Crises and Concessions: France, Germany, Italy

Crises and Concessions: France, Germany, Italy

Ms. May's humiliation was particularly dramatic, but political leaders elsewhere in Europe have had to backtrack on strongly-held ideas in recent days.

Here's a cornucopia of climb downs from the continent:



In France, after another weekend of violent protests, President Emmanuel Macron went on TV yesterday to defuse a crisis that has engulfed his presidency. The "Yellow Vest" movement, which began in opposition to a proposed hike in fuel taxes, has quickly grown to embody the broader anger and anxieties of the country's middle class, particularly in rural areas. After initially remaining aloof from the crisis, his administration first suspended and then outright cancelled the tax hike. Mr. Macron has now declared a state of "social and economic emergency" and pledged to restore order while also offering a (somewhat meager) 100 euro a month increase to the national minimum wage.

The challenge for Mr. Macron is this: he was elected in part on his promises to make the unpopular economic reforms that France needs in order to bring down unemployment, boost growth, and spur innovation. Thus far he has stumbled in part because of the perception that he's front-loaded the pain for poor and middle-class people. His speech yesterday aimed to demonstrate both resolve and compassion in a way that puts him back on track to address further politically fraught issues next year, such as pension reform. The risk is that in making concessions to the street once, he will be unable to hold the line in the future.

Meanwhile in Germany, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has quietly dropped her long-standing insistence that all EU countries must accept refugees according to an agreed-upon quota. The new line, included in a joint German-French discussion paper ahead of EU meetings later this week, says that while solidarity within the common bloc is desirable, countries can, in effect, say no to taking in migrants. It's a small nuance with big implications – migration policy has been the single most inflammatory issue in European politics in recent years.

Backlashes both against refugees themselves, as well as against Brussels' insistence on country-level quotas, have fueled the rise of anti-establishment parties that have roiled Europe's politics since 2015. Merkel's climbdown on this issue may facilitate a broader EU agreement on migration policy this week, but at the cost of Brussels' long-term legitimacy.

And to Italy, where the government coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the right-wing Lega party has pulled its own climbdown. For months Rome has locked horns with Brussels over next year's Italian budget. The government wants massive tax cuts favored by the business-friendly Lega, along with huge social spending increases promised by Five Star on the campaign trail.

But the combination would violate EU fiscal rules by expanding Italy's sky-high government debt. The EU has threatened sanctions, while financial markets punished Italy. Faced with the prospect of deeper financial market turmoil, Rome has relaxed its earlier anti-Brussels bravado and now says it's willing to trim spending to find a compromise. But room for maneuver is scant: both Five Star and Lega have electoral promises to keep, and both are burnishing their Eurosceptic bonafides ahead of European parliamentary elections this spring.

We pay little attention to the waves of the sea, yet they are the greatest unused source of renewable energy in the world. Meet ISWEC and Power Buoy, two interesting new technologies used to harness this energy. Learn more about the extraordinary power of waves in this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series, where we investigate interesting facts and trends about energy.

Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

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The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

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In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

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Nasal sprays, oral vaccines, and other new types of COVID-19 vaccines may be ready soon, according to Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization. She previews some of these needle-less vaccines and notes that the possibility of being able to store vaccines at room temperature could be a game-changer for vaccinating poorer nations. The advantage of nasal sprays, she explains, is that they "would generate local mucosal immunity in addition to systemic immunity." Dr. Swaminathan's conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 9. Check local listings.

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