EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 30/03/2020

Politico – Jan Cienski and Zosia Wanat / Poland’s coronavirus-crisis election unleashes political warfare

  • Opposition candidates for Poland’s upcoming presidential election are squabbling over how to stop the ballot because of the pandemic, but the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party isn’t giving ground. The leading opposition candidate Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska on Sunday suspended her campaign to protest the government’s refusal to delay the vote from May 10 in light of the coronavirus crisis.
  • “Today in Poland there is no other task than the battle with the epidemic and its consequences,” Kidawa-Błońska, of the opposition Civic Coalition party, said in an open letter. “In these circumstances, organizing presidential elections would be a criminal action.”
  • She called on her rivals to take the same step and said if the election isn’t delayed then it should be boycotted. Other opposition candidates aren’t going along. Independent Szymon Hołownia, who has also suspended his campaign and says PiS’s dogged effort to stick to the electoral calendar despite the pandemic is “madness,” said Sunday that a boycott means a loss of civic rights.
  • Duda is far ahead in opinion polls thanks both to a gather-round-the-flag sentiment common during crises, and because opposition candidates can’t easily campaign during ever-tighter lockdown measures. One new poll has Duda romping home in a first-round victory with 65 percent support, although turnout would only be 31 percent. However, he’d only take 44 percent if the election were delayed.
  • Euractiv / Polish organisations protest crackdown on social dialogue

The Washington Post – Ian Duncan and Felicia Sonmez / President Trump extends social distancing guidance until end of April

  • Days after President Trump said he hoped the country would be “opened up and raring to go” by Easter, he instead announced on Sunday an extension of federal guidance on social distancing throughApril, in a continued effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
  • The nation has reached more than 136,000 confirmed cases of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and more than 2,400 related deaths — with numbers continuing to climb across the country. Calling his previous statements targeting Easter “just an aspiration,” Trump said he now expects the covid-19 death rate to peak in two weeks, around the same time as the holiday.
  • The president’s comments came after a top medical adviser to the White House and state governors said in television interviews Sunday that they could not envision an easing soon of measures designed to slow the virus’s spread, warning that the outbreak will continue taxing hospitals and could kill thousands more people.
  • Anthony S. Fauci, the White House adviser, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that models suggest the virus could cause between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths and that millions of people could be infected. If coronavirus-related deaths remained under 200,000, Trump said, “we all together have done a very good job.”
  • The Economist / New York is fast becoming the world’s next coronavirus hotspot

Haaretz – Chaim Levinson / Following Gantz, Labor chairman to join Netanyahu-led unity government

  • Labor Chairman Amir Peretz is set to join a unity government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will be appointed Finance Minister, following a Sunday meeting with representatives of Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party. Peretz vowed during the election campaign not to join a Netanyahu-led government, citing the premier’s pending corruption trial.
  • Fellow Labor lawmaker Itzik Shmuli will also be joining and will head the Labour, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry, but their party colleague Merav Michaeli will remain outside the government. The portfolios they will receive will be part of the quota that Netanyahu allocated to Gantz’s faction.
  • Labor ran in Israel’s March 2 election on a joint left-wing slate with Meretz, who would not join Netanyahu’s government, and Orli Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher, who formally requested two weeks ago to split from the alliance. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem broke off from Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael, which will continue to be called Kahol Lavan.
  • Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc will retain the finance, health and education portfolios. The Public Security Ministry, too, will remain in the hands of Netanyahu’s Likud. Gantz’s party will take the defense and justice portfolios, as well as the Foreign Ministry. They will also head the following ministries: communications; economy; labor; culture and sports; immigration and absorption; tourism; and science and technology.
  • The New York Times / Netanyahu aide has coronavirus but PM exposure unlikely, officials say

The Economist / The pandemic shock will make big, powerful firms even mightier

  • Across the rich world, governments and economists are scrambling to work out how costly virus-related lockdowns will be. Will the economy shrink by a tenth or a third? Is the slump going to last for three months, six or more? A similarly unnerving and inexact exercise is happening in boardrooms as firms try to estimate by how much their cashflows will fall and whether they have the resources to survive.
  • Amid the chaos one thing, at least, is clear: a few powerful firms are set to gain more clout. Already some are a source of financial stability. It costs less to insure Johnson & Johnson’s debt against default than Canada’s. Apple’s gross cash pile of $207bn exceeds most countries’ fiscal stimulus.
  • On March 23rd Primark, a fashion retailer, said it was shutting all 376 of its stores in 12 countries, forgoing over $770m in sales per month. It expects to save only half its costs. For most firms the picture is murkier, and perhaps not quite as glum. Some factories are still running and white-collar firms operate remotely.
  • Silicon Valley and Big Pharma dominate. Technology firms make up 48 of the top 100. The likes of Microsoft (10th), Apple (13th), Facebook (14th) and Alphabet (18th) operate with big cash buffers. Demand for some of their products is surging: Microsoft’s team-working software, for example. Another 24 are health-care firms.
  • Financial Times – Andrew Hill and Emma Jacobs / How is the world’s mass homeworking experiment going?

