FirstFT: Today’s top stories

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Armin Laschet, frontrunner to become Germany’s next chancellor, has warned of the dangers of a new cold war against China, agreeing with Angela Merkel that Beijing was as much a partner as a systemic rival.

Laschet was speaking to the Financial Times in a wide-ranging interview after President Joe Biden’s first official trip to Europe, which was dominated by warnings about the challenge China posed to the west.

The leader of Germany’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union suggested many in Europe were sceptical of his hawkish attitude to China. “The question is — if we’re talking about ‘restraining’ China, will that lead to a new conflict? Do we need a new adversary?” he asked.

Laschet also called on the west to try to “establish a sensible relationship” with Moscow and praised Biden’s decision to Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Geneva last week.

With three months until an election that will mark the end of Merkel’s long stint as chancellor, polls suggest that Laschet’s CDU is on course to win, though it faces a strong challenge from the Greens. One possible outcome is a CDU-Green coalition, the first in Germany’s history, with Laschet as chancellor.

Five stories in the news

1. Santander’s European investment banking push The Spanish lender has set its sights on becoming a big force in European investment banking, challenging the Wall Street powerhouses that have come to dominate the industry. Separately, Goldman Sachs will start offering transaction banking services in the UK this week, as part of a drive to diversify beyond its dominant trading and advisory businesses.

2. Ackman’s Spac buys 10% of Universal Music for $4bn A blank-cheque company backed by hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman is to buy a 10 per cent stake in Universal Music Group, Taylor Swift’s label, for $4bn, it confirmed yesterday. The deal is the first of its kind for a blank-cheque company and coincides with the soaring value of music catalogues.

Universal Music Group, home to acts including Taylor Swift and Kanye West, commands an almost 30 per cent share of the market
Universal Music Group, home to acts including Taylor Swift and Kanye West, commands an almost 30 per cent share of the market © Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

3. EU to step up Belarus sanctions Member states have provisionally agreed sanctions on Belarus’s financial, oil and potash sectors to punish President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime for its interception of a Ryanair flight to arrest a dissident. The measures are expected to win formal political agreement today after a compromise to end Austria’s opposition to proposed curbs on bank transactions, diplomats said.

4. Marine Le Pen falls short in France regional vote Rassemblement National, the far-right party of Le Pen, fell short of expectations in the first round of regional elections yesterday, leaving the Les Républicains party and other centre-right politicians in a strong position for the second and final set of ballots next weekend.

5. Ebrahim Raisi’s Iran presidential election landslide Raisi, a judiciary chief and conservative cleric, won the presidential election in a landslide victory that gives regime hardliners full control over branches of the state for the first time in almost a decade. Western powers vowed to forge ahead with efforts aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal.

  • The FT View: Raisi’s landslide looks to be a Pyrrhic victory, gathering nothing like the popular support needed to guide Iran through one of its worst crises since the 1979 revolution.

  • In Iraq: Militants linked to political parties have killed and kidnapped political activists, analysts say, creating a climate of fear before parliamentary elections.

Coronavirus digest

  • The Delta variant that swept the UK is dominant in Portugal and has appeared in clusters across Germany, France and Spain, prompting European health officials to warn further action is needed to slow its spread. 

  • England may have to endure lockdowns this year, public health experts warned yesterday. Scientists agree that the decision to postpone the final unlocking step by four weeks will substantially reduce mortality. Sebastian Payne asks: will the July 19 easing go ahead?

  • One of Cuba’s vaccines has shown 62 per cent efficacy in late-stage trials, using just two out of the three recommended doses.

  • Vaccitech, the group behind Oxford/AstraZeneca’s vaccine, believes it has a better chance of treating cancers than new medicines based on mRNA.

  • Wedding jollity in England are subject to a few teensy restrictions: dancing is one of them, writes Robert Shrimsley.

Follow our live coronavirus blog and sign up for our Coronavirus Business Update newsletter.

The day ahead

Ethiopia’s first ‘free’ poll Today’s vote will be prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed’s first electoral test since sweeping to power on the back of protests in 2018 promising reform, even as some opposition politicians say the process is deeply flawed.

Sweden no-confidence vote MPs said they would back a no-confidence vote in Stefan Lofven, the prime minister, which could lead to snap elections or a caretaker government if it goes against his minority centre-left coalition.

Activision showdown on CEO pay Activision Blizzard faces a vote on its chief executive’s $155m pay package after delaying the showdown in what critics said was an effort to avoid an embarrassing rebuke.

What else we’re reading

Protectionism will not help EU bank prospects Many banks have been found guilty of collusion in a variety of markets in recent years. Barring them from business until, as the European Commission put it, they showed measures to make them “fit to be a counterparty of the EU”, is a logical consequence. But it also looks arbitrary, writes Patrick Jenkins.

Behind the scenes at China TV The international expansion of CGTN has played a big role in China’s soft power push that began in earnest with the Beijing Olympics in 2008. For Beijing, the channel is part of a geopolitical battle for the hearts and minds of the world.

Elon Musk: CO2 saint or sinner? The electric car revolutionary has built a reputation as a clean energy champion. But SpaceX has never fitted in with Musk’s green image and now the tech billionaire is driving the energy-hungry crypto market. FT writers weigh his climate record in this new film.

Video: Elon Musk: CO2 saint or sinner? | FT Film

Vladislav Surkov: ‘An overdose of freedom is lethal to a state’ Surkov is a founding father of Putinism, and one of its enablers. He is the architect of Russia’s “sovereign democracy”, an ostensibly open system with a closed outcome: elections are called, candidates campaign, votes are cast, ballot boxes are opened and the same man wins, every single time.

We must overcome the fear of genetic engineering in our food With climate change the next big threat, the huge carbon footprint of farming must be addressed. Genetic engineering offers the possibility of ending dependence on fertilisers that use fossil fuels, and of making crops more resilient, writes Camilla Cavendish.

Work and careers

As lockdowns ease, the fine line between enticement and coercion to get staff back to the office will become a divisive issue. Meanwhile, many people struggle to find the clarity and confidence required to extract oneself from abusive circumstances at work. Instead, they tend to think: “What have I done wrong?”. FT’s Pilita Clark writes that most bosses are fine but what about the 50 worst?

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