Seventy-six days after severing
links with the outside world, the Chinese city at the centre of the global
coronavirus outbreak has lifted its official ban on travel, ending the
world’s largest mass quarantine. The “liberation” of Wuhan marks an
important step in President Xi Jinping’s plan to declare an early victory
over the crisis just as western countries are struggling to contain the
Some 55,000 people on Wednesday
alone are expected to leave Wuhan, the railway administration
said. But for many of Wuhan’s 11m residents, the formal lifting of
restrictions on movement is just the start of a long recovery for a city
in severe economic distress and a population fearful of a second outbreak.
Many people eager to leave the
city are still waiting for permission to do so and will end up in
quarantine when they eventually arrive at their destination. Even more
worrying, locals fear asymptomatic cases are spreading without detection
as more people emerge from their homes.
Activity has picked up on the
streets of Wuhan but many businesses remain shut. Scores of residential
districts around the city are still sealed off, barring free
movement. Locals in Wuhan have welcomed the opening of their city but
point out that complete victory is still far off. On Wednesday morning,
car horns blared across downtown Wuhan while on the outskirts of the city,
traffic increased by 10 times overnight and authorities stopped checking
temperatures of passengers.
The president of the EU’s top
science funding agency stepped down Tuesday, issuing a damning indictment
of the bloc’s response to the coronavirus crisis. Mauro Ferrari, an
Italian-American scientist who has led the European Research Council since
January, said he had resigned following a dispute over the EU’s approach
to the crisis — stating he has “lost faith in the system.”
As well as a failure to fund
scientists to tackle the crisis, Ferrari cited a “complete absence of
coordination of health care policies among member states, the recurrent
opposition to cohesive financial support initiatives, the pervasive
one-sided border closures, and the marginal scale of synergistic
scientific initiatives” by the EU.
A spokesperson for the European
Commission confirmed the resignation. Ferrari’s criticisms were disputed
by German MEP Christian Ehler, the European People’s Party coordinator for
the Parliament’s industry and research committee, who has also led
negotiations over the next EU research program, Horizon Europe.
Ehler said in an emailed
statement that Ferrari’s proposal to deviate from the council’s usual
approach “was seen more as a window-dressing public relations stand on the
coronavirus crisis and it was a contradiction to the legal basis of the
ERC, which can and does in many ways contribute to the fight against
situation in Wisconsin is this: with an assist from conservative judges at
the highest levels of government, local Republican leaders are forcing
their state to participate in an Election Day that will exacerbate a
pandemic. The consequences that this will lead to have been apparent for
Citizens will have
to choose between their health and their vote; tens of thousands will be
disenfranchised; and, inevitably, people who go out to vote on Tuesday,
and people who work the polls will get sick. The election forecasters and
polling gurus might consider crunching the numbers on the likelihood that
people will die.
electoral tragedy is the product of a standoff between the politicians who
run the state government there. On one side is Tony Evers, the Democratic
governor. On the other are the Republicans who control the state
legislature—who have resisted every step Evers has attempted to take to
address the crisis.
On Monday, with more
than twenty-four hundred confirmed cases, Evers ordered the election
postponed in the name of public health. Vos and Fitzgerald ran to the
state’s conservative Supreme Court, which overruled Evers hours later. The
five conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court then stepped in to
undo some of the relief the federal judge had earlier granted election
administrators in the state.
party is pushing ahead with a plan to force the nation to hold an election
by mail for the first time ever, steamrolling over calls to delay the May
10 presidential ballot as the country remains in lockdown to combat the
authoritarian government is betting that turning to an untried method of
voting will help its ally Andrzej Duda remain president for another five
years, with the lockdown having kept the opposition from campaigning. The
last-minute changes and the uncertainty over the process also increase the
risk of fraud, according to Poland’s human rights commissioner.
Lawmakers of the Law
& Justice party approved the measure in the lower house of parliament
late Monday. The upper chamber, controlled by the opposition, is expected
to slow the process, but the government can override objections — meaning
the changes could become law just a few days before the election.
The upper house said
it would use the full 30 days it has to debate the legislation, meaning it
would send the draft law back to the lower house just days before the
election is due. With the legislation not fully approved,
authorities can’t start printing ballots or launch other preparations. The
state-run post service’s 27,000 delivery personnel will have just days to
ensure ballots reach 30 million Poles eligible for the vote.
Note to our readers: the EsadeGeo Daily Digest will be next curated and published on 14 April 2020. Until then, we will be selecting the most important news during the holidays and sharing them on our Twitter profile. We invite you to follow us there!
The selected pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Javier Solana and EsadeGeo. The summaries above may include word-for-word excerpts from their respective pieces.
Nine years ago, Michael Hüther,
one of Germany’s leading economists, poured scorn on the idea that the
eurozone could issue common bonds to deal with the burgeoning sovereign
debt crisis. Such “eurobonds” would act as a “negative incentive”,
rewarding southern European countries for their lack of budgetary
Yet with the onset of the
coronavirus pandemic, Mr Hüther has had a dramatic change of heart. Late
last month he was one of seven prominent German economists who called on
eurozone governments to issue €1tn in joint “European crisis bonds” to
help the countries worst affected by coronavirus.
The first casualty of the
crisis was the “schwarze Null” or “black zero”, the doctrine of no new
borrowing relentlessly pursued by Angela Merkel’s government for much of
the last decade that delivered six years of budget surpluses. This
was abandoned in spectacular fashion last month when Olaf Scholz, finance
minister, unveiled a €150bn emergency spending plan largely financed by
So far, the red line on common
debt issuance is holding. Germany has always argued the idea would violate
the “no bailout” clause in the EU treaty. Mr Hüther, meanwhile, has
defended his change of heart. “Unless we can come up with a common crisis
bond, I see a grim future for the EU,” he told the German daily
Tagesspiegel. “It’s not about financing dams in central Italy. It’s a
question of life and death.”
The European countries worst affected
by the coronavirus pandemic—Italy and Spain, which have the highest death tolls in
the European Union and face the strongest economic headwinds—are also
among the principal beneficiaries of the new ECB policies.
By purchasing Italian and Spanish
bonds, the ECB has given Rome and Madrid leeway to focus on keeping their
people healthy, without worrying about a domestic economic collapse. These
bond purchases have also made a sovereign debt crisis of the kind the
European Union last witnessed in the summer of 2012 less likely.
But the ECB’s recent moves have
raised hackles in Germany and the Netherlands, where leaders fear that the
bank’s actions will encourage governments to live beyond their means or
avoid making painful adjustments once the crisis has passed.
And the disagreements remain rooted
in very real
differences at the national level: by the
end of 2019, Germany and the Netherlands had debt-to-GDP ratios of 59
percent and 49 percent, respectively; the ratios in Italy and Spain were
far higher, standing at 136 percent and 97 percent, respectively.
Italy’s story by now. The first European nation to be hit hard by the
coronavirus, it has become a harbinger for the rest of Europe and America.
First, there was the lockdown. Then the sight
of a health
care system stretched to the point of collapse and the terror of a rising death count.
Now, nearly a
month after the country went into lockdown, Italy is sending another
warning. The economy is in trouble, bound for a major contraction. And the
precariously situated workers — self-employed, seasonal, informal — are
suffering the most. It’s not clear how much longer they can survive.
In Campania, the
region of which Naples is the capital, 41 percent of people
are at risk of poverty. Work is a problem: Last year, unemployment was
around 20 percent and about that proportion of the region’s work force was
underemployed. And for those who do have work, it is often informal,
insecure — and particularly vulnerable to the crisis. An estimated two
million people across the south have no formal contract.
workers of Naples, and the south more generally, need more help. The 400
million euros, close to $432 million, the government has set aside for
food stamps is not enough. Now there is talk that the government’s next
budget might include an “emergency income,” covering those so far
overlooked. But the budget isn’t due until later in the month. For
workers locked out of state support, that isn’t soon enough.
As has been
obvious since the outset, the COVID-19 pandemic is a global problem that
demands a global solution. In the world’s advanced economies,
compassion should be sufficient motivation to support a multilateral
response. But global action is also a matter of self-interest.
The impact of
COVID-19 on developing and emerging economies has only begun to reveal
itself. There are good reasons to believe that these countries will
ravaged far more by the pandemic than the advanced economies have been. These
countries’ health systems are even less prepared to manage an epidemic
than those of the advanced economies.
developments are already being reflected in the yield spreads on
developing countries’ sovereign debt. Many governments will find it
exceedingly difficult to roll over the debts coming due this year on reasonable
terms, if at all. Moreover, developing countries have fewer and
harder choices about how to confront the pandemic.