Today’s view:

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.

Política Internacional | Permalink

EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 27/03/2020

Politico – David M. Herszenhorn, Jacopo Barigazzi and Rym Momtaz / Virtual summit, real acrimony: EU leaders clash over ‘corona bonds’

  • For Italy, the test of EU solidarity in responding to the coronavirus crisis came down to a simple point: Your bond is your word. But EU heads of state and government failed Rome’s test during a videoconference on Thursday by refusing to back the idea of “corona bonds” — a common debt instrument to help finance the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, furious about adamant opposition to the corona bonds concept by the Netherlands and Germany, upended the videoconference by declaring that he would not support the leaders’ concluding statement. Conte issued an ultimatum giving officials in Brussels 10 days to come back with “an adequate solution.”
  • Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez weighed in to support Italy, aligning the two countries that have suffered the most coronavirus deaths. On the eve of the virtual summit, nine countries, including Italy, Spain and France, sent a letter to Michel urging a more collective economic response by the EU, including a specific reference to common debt instruments — in other words, corona bonds.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, made clear her view that corona bonds should not be part of Europe’s response. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has been firm in his country’s opposition to the corona bonds, and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin also spoke out against the idea.
  • Euractiv – Beatriz Ríos et al. / Leaders clash over stimulus against pandemic, pass hot potato to Eurogroup

Haaretz – Jonathan Lis / Gantz voted in as Knesset speaker, paving way for ‘emergency’ unity government with Netanyahu

  • Benny Gantz was voted in as Knesset speaker on Thursday, paving the way for an “emergency” unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as Israel’s government works to mitigate the coronavirus crisis. Over the past year, Gantz has repeatedly vowed never to join a Netanyahu-led government, citing the premier’s corruption cases.
  • Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party has split moments ahead of the vote, after the party leader nominated himself for the position of Knesset speaker, in a bid to keep the possibility of a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud party. Kahol Lavan’s co-leaders Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, who were critical of the move, filed a request on Thursday to split their Knesset roster. Their two factions will remain as one party under the name Kahol Lavan.
  • The vote on Gantz’s nomination was approved with 74 lawmakers in favor, including many of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc, and 18 against. Some parties, including Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction, boycotted the vote. In his first speech as Knesset speaker, Gantz argued for an “emergency national unity government” to allow Israel to recover from the coronavirus outbreak.
  • “These are not normal times,” he told lawmakers, “and they call for unusual decisions.” He said this was “the right thing to do at this time,” stressing he would “not compromise democracy,” but made no direct remarks on Netanyahu’s impending trial. Lapid accused Gantz of “surrender without a fight” and “crawling” to join a Netanyahu government, asserting that his party would remain in the opposition.
  • Middle East Eye – Lubna Masarwa and Dania Akkad / Israel’s Blue and White party splits after Gantz elected as Knesset speaker

The Guardian – Daniel Boffey / UK-EU on post-Brexit relations ‘in deep freeze’

  • Planned negotiating rounds on the UK’s future relationship with the EU have been abandoned as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with Boris Johnson’s government still to table a comprehensive legal text for both sides to work on. During a European Commission briefing on Thursday, envoys for the EU capitals were told that holding negotiations via video-conferencing had so far proved impossible.
  • The two sides are trying to find a way to maintain dialogue in the coming weeks and months to kickstart the talks, but a previous schedule for negotiating rounds, with weeks set aside for consultation and preparation, has been ditched. The fact that the UK was still to table a legal text added an extra layer of difficulty, EU sources said.
  • Despite Downing Street’s public insistence that a similarly comprehensive text would be tabled earlier this month, EU sources said the UK had tabled only four documents covering trade, transport, aviation and nuclear cooperation. London has not tabled legal text on significant issues including security cooperation or fisheries, and nor has it made its texts public.
  • EU sources said the position was desperate. “We can’t even move out of Brussels to our capitals to talk it through,” said one source. “Everything is in the deep freeze.” The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, is in quarantine having been infected with the coronavirus. The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, has been in isolation after showing symptoms.
  • Financial Times – Tony Barber / Coronavirus crisis demands extended Brexit transition

Bloomberg – Megan Durisin, Thomas Gualtieri and Alessandra Migliaccio / From Spain to Germany, farmers warn of fresh food shortages

