To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, register for a free FT account here and then sign up here.

The opening gap is considerable The EU and UK are a distance apart on core divorce questions. For all the goodwill, there is a clear clash on what citizen rights to guarantee (continued EU rights versus UK rights for non-EU migrants). The UK side disagree with the premise of an exit bill. There is a big gap on what a “phased approach” means. And there are more hidden, but perhaps more fundamental, differences over the ambition of a trade deal, and when it will come. Read more

Well it did not disappoint. There were dull moments and missed opportunities of course, and they could have spared us the policy lists. But when the French Five met they brought some biting put-downs, animated debate and flashes of passion. It was a worthy debate for a remarkable presidential race. The FT’s topline:

Finger pointing, innuendos and sarcastic remarks made for a lively first French presidential debate on Monday as the main candidates for France’s highest office clashed over Islam, the economy and the money scandals that have shaken the contest.

 Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, register for a free FT account here and then sign up here.

And yet. A few hours later Fillon was back on television, the most relaxed he has looked since the “fake jobs” scandal emerged. Withdraw? No way. He saw the difficulties, he said, but he was sure of one thing: “there is no alternative”. He would go on and on. The crowds were his validation. He had the primary votes, the legitimacy. His conscience was clear. Only he could decide to step aside; the party traitors could not force him out. Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, register for a free FT account here and then sign up here.

 Read more

Mega-mergers are once again all the rage – just as protectionist currents are gaining strength. Corporate dealmakers are running headlong into some treacherous politics. Some combustible merger-related battles are already playing out in Europe.

Shortly before Kraft Heinz ditched its $143bn pursuit of Unilever on Sunday, Downing Street desperately thinking of ways to shield the Anglo-Dutch group from the US cost-cutters. EU law would have made that difficult. But the sentiment is clear. Britain’s historic open door is no longer so open. Read more

Britain’s Article 50 notification could be less than a month away. Theresa May has outfoxed her opponents in the first parliamentary skirmishes. Unexpected delays are always possible in the Lords. But it looks like Downing Street may meet its March 9 target for notifying Brexit, just in time for the European Council summit that day.

Britain’s prime minister will have the chance to explain herself in person (rather than just break up by fax/letter/email or text message). And the EU-27 will take their cue. Diplomats are already preparing a special EU-27 summit in early April to set “guidelines” for Brexit talks. Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, register for a free FT account here and then sign up here.

How do they get to €60bn? The Commission’s arguments are becoming clearer, but it remains cagey about the precise numbers (EU-27 officials may be told more today when they meet on this subject). From some (often patchy) public data, I’ve estimated the net €60bn bill consists of: €10bn for pension promises to EU officials; around €36bn from unpaid spending commitments; and €27bn of other liabilities and promises of structural funding that will be discharged between 2019-2023. From that is deducted roughly €12bn of UK receipts, from its share of assets and commitments. Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, register for a free FT account here and then sign up here.

Just ask Theresa May. On Friday the British prime minister felt she had pulled off a diplomatic miracle in Washington – literally glad-handing Mr Trump while still leaving with a nod of support for Nato and a semblance of dignity. Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, register for a free FT account here and then sign up here.

The Brexit plan she set out yesterday includes historic judgement calls on how to approach Britain’s most important postwar negotiation. Her speech mixed optimism, realism, veiled threats, open threats, clear red lines, blurred red lines, all cut with some creative (and some would say implausible) ideas to soften a hard Brexit. Sterling rallied, and so did the Tory party. The right-wing press was not far behind: Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, register for a free FT account here and then sign up here.

Bill English, New Zealand’s prime minister for a month, made his European diplomatic debut this week and sat down with the FT. He is here to remind folks that European decisions “wash up on our shores, even at the other end of the world”. And when it comes to Brexit, they certainly will. Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, register for a free FT account here and then sign up here.

A disaster at Christmas may have been averted, but don’t think Italy’s bank problems are over. Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, register for a free FT account here and then sign up here.

 Read more

By Arthur Beesley

It’s not a precedent any president would want to set. François Hollande is the first French head of state since the second world war not to stand for re-election. Laid low by dreadful popularity ratings, the socialist Hollande had little chance of prevailing next year against centre-right candidate François Fillon or Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front. Read more

Not even the clocks in Turkey can ignore the whims of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This weekend Turkey’s imperious president decided to make it summertime all year. The decision to abandon daylight saving time moves Ankara an hour further from Europe, and into a timezone with Khartoum, Moscow and Riyadh. If only that were the end of it.