When people are
living hand to mouth in the absence of adequate social protections, a loss
of income could mean starvation. Yet these countries cannot replicate the
US response, which features (so far) a $2 trillion economic package that
will blow up the fiscal deficit by some 10% of GDP (on top of a
pre-pandemic deficit of 5%).
Boris Johnson has been admitted to hospital due to
coronavirus after suffering 10 days of symptoms including a high fever,
bringing doubts about his capability to lead the response to the pandemic
despite No 10 insisting it was purely precautionary. Officials were
keen to stress that this was not an emergency admission.
remain in charge of government, and will be in regular touch with
colleagues and civil servants. A government source told Reuters on
Monday morning that Johnson had spent the night in hospital. If his
condition worsens Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary and first secretary
of state, is the designated minister to take charge.
Raab is expected
to chair a 9.15am Monday meeting of the government’s C-19 committee, which
leads the response to the pandemic. The pound fell against the
dollar and euro overnight on Monday as foreign exchange markets took
fright at the possibility of Johnson being out of action.
Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, revealed on Saturday that she had also been suffering from the
virus but is recovering. While No 10 did not say what tests Johnson
would undergo in hospital, experts said they would be likely to focus on
assessing how the prime minister’s lungs, heart and other organs were
responding to the virus.
If there is a silver lining to
the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that it has injected a sense of togetherness
into polarised societies. But the virus, and the economic lockdowns needed
to combat it, also shine a glaring light on existing inequalities — and even
create new ones. Beyond defeating the disease, the great test all
countries will soon face is whether current feelings of common purpose
will shape society after the crisis.
Today’s crisis is laying bare
how far many rich societies fall short of this ideal. Much as the struggle
to contain the pandemic has exposed the unpreparedness of health systems,
so the brittleness of many countries’ economies has been exposed, as
governments scramble to stave off mass bankruptcies and cope with mass
unemployment. Despite inspirational calls for national mobilisation, we
are not really all in this together.
The economic lockdowns are
imposing the greatest cost on those already worst off. Overnight millions
of jobs and livelihoods have been lost in hospitality, leisure and related
sectors, while better paid knowledge workers often face only the nuisance
of working from home. Worse, those in low-wage jobs who can still work are
often risking their lives — as carers and healthcare support workers, but
also as shelf stackers, delivery drivers and cleaners.
Radical reforms — reversing the
prevailing policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put
on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the
economy. They must see public services as investments rather than
liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure.
Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly
and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric,
such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.
Party officially has a new leader. Keir Starmer, who
previously served as the opposition’s shadow Brexit secretary, won the
leadership contest with 56
percent of the vote, defeating two other candidates, Rebecca
Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy.
indicates that Labour is seeking a change after five years of Jeremy
Corbyn, the left-wing leader who agreed to step
aside following the party’s crushing
defeat in December elections. Starmer has
promised to embrace some of the popular Labour policies, but is seen as
someone who can appeal more broadly to the UK electorate because he’s not
as left-wing as Corbyn.
Starmer, 57, is a
human-rights lawyer who has served as the former director of public
prosecutions and head of the crown prosecution service. He joined
Parliament in 2015, and gained a lot of attention during the Brexit
debate, serving as Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary and helping to
temper Corbyn’s approach to Brexit.
In Parliament, he
often articulated a case against the Conservative government’s Brexit
plans more coherently than the Labour leader, Corbyn. Starmer supported
remaining in the EU, though now that Brexit is complete, he’s urged
the party to move on from the issue and to focus instead on a
smooth transition out of the bloc.
states and the European Commission should “thoroughly analyse the
experiences gained from the COVID-19 pandemic” in order to inform future
policies across the entire spectrum of the digital domain, leaked Council
documents seen by EURACTIV reveal.
In particular, fields such as
“e-Health, digital education, e-Government, data sharing and broadband
connectivity,” should receive particular attention following the current
coronavirus crisis, the draft Council of the EU conclusions on Shaping
Europe’s Digital Future, note.
Moreover, the document, dated 1 April,
states that EU should also move to ensure that member states are able to
award 5G spectrum frequencies by the end of 2020. Several member states
have already announced intentions to postpone frequency auctions as a
results of the ongoing public health crisis.