  • Every spring, Picon’s fields in Huelva, on the Atlantic coast of Spain tucked between Seville and the border with Portugal, are normally teeming with some 200 workers mostly from Morocco and Romania pulling the delicate berries from the plants and packing them for shipment. But this year, there are fewer than 100, largely locals — and Picon has no clue how he’s going to get the harvest in.
  • ­­From Huelva to Hamburg and Newcastle to Naples, Europe’s farmers are struggling to find people to bring in rapidly ripening fruits and vegetables, which frequently must be hand-picked, usually within a window of just a few days. They typically rely on seasonal workers from eastern Europe or northern Africa, but fears of the coronavirus are keeping hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers from leaving home.
  • Strawberries and asparagus are already being left to rot in Spain, Italy, and southern France. Farther north, producers of everything from salad greens and tomatoes to onions and peas are fretting about what to do as the spring and summer growing season picks up. The labor problems have some in the business worried that urban shoppers could face produce shortages. The concern is that even crops that get picked won’t reach consumers because outdoor markets are closed and transport links are iffy.
  • France expects some 200,000 workers will fail to show up this year. Coldiretti, an association of Italian farmers, estimates the country will be short as many as 100,000 foreign laborers. Germany typically has 30,000 migrant farm workers in March and 80,000 by May. With restaurants, hotels, and shops mostly shuttered due to the pandemic, governments are hoping people from those sectors, or students facing months without classes, will fill the void.
  • Politico – Eddy Wax / ‘There’s work on the farm’ EU countries tell the newly unemployed

Further reading for the weekend:

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.

Política Internacional | Permalink

EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 26/03/2020

Financial Times – Mario Draghi / Draghi: we face a war against coronavirus and must mobilise accordingly

  • The coronavirus pandemic is a human tragedy of potentially biblical proportions. Many today are living in fear of their lives or mourning their loved ones. The actions being taken by governments to prevent our health systems from being overwhelmed are brave and necessary. They must be supported.
  • But those actions also come with a huge and unavoidable economic cost. While many face a loss of life, a great many more face a loss of livelihood. Day by day, the economic news is worsening. Companies face a loss of income across the whole economy. A great many are already downsizing and laying off workers. A deep recession is inevitable.
  • The challenge we face is how to act with sufficient strength and speed to prevent the recession from morphing into a prolonged depression, made deeper by a plethora of defaults leaving irreversible damage. It is already clear that the answer must involve a significant increase in public debt.
  • Faced with unforeseen circumstances, a change of mindset is as necessary in this crisis as it would be in times of war. The shock we are facing is not cyclical. The loss of income is not the fault of any of those who suffer from it. The cost of hesitation may be irreversible. The memory of the sufferings of Europeans in the 1920s is enough of a cautionary tale. 
  • Euractiv / Germans and Dutch set to block EU ‘corona bonds’ at video summit

Politico – Maïa de la Baume and Lili Bayer / Michel: EU leaders to consider ‘Marshall Plan’ for Europe

  • EU leaders will on Thursday discuss a “Marshall Plan-like” stimulus package to fight the dire effects of the coronavirus on the bloc’s economies, European Council President Charles Michel said Wednesday. Leaders on Thursday are expected to call on the European Commission to put together a new plan for economic recovery.
  • Speaking on Belgian television channel LN24, Michel said he had earlier this week discussed “the way we are going to put in place what I call a Marshall Plan-like stimulus strategy” with the bloc’s 27 ambassadors, ahead of Thursday’s videoconference of heads of state and government.
  • “And when I say Marshall Plan-like, I say with a strong ambition,” he added. The impact of the economic shock on businesses means “we must be very active, very soon.” Michel described the endeavor as “an intra-European plan which must mobilize EU capital in the framework of the European budget; which must mobilize national funds and which should also mobilize the private sector,” adding: “We will have to use all the tools.”
  • In a draft statement prepared ahead of the leaders’ discussion and seen by POLITICO, officials wrote that the bloc would need an “exit strategy, a comprehensive recovery plan and unprecedented investment” for the coronavirus crisis, and would “invite the Commission to start work on a proposal for a Roadmap for recovery accompanied by an Action Plan.”
  • Project Syndicate – Mark Leonard / Leadership in a time of contagion

Foreign Policy – Stefanie Glinski / As if Afghans didn’t have enough trouble, now comes the pandemic

  • Over the past weeks, hundreds of thousands of Afghans have crossed back into their home country from Iran, which is one of the countries worst afflicted with the novel coronavirus, with tens of thousands of cases documented so far. So far at least 50 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Herat province.
  • In some ways the new threat couldn’t come at a worse time, with peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government stalemated and U.S. attention focused elsewhere—back home on its own dire coronavirus outbreak rather than forcing the two sides to talk. 
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Kabul on Monday but left frustrated, threatening to cut off up to $2 billion in U.S. aid to Afghanistan unless President Ashraf Ghani and his chief political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, resolve their differences over the recent national election, which both claim to have won.
  • The ancient city of Herat is home to about 1 million people, according to the governor’s office. Located in northwest Afghanistan, it is the country’s third-biggest city, surrounded by lush gardens where families picnic on weekends. The country’s Ministry of Public Health has urged the government to put the city under lockdown, but no presidential order has so far been given for this.
  • The New York Times – Fatima Faizi and David Zucchino / Fresh from Iran’s coronavirus zone, now moving across Afghanistan

Euractiv / EU and US in opposite camps as Kosovo government toppled

  • Kosovo’s government was toppled by a no-confidence vote Wednesday (25 March) less than two months after coming to power, plunging the unstable democracy into political uncertainty as it tries to halt the spread of coronavirus. After nearly 12 hours of debate, 82 MPs in the 120-member assembly voted in favour of the motion of no confidence.
  • The vote ends a brief and bumpy alliance between two former opposition parties who took power last month with a mandate to loosen the grip of an old guard that has held sway over Kosovo for more than a decade. The partnership quickly broke down with the junior partner in the coalition, the centre-right LDK, initiating the motion after weeks of tension with Prime Minister Albin Kurti, leader of the left-wing Vetevendosje party.
  • President Hashim Thaçi, whose party lost in the last elections, now has the power to give Kurti — his political enemy — another chance to form a government or call a new poll. The tumult has outraged citizens who want their leaders to focus on combating the coronavirus. Doctors warn that a swell of cases could overwhelm Kosovo’s underfunded and understaffed hospitals.
  • Before the parliamentary session began, one citizen breached partial lockdown orders to raise a banner at the entrance that read: “The most dangerous pandemic in Kosovo is politics. Shame!”. Unable to protest on the streets because of coronavirus restrictions on gatherings, Pristina residents have been clanging pots and pans every evening from their terraces in a show of anger over the political squabbling.
  • The Guardian / Kosovo government falls in vote of no confidence

Today’s long read:

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.

Política Internacional | Permalink

EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 25/03/2020

The Washington Post – Erica Werner et al. / Senate, White House reach $2 trillion stimulus deal to blunt coronavirus fallout

  • Senate leaders and the Trump administration reached agreement early Wednesday on a $2 trillion stimulus package to rescue the economy from the coronavirus assault, setting the stage for swift passage of the massive legislation through both chambers of Congress.
  • The Senate bill would direct payments of $1,200 to most American adults and $500 to most children, create a $500 billion lending program for companies, states and cities, and extend an additional $367 billion to help small companies deal with payroll problems. It would bolster the unemployment insurance system and pump $150 billion into U.S. hospitals. The bill more than doubled in size in just a few days.
  • This pertains to the $500 billion loan and loan guarantee program that the Treasury Department would be tasked with administering for companies, states and cities. Of that amount, $425 billion is supposed to go to businesses, cities and states. An additional $50 billion would go to passenger airlines, as well as $8 billion for cargo airlines, and $17 billion for firms that are deemed important to national security.
  • Other provisions include a massive boost to unemployment insurance, expanding eligibility and offering workers an additional $600 a week for four months, on top of what state unemployment programs pay, $150 billion for state and local stimulus funds and $130 billion for hospitals. The stock market rose sharply Tuesday in anticipation of the deal, with the Dow Jones industrial average surging more than 2,100 points, or 11.4 percent.
  • The New York Times – Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos / Congress and White House strike deal for $2 trillion stimulus package

Euractiv – Jorge Valero / Eurogroup nearing agreement to use bailout fund against pandemic

  • Countries of the euro area are close to an agreement to use the European Stability Mechanism to provide credit lines of up to 2% of their GDP to tackle the consequences of the coronavirus COVID-19. The Eurogroup discussed on Tuesday (24 March) what instruments Europe could deploy to release the fiscal stimulus and restart the economy, as the bloc is expected to suffer a severe recession.
  • The package will be presented to the leaders on Thursday and they will decide the shape and size of the European fiscal response, on top of the national packages already adopted. To date, euro member states adopted stimuli totalling around 2% of the region’s GDP, around €240 billion, doubling the size of the efforts made up until last week against the pandemic.
  • The Eurogroup teleconference focused on how to use the European Stability Mechanism, the EU’s bailout fund to offer loans to eurozone countries. “We are committed to exploring all possibilities necessary to help our economies get through these difficult times,” Eurogroup president Mario Centeno said after the teleconference.
  • ESM chief Klaus Regling explained that the credit lines would be available for all euro members, but it would be up to each of them, or a group of them if they requested it. Each member state will be able to request a credit of up to 2% of its GDP, but it could be even higher for serious situations, said Regling. Northern countries, notably Germany and the Netherlands, have been staunch opponents of the eurobonds.
  • Financial Times – Martin Wolf / This pandemic is an ethical challenge

