ECB and Brussels argue over Italy’s oldest bank, paying for Syria’s conflict and Ireland’s Rhododendron war

Italian government’s efforts to recapitalise Monte dei Paschi di Siena are in limbo

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Italy’s oldest and most troubled bank is at the centre of a spat between Brussels and the European Central Bank. The Italian government is trying to shore up its banking system but its efforts to recapitalise the troubled Monte dei Paschi di Siena have been in limbo since December as the ECB, which is the bank’s supervisor, and the European Commission, which polices state aid, argue over their responsibilities and the merits of taxpayer bailouts. Rome is also looking at a €5bn state rescue of two struggling regional banks in the Veneto region.

Meanwhile, Brussels has warned Italy that it must cut its record public debt by April to avoid breaching EU budget rules. The commission said this week the debt was a “major source of vulnerability”. Rome argues that Brussels should give the country more leeway given the challenges it faces from the cost of last year’s earthquake, the migration crisis and a sluggish economic recovery. (FT)

In the news

Paying for Syria Russia is pressing world powers to provide Syria with billions of dollars for reconstruction as it struggles to resolve the state’s six-year conflict. Moscow is facing an uphill struggle however. European and Gulf states, who were opposed to Russia’s intervention on behalf of Bashar al-Assad, have said they will only contribute if Russia secures a peace settlement with terms for an eventual political transition — something that has eluded negotiators for the past six years. (FT)

Our new sister solar system Astronomers have identified the largest group of potentially habitable planets yet discovered, about 40 light years away from Earth. An international team led by Liège university in Belgium made the discovery of the planetary system, three of whose seven Earth-sized worlds have conditions in which life could have evolved. (FT)

Nissan reshuffles Carlos Ghosn is to give up his role as chief executive at Nissan after 16 years. He will remain chairman of the company’s board of directors and will focus on strengthening an alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi Motors. The Brazilian-born Mr Ghosn aims to push the three-way alliance to become a global car giant alongside Volkswagen and Toyota. (FT)

Iraqi forces seize Mosul airport Iraqi forces have taken control of Mosul’s strategic Ghazlani airport. Troops ousted Isis fighters with the backing of US jets and drones. Their advance into the air base will allow them to launch operations against the jihadis in the city’s heavily fortified western suburbs. (Guardian)

‘Ready to be arrested any time’ Long-time foe of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Leila de Lima is accused of accepting money from drug dealers — which she rejects — and says she relishes the looming battle with the country’s “oppressive” regime. The senator’s clashes with the president date back to a probe she launched when head of a human rights agency. (FT)

Asia builds arsenals Global arms trade reached its highest level since the end of the cold war in the five years from 2012 to 2016, fuelled by Asian countries ramping up weapons purchases amid growing regional tensions. (NAR)

It’s a big day for

UK politics The UK opposition Labour party fears it could face a historic defeat in a northern by-election and is blaming everything from media attacks on party leader Jeremy Corbyn to the approach of a storm called Doris. (FT)

Mexico-US relations The US secretaries of state and homeland security are scheduled to visit the country. It will be the highest profile face-to-face engagement between the two nations since President Trump’s inauguration. (NYT)

Food for thought

Snap and the 21st-century governance vacuum A deep analysis of an era when innovators are prized but fewer investors are able to hold management to account. (FT)

When you can no longer invest as you ingest Billionaire Warren Buffett “drinks several cans of Coke a day, often accompanied by potato sticks made by Utz, a Pennsylvania company he has discussed buying, and picks up breakfast from McDonald’s on his drive to work”. But Kraft Heinz’s failed Unilever bid shows the food industry has run out of growth, so he must change his favourite investment recipe, writes the FT’s John Gapper. (FT)

Catastrophe of the body Vladimir Kara-Murza, a young — and healthy — Russian journalist and activist has suffered multiple organ failure not once but twice. The murky circumstances surrounding his “total body catastrophe” — and the similarities to the experiences of other activists — all point to state-sponsored poisoning. (NY Review of Books)

Ireland’s Rhododendron war Rhododendrons can resist frost and survive fire. Given the chance, they would happily swallow Ireland’s ancient woodlands. Now there are calls for the Irish army to be called in to do battle with the plants because they are “taking over”. (Irish Times, BBC)

The downside to a selfie with Merkel Syrian refugee Anas Modamani’s selfie with German chancellor Angela Merkel turned him into a symbol of the country’s open-door policy to refugees. But the hope embodied in the snap turned sour as fake news stories used his image to link him to terror attacks across Europe. (Jazeera)

Video of the day

China tormented by torrents of cash What does China’s Yellow River have to do with its attempts to control the flood of money leaving its shores? The FT’s James Kynge — with a little help from the artists at Punk Economics — explains Beijing’s efforts to staunch capital outflows and the impact this is having on the economy. (FT)


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