The draft conclusions note the need
of the EU to facilitate the “sharing of data amongst businesses and
institutions, to gain critical mass and be successful in the data economy
currently dominated by a few powerful players.” The Croatian Presidency
now intends to discuss the draft conclusions in the Council Working Party
for Telecoms, next meeting in May, dependent on any future restrictions
imposed as part of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Imagine having two critically
ill patients but just one ventilator. That is the choice which could
confront hospital staff in New York, Paris and London in the coming weeks,
just as it has in Lombardy and Madrid. Triage demands agonising decisions.
Medics have to say who will be treated and who must go without: who might
live and who will probably die.
Just now the effort to fight the
virus seems all-consuming. Each country is striking a different
trade-off—and not all of them make sense. In India the Modi
government decided that its priority was speed. In Russia, Putin is
more concerned with minimising political damage and suppressing
information than leading his country out of a crisis.
How should you think about these
trade-offs? The first principle is to be systematic. A second
principle is to help those on the losing side of sensible trade-offs.
A third principle is that countries must adapt. The balance of costs and
benefits will change as the pandemic unfolds.
By the summer, economies will have
suffered double-digit drops in quarterly GDP. People will have endured
months indoors, hurting both social cohesion and their mental health.
The capacity of the economy would wither as innovation stalled and skills
decayed. Eventually, even if many people are dying, the cost of distancing
could outweigh the benefits. That is a side to the trade-offs that nobody
is yet ready to admit.
While the world has been
distracted by the coronavirus pandemic, Khalifa Haftar, a renegade Libyan
general, has chosen to step up his year-long assault on Tripoli. With his
military stockpile boosted by planeloads of munitions and equipment flown
in from the United Arab Emirates, Gen Haftar’s forces have shelled
neighbourhoods of the Libyan capital with renewed severity in recent days.
The offensive threatens to
trigger a new phase of conflict just as Libyans are bracing for their own
coronavirus outbreak. The north African state reported its first confirmed
cases of Covid-19 last week, and its weak health system has limited
ability to detect and treat the disease.
Military commanders from the
Libyan parties met and agreed on a ceasefire. That led to a short period
of calm, but both sides used it to receive large supplies of military
equipment: the UN-backed government from Turkey and Gen Haftar’s forces
from the UAE. The fighting has since escalated.
This war started as a Libyan
conflict, driven by one man’s ambition. It is now a conflict fuelled by
outside sponsors. The Emiratis, Egyptians and Turks have signed up to
international statements calling for a ceasefire and respect for the arms
embargo, yet have simultaneously ramped up support to their clients. This
blatant flouting of the arms embargo is a scandal. Violations are well
known, but have not been named and shamed.
According to the nonprofit World Travel
and Tourism Council, which represents the international tourism industry,
travel and tourism contributed $8.8 trillion to the global economy in 2018 and
was responsible for 10.4 percent of all economic activity. The council
estimates that travel and tourism are responsible for 319 million jobs
around the world.
Thailand and the Philippines rely on tourism
for more than a fifth of their GDP. Two of the worst-hit countries in the
coronavirus outbreak, Spain and Italy, also depend heavily on this sector.
The country that relies on tourism the least—South Korea—is also handling
its outbreak the best.
The most severe economic devastation,
however, will likely be seen in the small island nations that have staked
their entire economies on overseas travelers taking in their beaches and
resorts. Of the top 20 countries most dependent on travel and tourism as a
source of GDP, 15 are small island nations.
Iceland, whose economy suffered a
deep decline during the 2008 financial crisis, stands to lose again, as
more than a third of its GDP comes from travel and tourism. Andrew
Fahie, the premier of the British Virgin Islands, has remained upbeat despite the
expected downturn. “Our tourism industry has faced many crises before (…)
and we have always come out strong on the other side,” he said.
The global oil market
has never in history collapsed as precipitously as it has right now. The
oil and gas industry, which provides almost 60 percent of the world’s
energy, is engulfed in a double crisis that would have been dismissed as
unthinkable at the start of this year.
A price war, with producing nations
battling for market share, has become lodged in the larger crisis of the
novel coronavirus pandemic and what will likely be the worst recession
since World War II. The resulting collapse in demand will be bigger than
any recorded since oil became a global commodity.