Foreign Policy – Nathalie Rothschild / Sweden is open for business during its coronavirus outbreak

  • Almost all countries in the West dealing with the coronavirus pandemic have by now arrived at the same lockdown strategy, with some local variations. Only one major exception stands out. Sweden, while facing an undisputed high-risk outbreak of the virus, has committed to going its own way in combating it.
  • Stockholm’s coronavirus efforts stand out as markedly measured—or, as some would have it, dangerously tame. The Swedish government appears to be betting that its national culture is distinctive enough to pull off public health policies other countries can’t. Whether it will regret doing so remains to be seen.
  • Primary schools remain open, borders are only partially closed, there are no compulsory quarantines or shutdowns of restaurants, bars, or public spaces. While there is a ban on public gatherings, the 500-person limit is more generous than in other countries. As of Tuesday, a total of 36 Swedes have died after contracting the novel coronavirus.
  • The explanation, some analysts say, lies in Sweden’s combination of politically independent public agencies—including the Public Health Agency, which is front and center of the current crisis management—and the high level of public trust in them. The agencies are guaranteed freedom from so-called ministerial rule, which means politicians do not have the power to intervene directly in a public agency’s day-to-day operations.
  • Politico – Eline Schaart and Hanne Cokelaere / Belgian towns turn coronavirus anger on the Dutch

The Economist / It’s official: coronavirus puts off the Tokyo Olympics

  • The Japanese authorities and the IOC kept insisting, long after everyone else stopped believing them, that all was going to plan. On March 17th the IOC said there was “no need for any drastic decisions at this stage”, and that it was “fully committed” to holding the Olympics in July, even as betting markets gave that outcome a 15% probability.
  • On March 20th the Olympic flame duly arrived in Japan from Greece. But after that things unravelled quickly. Three days later Australia and Canada announced they would not send teams to an Olympics held in Tokyo in July and August. Britain, France and America urged the IOC to reach a decision quickly.
  • On March 24th Japan and the IOC bowed to the inevitable. Abe Shinzo, Japan’s prime minister, told reporters that he and Thomas Bach, the IOC’s president, were in “100% agreement” about postponing the games. Another reason for delay came with a recent spike in covid-19 infections in Tokyo.
  • A joint statement from the IOC and the Tokyo organising committee said they would be rescheduled to next year, but not later than the summer, in order “to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic games and the international community”. For Mr Abe, postponement of the games is a personal embarrassment, in light of his long refusal to countenance a delay to what has become a legacy project for him.
  • Bloomberg – Isabel Reynolds / Japan suffers setback with Olympics delay. Abe may still benefit

Today’s perspective:

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.

Política Internacional | Permalink

EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 24/03/2020

Financial Times – Michael Peel and Valerie Hopkins / North Macedonia and Albania set to begin EU accession talks

  • The EU is set to agree for North Macedonia and Albania to begin their long-awaited accession talks, as the bloc seeks to strengthen ties with the western Balkans. Member state foreign and Europe ministers will meet by video on Tuesday to sign off on a compromise deal that has overcome French-led resistance to starting talks.
  • The provisional accord, the first step towards enlarging the 27-member EU since the UK quit the bloc in January, comes as Russia and China deepen their footprints in the region. The launch of accession talks is no guarantee of EU membership.
  • The proposed revised agreement meets the demands of the enlargement sceptics by imposing extensive conditions on Albania. These include electoral and judicial reform, action against corruption, amending its media law and tougher action against irregular migration.
  • The final breakthrough was confirmed on Monday, when Athens signalled it was happy with assurances on its fears that Albania’s census and property registration rules would discriminate against the country’s Greek minority. The provisional accord would mean four of the six western Balkans countries are in enlargement talks with the EU, after Montenegro started in 2012 and Serbia in 2014.
  • Politico – Jacopo Barigazzi / EU moves closer to opening talks with North Macedonia and Albania

Foreign Policy – Robbie Gramer and Colum Lynch / U.S. appeals to aid recipients for help in fighting coronavirus