Mr Erdogan issued decrees to oust 10,158 public officials; expelled 1,267 academics from their posts; took charge of appointing university rectors; permitted prosecutors to record client-lawyer conversations; allowed judges to deny access to lawyers for up to three months; and shut down 15 (mainly Kurdish) media outlets. And that was just this weekend.

Don’t forget the more than 100,000 accused, sacked or detained in relation to the botched coup in July, or the internet blackout across swathes of majority Kurdish areas in the southeast, or the detention and arrest of the elected mayors of Diyarbakir.

Then there is matter of the death penalty. Since the attempted coup – a watershed moment for modern Turkey that FAZ calls the beginning of its second republic – Mr Erdogan’s rhetoric has swung from hot to lukewarm on whether to reinstate capital punishment, which was dropped in 2004 as part of Turkey’s EU membership bid. This weekend it turned red hot. Sporting a pair of black aviator sunglasses, Mr Erdogan bellowed these words on Saturday to a crowd chanting: “Execution! Execution!”

“Our government will take this proposal [on capital punishment] to parliament. I am sure parliament will approve it, and when it comes back to me, I will ratify it…Soon, soon, don’t worry. It’s happening soon, God willing. The West says this, the West says that. Excuse me, but what counts is not what the West says. What counts is what my people say.”

What should Europe do? Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, sign up here. You must be a registered user of the Financial Times. To register click here.

Without much fanfare – without even a press conference – Margrethe Vestager on Wednesday slipped out one of the most important decisions of her time as competition commissioner. Known for her flinty approach to the likes of Apple and Google, Ms Vestager showed a different side: restraint. And this was no ordinary antitrust case. It was Gazprom. Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, sign up here. You must be a registered user of the Financial Times. To register click here.

As Europe’s 28 heads of state or government gather again in Brussels this afternoon, it is worth recalling that special energy that European summits bring. This format is virtually unique in international affairs – even at G20 meetings “minders” are allowed in the room. It can make them wonderfully unpredictable and very human, especially (like today) when no big concrete decision needs to be taken. Here are three political live-rails to watch: Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, sign up here. You must be a registered user of the Financial Times, which is available here.

It’s summit week. The full roster of 28 EU leaders will gather in Brussels on Thursday for a two-day meeting. Compared to what we have grown accustomed to in recent years, it lacks the urgency of a hot-crisis. Migration numbers are a fraction of this time last year, and the crunch of Brexit and Greek debt are for another day. What we do have though is a big introduction (this is Theresa May’s debut summit) and some potentially significant debates: Read more

There was a touch of nervous twitching (Nicolas Sarkozy), a few polite sideswipes at the frontrunner (Alain Juppé), some jibes over integrity (deflected by Sarkozy and Juppé), a fair amount of policy consensus (almost unanimity on ditching the wealth tax and flouting EU deficit limits), and certainly a surplus dry preparation (technical talk came easy to most). But there was probably no breakthrough winner.

The seven hopefuls vying for France’s centre-right presidential nomination met for their first TV debate on Thursday night. Perhaps because nobody can doubt the importance of the contest – from it is likely to emerge France’s next president – the discipline held, as did probably the political order of things. Former prime minister Mr Juppé remains the man to beat and Mr Sarkozy can barely contain his irritation. There were mini-flashes of passion and raw politics. But the two-hour showdown became at times an arid, earnest affair. Probably a small mercy given what we endure in the White House race. Read more

To receive the Brussels Briefing in your inbox every morning, sign up here

There was a meeting last week that should make Brexiters sit up and take note. Captains of European business – the “European Roundtable of Industrialists” – held their annual evening pow-wow with Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Jean-Claude Juncker. This year the venue was the chancellery in Berlin. After enjoying white wine on the balcony and a Berlin sunset, the assorted executives (all male) moved to the dining room and a discussion of Europe’s economic future. Read more

*Apologies to those who usually receive this Brussels Briefing by email. We’ve had some technical problems this morning

Sunday was probably a defining moment for Brexit. Far from procrastinating or playing for time, Theresa May appeared to make a big strategy call. From the hubbub of the Conservative party conference has emerged clarity on when she will start Article 50 exit talks (by March 2017) and what her goals will be. Read more