The nature and sheer scale of the
current collapse and the geopolitical wrangling it has prompted present
unique challenges for the United States and its energy sector—challenges
that will have significant consequences for the U.S. economy and U.S.
foreign policy in an already perilous moment.
Ending the battle for market share
would reduce the surplus flowing into the market, take some pressure off
storage, and have a positive impact on market psychology, which is one of
the factors that shapes prices. With much of the global economy at
a standstill, the oil crisis is going to get worse in the weeks ahead, and
the damage will be felt well beyond the oil industry itself.
The EU-Iran trading mechanism INSTEX, designed to
allow Europeans to bypass US sanctions and continue trade with Tehran, has
successfully concluded its first transaction. However, the humanitarian
deal actually doesn’t appear to contravene EU sanctions.
France, Germany and the UK confirmed on Tuesday
(31 March) that INSTEX has successfully concluded its first transaction to
facilitate the export of medical goods from Europe to the pandemic-hit
country. Germany’s Foreign Ministry confirmed on Tuesday (31 March) that
the creation of the INSTEX mechanism has enabled the export of medical
devices from Europe and thus completed the first transaction under barter
The EU-Iran Instrument in Support of Trade
Exchanges (INSTEX) was born as the brainchild of France, Germany and the
UK in January 2019 as a special purpose vehicle to help EU companies do
business with Iran and facilitate non-USD transactions to avoid breaking
US sanctions against the country.
The bloc is preparing to send €20 million of
humanitarian aid to Iran, to mitigate the impact of the escalating
coronavirus outbreak in the country. Borrell said Brussels would support
requests for help made by Iran and Venezuela – also heavily sanctioned –
to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
As top American officials bash the
Russian government for spreading disinformation on the coronavirus
pandemic, U.S. President Donald Trump is accepting a supply of medical
equipment from Moscow. Russia is set to deliver a planeload of
personal protective equipment and supplies to the United States on
“Russia sent us a very, very large planeload of
things, medical equipment, which was very nice,” Trump said during a press
conference on Monday—though the shipment had not yet been sent at that
point. Overburdened U.S. hospitals across the country are facing a dire
shortage of medical supplies.
But the delivery also represents a major optics
win for Moscow as the worldwide delivery of medical supplies from
competing powers takes on an increasingly geopolitical edge. The United
States appears to have shed its traditional role of world leader in a
global crisis, critics say, instead redirecting its focus on domestic
“This is a PR coup for the Russians,” said Alina
Polyakova, the head of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a think
tank. “The United States has always had the reputation of being the global
responsible first responder in moments of crisis and now … you have a
situation where an authoritarian state like Russia is providing
humanitarian assistance to the most powerful country in the world.”
Brent crude rallied nearly 12 per cent on hopes of a supply deal
among major oil producers led by Saudi Arabia and Russia to alleviate a
price collapse triggered by the coronavirus outbreak. US president Donald
Trump said he had spoken in recent days with the leaders of Russia and
Saudi Arabia and believed a deal to end a price war — that has taken Brent
to the lowest level since 2002 — would be made in “a few days”.
Saudi Arabia had pushed for a deal to deepen and prolong production
curbs ahead of a March meeting of oil ministers, but it was met with
reluctance by Russia. This prompted Saudi Arabia to pursue a ‘pump at
will’ strategy to shock the market, cutting prices for its crude and
raising production to record levels.
Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, rose by $2.88 to
$27.64 a barrel. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate climbed $2, or 9.9
per cent, to $22.31 a barrel. Saudi Arabia and Russia have both
backed co-operation, yet it seems there is little sign of a strategy shift
just yet. The kingdom raised production to above 12m barrels a day, its
maximum level, on Wednesday.
Some market analysts have said the demand collapse is so severe,
amid global lockdowns and travel bans, that any supply cuts from major
producers would have a limited impact. Mr Trump also said he would meet US
oil executives to discuss other measures by which to aid the industry that
is suffering after an oil price collapse.
The UN climate talks due to be
held in Glasgow later this year have been postponed as governments around
the world struggle to halt the spread of coronavirus. The most
important climate negotiations since the Paris agreement in 2015 were
scheduled to take place this November to put countries back on track to
avoid climate breakdown.
They will now be pushed back to
2021. A statement from the UN on Wednesday night confirmed that the
meeting of over 26,000 attendees would be delayed until next year. It said
new dates for the conference would be decided in due course.
The UK energy minister and
president of the Cop26 conference, Alok Sharma, held crunch talks with the
UN and several other countries on Wednesday evening to confirm the timing
of the summit. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed
to delay the vital talks because of the widespread disruption caused by
coronavirus, and will also delay a key preliminary meeting scheduled for
Some campaigners believe there
could be another advantage to delay, as the US presidential elections take
place this November, just before Cop26 was scheduled to begin. With the
summit delayed to next year, other governments will have time to adjust
either to a second term of Donald Trump or a new president who is likely
to support climate action.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio
Guterres warned Tuesday that the world faces the most challenging crisis
since World War II, confronting a pandemic threatening people in every
country, one that will bring a recession “that probably has no parallel in
the recent past.”
There is also a risk that the
combination of the disease and its economic impact will contribute to
“enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict,” the U.N.
chief said at the launch of a report on the socioeconomic impacts of
Guterres called for a much stronger
and more effective global response to the coronavirus pandemic and to the
social and economic devastation that COVID-19 is causing. He
stressed that this will only be possible “if everybody comes together and
if we forget political games and understand that it is humankind that is
“We are far from having a global
package to help the developing world to create the conditions both to
suppress the disease and to address the dramatic consequences in their
populations, in the people that lost their jobs, the small companies that
are operating and risk to disappear, those that live with the informal
economy that now have no chance to survive,” he said.
Brussels is having another shot
at forging European solidarity in the teeth of the coronavirus crisis and
this time it will involve a pan-European unemployment reinsurance scheme
worth as much as €100 billion.
EU leaders from French
President Emmanuel Macron to European Commission President Ursula von der
Leyen have urged the bloc to show greater unity in recent days, after the
pandemic triggered outbreaks of “economic patriotism” across the
Doubling down on a pan-European
financial response to the crisis, the Commission is now bringing forward a
long-discussed proposal for EU-wide unemployment reinsurance to this week.
Two people briefed on the proposal said the idea was for the scheme to
have an upper value of €100 billion.
Countries would be in charge of
issuing benefits, which would be aimed primarily at ensuring people are
able to maintain their jobs with income support when their company folds,
where the EU could act as a re-insurer. It would be open not just to
employees but also to atypical workers and the self-employed.
History accelerates in crises.
This pandemic may not itself transform the world, but it can accelerate
changes already under way. One ongoing change has been in the relationship
between China, the rising superpower, and the US, the incumbent. Being a
superpower is not just about brute strength, it is also about being seen
as a competent and decent leader.
After victories in the second
world war and the cold war, the US was such a leader. Despite rising
economic strength, China is not. But times can change. The coronavirus may
accelerate the process. Global influence derives mainly from one’s own
choices. China and the US have each made big mistakes. But the US failure
to create widely shared prosperity at home, and its bellicosity abroad,
are proving crippling.
The dismal presidency of a
malevolent incompetent is one result. Now has come the virus. It casts a
harsh light on the competence and decency of the superpowers. It has done
the same on EU solidarity (or its absence), the effectiveness of states,
the vulnerability of finance and the capacity for global co-operation. In
all this, the performance of the US and China is of pre-eminent importance.
For those of us who believe in
liberal democracy, US failures hurt. But the death of decency and
competence in core western governments matters beyond even this. The
arrival of the pandemic is a global moral challenge. It is necessary to
tackle the spread of disease, manage financial shocks, stabilise the
economy and help the weak. The US has to play a big part. There remains no
alternative to its role.
Union’s written response to Hungary’s effective suspension of democracy
omitted one important word: Hungary. “It’s of utmost importance that
emergency measures are not at the expense of our fundamental principles
and values,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European
Commission, said in a statement that made no
mention of Mr. Orban or Hungary.
Commission on Tuesday reminded its members to respect rights. But
it was a muted first response from the one institution that can take on
Mr. Orban, and it appeared aimed at balancing the political imperative of
cooperation in the era of the coronavirus with the risk of emboldening him.
officials believe that the statement issued Tuesday, which came from Ms.
von der Leyen personally, sent a clear message to Mr. Orban — even without
naming him. European Commission lawyers are now closely watching how he
enforces Hungary’s new measures, the officials said.