  • The U.S. State Department is instructing its top diplomats to press governments and businesses in Eastern Europe and Eurasia to ramp up exports and production of life-saving medical equipment and protective gear for the United States, part of a desperate diplomatic campaign to fill major shortcomings in the U.S. medical system amid a rising death toll from the new coronavirus.
  • It represents a stark turnaround for the United States, which has traditionally taken the lead in trying to help other less-developed countries contend with major humanitarian disasters and epidemics. The request could also undercut claims by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly insisted that the United States can handle demands for tests and medical equipment on its own.
  • China, meanwhile, is pushing to refurbish its image by sending its doctors and tens of thousands of medical kits abroad to the countries hit the hardest by the coronavirus, after botching the initial response to the virus, helping lead to its spread across the globe. Trump’s third-ranking diplomat, David Hale, has asked all bureaus to report on what foreign countries would be able to sell “critical medical supplies and equipment” to the United States.
  • “Depending on critical needs, the United States could seek to purchase many of these items in the hundreds of millions with purchases of higher end equipment such as ventilators in the hundreds of thousands,” the email reads. The email stresses that the request applies to host countries “minus Moscow,” indicating the United States will not call on Russia for support.
  • Foreign Affairs – Daron Acemoglu / The coronavirus exposed America’s authoritarian turn

Bloomberg – Thomas Buckley / Distilleries and breweries are retooling to make hand sanitizer

  • After a weekend barrage of social media posts documenting sanitizer shortages and soap aisle raids across America’s supermarkets, Melissa Hanesworth and Tara Engel felt they had to act. By March 20, Pernod Ricard’s facility in Fort Smith, Ark., where it makes Malibu coconut rum and Seagram’s gin, had produced 1,000 gallons of hand sanitizer.
  • The distiller’s effort comes as businesses the world over rethink their day-to-day operations so they can help governments fight the coronavirus. Major corporations are heeding the call to address civic need at the fastest pace since World War II.
  • In the U.S., 3M Co. is doubling its production of N95 respirator masks to an annual rate of 2 billion and Tesla Inc. founder Elon Musk is holding conversations with Medtronic Inc. about “state-of-the-art ventilators.” H&M, the mass-market clothier, is adapting its production lines to supply more surgical garments.
  • In the U.K., Smiths Group Plc has ramped up the manufacture of its own medical ventilators, which are in short supply, and has made the intellectual property to produce them available to other companies; the government has asked engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and McLaren Automotive to help build them.
  • Financial Times – Gill Plimmer and Sarah Neville / Private sector resources bring welcome relief for NHS

Politico – Simon Marks / Coronavirus hits Africa’s mega trade deal plans

  • Wamkele Mene’s first days at work were a huge anticlimax. Last week, as he was sworn in as Africa’s new trade czar, the continent was becoming engulfed in the global fight against the coronavirus. Trade talks aimed at launching the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on July 1 are now on hold.
  • “It would be unreasonable for any government to direct resources to meet the deadline when the public’s health is so gravely at stake,” Mene told POLITICO, adding that he expected heads of state to announce a delay in the coming weeks. “My view now is that the focus should be on saving lives.”
  • Coronavirus permitting, the intention is still for AfCFTA to launch this year, with officials looking to resume talks toward the end of May. Even without the interference of a pandemic, achieving a deal looked challenging — despite the progress so far. There is also a massive infrastructure deficit in Africa and a large amount of investment is still needed for roads, train linkages and air connections.
  • The current text proposes countries having five years to drop tariffs to zero on 90 percent of their goods. They then have seven years to drop tariffs on 7 percent of their tariff lines, while the remaining 3 percent can be protected. In reality, it could take much longer.
  • The Guardian – Jason Burke and Abdalle Ahmed Mumin / Mogadishu’s refugees ‘waiting for death’ as Covid-19 reaches Somalia

Today’s op-ed:

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.

Política Internacional | Permalink

EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 23/03/2020

The New York Times – Michael Crowley, Edward Wong and Lara Jakes / Coronavirus drives the U.S. and China deeper into global power struggle

  • Mr. Trump was scathing as he accused Beijing of concealing the outbreak first detected in Wuhan that has become a pandemic now paralyzing the United States. “Certainly, the world is paying a big price for what they did,” he said. As Mr. Trump toughens his condemnations of Mr. Xi’s government, experts fear that the two world powers are heading into a new Cold War.
  • Even some health officials in the Trump administration have warned that denouncing China’s government could make it more resistant to sharing accurate data about the virus. China has shared the genome sequence of the virus, and Chinese scientists have written many public papers on the virus, even if officials initially covered it up.
  • China also has the power to interfere with medical supply chains into the United States, and its economic policies are crucial to the wider global economy. Eswar Prasad, a China expert and professor of trade policy at Cornell University, called the new hostility “dispiriting.” Trump officials are also gauging the effect of the coronavirus and a related spike in tensions on their trade talks.
  • But China hawks see the pandemic as a chance to spotlight what they call the sinister nature of China’s Communist Party, turn international opinion against it and combat its anti-American conspiracy theories. The hardened messaging from Washington has infuriated China’s government, whose officials and news outlets have fired back.
  • Foreign Affairs – Mahlet Mesfin / It takes a world to end a pandemic

Al Monitor / Is there a coronavirus peace dividend for Israelis and Palestinians?

