Daily briefing

Woulda, coulda, shoulda (Trump, May, Thyssen)

There's a couple of other things I meant to say, too. Source: AFP

“Trump’s European tour was an absolute disaster. He seems to finally understand it himself.”

Those were the words of Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian PM turned European parliamentarian, after the president of the United States said he misspoke on Russia. Following widespread criticism, Trump said he is now willing to accept the assessment of US intelligence officials on election meddling, rather than Vladimir Putin’s assertions. Now, what about calling Europe a “foe.” Surely you meant “friend,” Mr. Trump?

With or without Russia and Trump, Europe is busy making its own problems worse. British Prime Minister Theresa May is showing just how divided her party is as she holds a last rough session in parliament today before summer break. Not only is she fighting with Brexiteers, but yesterday she claimed a narrow victory to stop a bid by (remain-leaning) Tories to create a customs union in the case of a no deal. It’s been a bad week: earlier, the Vote Leave campaign was found to have massively, illegally overspent. Ms. May, with all these divisions, the writing is on the wall. Call a second referendum. Just to make sure.

The guessing games are a nightmare for companies doing business in the UK. Brose, a German company, assembles car seats in Coventry. Its managers don’t want to ditch the plant; they’ve invested millions there. So each month, they sit down to figure out how to manage their European network after Brexit. They have alternative suppliers on standby and are training customs experts, but the calculus is complicated because of the unknown unknowns.

Germany’s corporate governance isn’t much more stable these days. Witness ThyssenKrupp, which is in a tug of war and heads are rolling. The conglomerate, maker of elevators, submarines and factory equipment, is being squeezed by activist shareholders who want to break up and sell off different parts of the conglomerate. The supervisory board sought stability – and lost. Its chief executive stepped down right after the company’s steel division merged with Tata Steel and yesterday, the supervisory board chief followed suit. Thyssen’s stock price surged on hopes of change, and if investors get their way it’ll be an upset for the country’s corporate governance, so far managed by a cozy club of insiders who don’t like rocking the boat.

We’re watching the European Union today, anticipating Google will be fined €4.3 billion for antitrust violations. It would be the EU’s largest fine against a single company, and penalizes the tech firm because Google reportedly tied phone makers to its Android operating system, forcing them to preinstall its search engine on devices. Google argues users can swap to an alternative search engine with just one click, but let’s be honest: Consumers deserve real choices that don’t lock them into one vendor’s view of the digital economy. About time, EU.

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