Mr. Orban’s hold
on power was unparalleled by European Union standards well before Monday’s
vote. Lengthy and cumbersome European Union legal proceedings could
not stop Mr. Orban and his allies from taking over the Hungarian media
landscape, weakening the independence of the judiciary, or levying a
special tax on nongovernmental organizations receiving foreign funding.
The Hungarian parliament on
Monday voted by a two-thirds majority to allow the government of Prime
Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree without a set time limit. While
the new legislation remains in place, no by-elections can be held and
Orbán’s government will be able to suspend the enforcement of certain
Plus, individuals who publicize
what are viewed as untrue or distorted facts — and which could interfere
with the protection of the public, or could alarm or agitate a large number
of people — now face several years in jail. The new rules can only be
lifted with another two-thirds vote of the parliament and a presidential
In the vote, 137 members of
parliament were in favor, 53 against and nine did not cast a ballot.
Hungary’s president, János Áder, an Orbán ally, quickly approved the
legislation. The legislation has elicited deep concern both among civil
rights groups in Hungary and international institutions. Critics say that
emergency measures to address the coronavirus crisis should be temporary
and time-limited to allow for checks and balances.
The European Commission said
that it was looking into the legislation, while politicians across Europe
belonging to S&D, Renew Europe and the Greens have raised concerns about
this measure. Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Orbán’s move
was the final straw.
In times of crisis, checks and
balances are often ignored in the name of executive power. The danger is
that the temporary can become permanent. Initially, populist and
autocratic leaders were ill-prepared for the pandemic.
A disdain for science and expertise,
combined with nepotism and neglect of state institutions, including health
care, made governments such as those of U.S. President Donald Trump,
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and Brazilian President
Jair Bolsonaro more vulnerable.
Before the health crisis became
impossible to deny, government propaganda outlets or supportive media in
these countries systematically downplayed the dangers posed by the
coronavirus. Now, both dictatorships and democracies are
curtailing civil liberties on a massive scale.
There is a serious risk that these
efforts are leading to a new wave of authoritarianism. Liberal
democracies have also taken unprecedent measures to monitor citizens, such
as tracking their movement through cell-phone data. Confronting the
coronavirus crisis will take extreme measures, but any infringement on
civil liberties must be temporary and proportional.
There are four
major priorities for global cooperation. First, we must pool resources to
produce new treatments and a vaccine, which should be regarded as a global
public good. Second, we need to limit the economic damage by coordinating
fiscal- and monetary-stimulus measures and protecting the global trade in
Third, we should
be planning to re-open borders in a coordinated way whenever health
authorities give the green light. Lastly, we must cooperate to fight
disinformation campaigns. The outcome of the G20’s recent virtual
summit points in this general direction.
As the virus
spreads globally, we need to pay special attention to its growing impact
on fragile countries. Just imagine what would follow if the
coronavirus emerges in the region’s refugee camps, where sanitation and
health services are already overstretched and humanitarian workers already
struggle to deliver aid.
Then there is
Africa, which is of paramount importance. In many developing
countries, a large number of people often have no choice but to go out
every day and make a living in the informal economy. This is a
fight that will need funding to win. Coordination among central
banks and international financial institutions is the only viable way
China is burning
more coal in yet another sign that the first country hit by a coronavirus
outbreak is returning to a level of normalcy. Daily coal burn at
select coastal plants has doubled from early February. The plants
are responding to resurgent electricity demand as factories restart in the world’s
China’s use of coal
is usually cause for consternation. The country mines and burns about half
the world’s supply of the dirtiest fossil fuel, and it’s the primary
reason China leads the world in carbon emissions. In fact, China’s
shutdown to slow the spread of the virus probably kept about 1.5 billion tons of
carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, at least temporarily.
Still, with Europe
and the U.S. now in the grips of a similar lockdown and the global economy
in tatters, signs that China is stirring back to life a little over two
months since the outbreak are a beacon to the rest of the world. Coal
use by the coastal power plants of five major Chinese utilities reached
488,800 tons last week.
More than 90% of
markets, shops and malls in China and 70% of small- and medium-sized
businesses have reopened as of mid-March, according to consultancy IHS
Markit. China Railway has resumed work on about 93% of its major