  • “The coronavirus outbreak has done what local and international politicians and activists have been unable to do,” writes Daoud Kuttab. Israeli and Palestinian leaders are talking at the highest level and stepping up cooperation through existing official channels to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
  • On March 18, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, to say that cooperation is “vital” and that “our ability to work together in times of crisis is also testament to our ability to work together in the future for the good of us all.”
  • Israeli and Palestinian leaders hammered out an agreement that allows 30,000 Palestinian workers from the West Bank to stay in Israel for at least two months in order to limit the traffic at border crossings and thereby prevent the spread of the virus. This number could increase to 70,000. Israel must provide housing and sanitary facilities, per the agreement.
  • Eldar points out that the relationship between Israel Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his Palestinian counterpart, Shukri Bishara, has been key to cooperation during otherwise acrimonious ties. This connection could be lost if Kahlon is replaced if and when a new Israeli government is formed.
  • Haaretz – Nir Hasson / Israel considers cutting off parts of East Jerusalem to stem coronavirus spread
  • Haaretz – Shannon Maree Torrens / Coronavirus confirmed in Gaza: this is what Israel must do – now

EU Observer – Eszter Zalan / Hungary’s Orban seeks indefinite power in virus bill

  • Hungary’s nationalist government submitted a draft law to parliament Friday (20 March) that would enable it to rule by decree for an unlimited period of time, citing the corona emergency. The bill would enable the government to indefinitely extend the state of emergency and special powers, removing the current requirement for MPs to approve any extension.
  • The special powers would make it possible for prime minister Viktor Orban’s government to “suspend the application of certain laws, derogate from legal provisions, and take extraordinary measures in the interest of guaranteeing the stabilisation of the lives, health, personal and material security of citizens, as well as the economy”.
  • Under an extended and indefinite state of emergency, anyone who publicises false or distorted facts that interfere with the “successful defence” of public health, or can create “confusion or unrest” related to the outbreak, can be punished by up to five years, or three years, in prison. This has created fears that it could enable the Orban government to decide what can be reported and what is true.
  • Elections and referendums would also be postponed for the indefinite time of the emergency, making it impossible to replace MPs, for instance, if they die in the corona outbreak. Four-fifths of MPs will need to support the swift move. If opposition parties do not support the quick vote, parliament can vote on it in eight days. That vote would require only a two-thirds majority for the government to gain extraordinary powers, which Orban holds in parliament.
  • The Economist / As Poland’s government punishes judges, corruption is rising

Euractiv – Florence Schulz / German CO2 emissions dive amid coronavirus slump

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is having a dramatic impact on Germany’s demand for electricity. According to initial projections, Germany could emit between 50 and 120 million tons less CO2 this year, meaning it could even exceed its climate target.
  • German industry is largely at a standstill: production is being interrupted, and entire plants  are temporarily closed. In a forecast, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW) assumes that German GDP could fall by as much as 4.5% in the event of a nationwide curfew and by up to 8.7% in the worst case. This is likely to have a massive impact on the country’s demand for electricity.
  • At around 230 terawatt-hours per year, industry alone consumes almost half of Germany’s electricity needs, followed by trade, commerce and the service sector, which is now also largely at a standstill. In comparison, households are much smaller consumers. With just under 130 terawatt-hours, they come third in relation to all electricity consumers.
  • Since emissions would decrease anyway due to warmer weather and conditions on the energy market, Agora calculates a “corona effect” of 30 to 100 million tons. Power prices are also expected to fall. The coronavirus is already having an impact on the EU’s carbon market, where the price of a ton of CO2 has fallen from around €23 to just €16.
  • Financial Times – Nick Butler / Climate change is still with us

Today’s food for thought:

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.

