Coronavirus Politics Daily: Italy closes ports, Spain floats UBI, Libya cases grow

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Italy closes ports, Spain floats UBI, Libya cases grow

Italy closes its ports to migrants: After a boat carrying 150 Libyan migrants was intercepted off the Italian coast this week, the Italian government rushed to pass an eleventh-hour law barring migrant ships from docking on its shores during the coronavirus crisis. Italy, the main port of entry for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, has seen more COVID-19 deaths than any other country to date. Members of Italy's political right and left – including the country's health minister, who belongs to a leftist party that has long supported migrants' rights – joined forces to support the legislation, on the grounds that Italy can't ensure the safety of migrants during the outbreak. But non-government groups that patrol the Mediterranean to rescue migrants say that even in the midst of a global crisis, the rights of asylum seekers should be safeguarded. Rome's move to close the ports comes just six months after a new Italian government reopened them to migrants, overturning the anti-migrant policies spearheaded by former interior minister Matteo Salvini of the right-wing Lega Party. Before Europe became the epicenter of the pandemic, efforts were underway to implement some sort of bloc-wide policy on migrants. But as COVID-19 cases soar throughout the union, this has undoubtedly been put on (the furthest edge of) the back burner.


Spain readies cash for…everyone? The catastrophic economic and social impacts of the coronavirus crisis are sure to force fresh thinking about governments' responsibilities to their citizens. In Spain, which has the highest COVID-19 death rate of any country on earth, the leftist coalition government has proposed a bold step: introducing a Universal Basic Income scheme, under which Spaniards would permanently receive monthly payments directly from the government. A government minister said Tuesday that moves are afoot to implement the measure as soon as possible. It's not clear whether it would target all Spaniards or just people with low income. What's also not clear is how it would be paid for in the long run. Local level experiments with UBI have been tried in a number of countries, but at the nationwide level, there are few examples. Finland scrapped a 2-year nationwide UBI plan in 2019 after finding that it did little to boost employment. At the moment, the only country we know of that runs a nationwide, government backed cash transfer scheme like this is Iran.

COVID-19 in Libya: The UN called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in war-torn Libya after the Libyan National Army (LNA), the defacto government that controls eastern Libya, confirmed its first COVID-19 case Tuesday in Benghazi. The LNA's opponents, the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which rules the capital city of Tripoli, has also reported dozens of infections and one death from the virus. Six years of civil war have destroyed Libya's already fragile health infrastructure, and aid agencies, including the World Health Organization, have warned that an outbreak could devastate the country. Calls for a ceasefire seem far-fetched: this week the LNA, headed by the wily warlord Khalifa Haftar, attacked a coronavirus-designated hospital in Tripoli. Here's a reminder of who's who in Libya's intractable civil war.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

More Show less

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

More Show less

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

More Show less

Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

More Show less

50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

More Show less

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal