would suffer, writes Thilo Brodtmann of mechanical engineering association VDMA.

Member states can’t agree on linking a CO2 cap to energy-production subsidies, and coal-burning countries may have their buffer period extended – causing rage among renewable and environmental groups.

Germany’s dependence on coal could end the country’s leadership on climate action, with bad consequences for the whole of Europe. Julian Schwartzkopff of climate network E3G calls for a coal phase-out.

We look into the EPP’s attempt to strengthen controls on NGOs and we find a pro-Israel group and a Glyphosate supporter.

GMOs: researchers present the case for a knowledge-based society.

Tax controls and forced closures are used by Serbian government to intimidate independent media, while pro-government propaganda is supported by taxpayers.

The threat of EU sanctions on Poland could make things worse: Polish lawyers seek domestic solution to avoid feeding populism.

Eastern Europeans are turning their backs to the EU and perceive it as a foreign institution, we learn from our interview with Czech analyst Irah KuÄerová.

This weekend Germany goes to the polls. German MEPs, diplomats, trade unions and banks put forward their ideas for the next chancellor’s EU policy.

Spain jumps on the gastro-nationalism wagon – expect “Catalan yogurt” and “Basque queso” labels.

Cheap and accessible- learn from Rennes, France, if you want to upscale your public transport network.

Trains linking the Aegean with the Black sea will tighten links Greece and Bulgaria and boost the Balkan region.

Lookout for…

PM May’s speech in Florence. But why there?

Views are the author’s

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