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EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 20/03/2020

Foreign Affairs – Branko Milanovic / The real pandemic danger is social collapse

  • As of March 2020, the entire world is affected by an evil with which it is incapable of dealing effectively and regarding whose duration no one can make any serious predictions. The economic repercussions of the novel coronavirus pandemic must not be understood as an ordinary problem that macroeconomics can solve or alleviate.
  • Rather, the world could be witnessing a fundamental shift in the very nature of the global economy. The immediate crisis is one of both supply and demand. Supply is falling because companies are closing down or reducing their workloads to protect workers from contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
  • The supply shock is exacerbated by a decrease in demand due to the fact that people are locked in, and many of the goods and services they used to consume are no longer available. If you shut countries off and stop air traffic, no amount of demand and price management will make people fly.
  • The world faces the prospect of a profound shift: a return to natural—which is to say, self-sufficient—economy. That shift is the very opposite of globalization. If the crisis continues, globalization could unravel. The longer the crisis lasts, and the longer obstacles to the free flow of people, goods, and capital are in place, the more that state of affairs will come to seem normal.
  • Foreign Policy – Morten Soendergaard Larsen and Robbie Gramer / China casts itself as global savior while U.S. and EU focus on virus at home

The Economist / Paying to stop the pandemic

  • Planet Earth is shutting down. In the struggle to get a grip on covid-19, one country after another is demanding that its citizens shun society. As that sends economies reeling, desperate governments are trying to tide over companies and consumers by handing out trillions of dollars in aid and loan guarantees.
  • Nobody can be sure how well these rescues will work. But there is worse. Troubling new findings suggest that stopping the pandemic might require repeated shutdowns. And yet it is also now clear that such a strategy would condemn the world economy to grave—perhaps intolerable—harm. Some very hard choices lie ahead.
  • Spooked, governments are rushing to impose controls that would have been unimaginable only a few weeks ago. Scores of countries, including many in Africa and Latin America, have barred travellers from places where the virus is rife. Times Square is deserted, the City of London is dark and in France, Italy and Spain cafés, bars and restaurants have bolted their doors.
  • Data for January and February show that industrial output in China, which had been forecast to fall by 3% compared with a year earlier, was down by 13.5%. Retail sales were not 4% lower, but 20.5%. Fixed-asset investment, which measures the spending on such things as machinery and infrastructure, declined by 24%, six times more than predicted. That has sent economic forecasters the world over scurrying to revise down their predictions.
  • Financial Times – Christine Lagarde / The ECB will do everything necessary to counter the virus

The New York Times – Eric Lipton and Nicholas Fandos / Senator Richard Burr sold a fortune in stocks as G.O.P. played down coronavirus threat

  • Senator Richard M. Burr sold hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock in major companies last month, as President Trump and others in his party were still playing down the threat presented by the coronavirus outbreak and before the stock market’s precipitous plunge.
  • The stocks were sold in mid-February, days after Mr. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, wrote an opinion article for Fox News suggesting that the United States was “better prepared than ever before” to confront the virus. At least three other senators sold major stock holdings around the same time, disclosure records show.
  • Two weeks after Mr. Burr sold his stocks, he spoke at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington to a nonpartisan group called the Tar Heel Club, warning that the virus could soon cause a major disruption in the United States. “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history,” Mr. Burr said.
  • Mr. Burr accused NPR of twisting his comments into a “tabloid-style hit piece.” He argued that the report made him look duplicitous for sharing information at a publicly advertised event that was consistent with the message members of the Trump administration were then trying to promulgate. He did not address his stock sales.
  • The Washington Post – John Wagner / Sen. Burr offered dire warning about the coronavirus at private luncheon three weeks ago

Bloomberg – Natalia Drozdiak and Lucas Shaw / YouTube, Netflix cut stream quality in Europe to ease networks

  • Netflix Inc. and Google’s YouTube agreed to reduce the quality of their video streaming in Europe to relieve networks strained by the coronavirus pandemic. The moves follow separate discussions between European Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton and Netflix Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings, and with Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai and YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki.
  • YouTube said Friday it would temporarily switch all traffic in Europe to standard definition by default for 30 days. “We will continue working with member state governments and network operators to minimize stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience,” YouTube said in a statement, adding it has so far only seen a few usage peaks.
  • Netflix will begin reducing bit rates across all its streams in Europe for a month, the Silicon Valley-based company said in a statement Thursday. “We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25% while also ensuring a good quality service for our members.”
  • The virus outbreak has shuttered schools, businesses and restaurants in much of the region, sending millions of people home — where they’re using services like Netflix and YouTube. The amount of time people spent streaming spiked by more than 20% worldwide last weekend, including more than 40% in Austria and Spain. While traffic has increased, EU telecom regulators say there haven’t been any signs of congestion in Europe and operators appear able to cope with the situation.
  • Politico – Tim King / In EU’s retreat, a way forward

Further reading for the weekend:

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.

Política Internacional | Permalink