Europe

Facing unease over the spread of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, the European Central Bank said it would maintain its stimulus in the form of ultra-low interest rates until inflation “durably” reaches its 2% target, the Associated Press reported. The monetary authority for the 19 countries that use the euro said it would not back off its efforts to support the economy, even if that resulted in a “transitory” period of inflation moderately above target. ECB President Christine Lagarde underlined the bank’s determination to persist with supportive policy.

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The British government said that the post-Brexit trade rules it negotiated with the European Union “cannot go on” and need a major rewrite, straining already-tense U.K./E.U. relations and drawing a message of concern from the U.S. government, the Associated Press reported. The government said Britain would be justified in unilaterally suspending the legally binding Brexit agreement but had decided not to do so just yet. Since the U.K. left the EU’s economic embrace at the end of 2020, relations have soured over trade arrangements for Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K.

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Britain's supermarkets, wholesalers and hauliers were struggling to ensure stable food and fuel supplies after an official health app told hundreds of thousands of workers to isolate after contact with someone with COVID-19, Reuters reported. Coronavirus cases in Britain have been broadly rising for a month, with more than 44,000 recorded on Wednesday. "We're very concerned about the situation," Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that a compromise deal that will allow the completion of a Russian gas pipeline to Europe without the imposition of further U.S. sanctions is “good for Ukraine,” the Associated Press reported. The U.S. and Germany announced the deal on Wednesday and committed to countering any Russian attempt to use the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a political weapon. They also agreed to support Ukraine and Poland, both of which are bypassed by the project and fear Russia’s intentions, by funding alternative energy and development projects.

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Bitcoin has slipped below $30,000 as calls have grown among regulators in the U.S., Europe and Asia for tighter checks on cryptocurrencies and the less volatile digi-currency known as “stablecoins,” The Guardian reported. Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, fell as much as 5 percent to $29,300, its lowest level since June 22, and investors said it was likely to test the $28,600 level touched last month, its lowest since early January, as it faces a variety of regulatory headwinds. Smaller cryptocurrencies also lost around 5 percent.

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British public borrowing last month was almost a fifth lower than a year earlier, when the economy was feeling the full force of the coronavirus pandemic, but rising inflation put upward pressure on debt costs, Reuters reported. Public sector net borrowing, excluding public sector banks, fell to 22.8 billion pounds ($31.0 billion) in June, still the second-highest June figure on record. Economists had forecast a drop to 21.6 billion pounds.

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The U.S. and Germany on Wednesday announced a deal to allow the completion of a controversial Russian gas pipeline to Europe without the imposition of further U.S. sanctions, the Associated Press reported. The agreement aims to stanch fears about European dependence on Russian energy, but it was immediately assailed by critics who said it doesn’t go far enough. Under the terms of the deal, the U.S. and Germany committed to countering any Russian attempt to use the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a political weapon.

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After Ben & Jerry’s, a Vermont-based ice-cream company and wholly owned subsidiary of global consumer-products giant Unilever that prides itself on its progressive politics, announced Monday that it is cancelling its license with its Israeli affiliate, a move that amounts to a boycott of Israel, a wave of legal and regulatory issues for its Dutch-American parent was triggered, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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Germany’s Cabinet met to decide on a package of immediate aid for victims of last week’s floods and consider longer-term plans to rebuild devastated areas, the Associated Press reported. Chancellor Angela Merkel and ministers are expected to approve a package of around 400 million euros ($472 million), financed half by the federal government and half by Germany’s state governments, to help people deal with the immediate aftermath of the flooding and repair some of the damage.

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Dozens of Sicilian towns are facing bankruptcy due to the cost of cleaning up the volcanic ash left by Mount Etna, which has been erupting regularly since February, The Guardian reported. The Italian government on Monday allocated €5m to compensate several villages struggling to pay to get rid of the volcanic cinders, the cost of which can reach more than €1m with every eruption. “The situation is very serious,” said Alfio Previtera, a council official in the town of Giarre, one of the villages most affected by Etna’s ash.

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