April 07, 2021
Once upon a time there was a kingdom of squabbling princes... Angela Merkel is sick und tired of that kingdom.
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Once upon a time there was a kingdom of squabbling princes... Angela Merkel is sick und tired of that kingdom.
Watch more PUPPET REGIME
When German Chancellor Angela Merkel convenes a world leader Zoom on gender inequality, the accusations fly fast and furious.
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When the EU can't get the fix it needs, Angela Merkel turns to desperate measures.
Ian's Quick Take:
Hi everybody, Ian Bremmer here on a snowy Friday in New York City. But if it was any other year, I'd actually be in Munich right now for the annual Munich Security Conference. It's the largest gathering every year of foreign and security policy leaders and experts from the transatlantic community, and increasingly from around the world. It's, for obvious reasons, postponed this year, they're hoping to put something together in the summer in-person, but that didn't stop some of the most prominent leaders across the transatlantic partners from speaking virtually at an event that streamed live over a few hours today. So, given that I thought I'd give you a quick response on what I thought was happening and answer some of your questions.
So, first of all, President Biden, Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and the UK's Boris Johnson all spoke today, as well as multilateral leaders like António Guterres, my buddy from the UN and Dr. Tedros Adhanom of the World Health Organization. The pandemic, vaccine rollout, distribution, renewed commitment to transatlantic partnerships, the big topics today.
Let me first give you some highlights. Obviously, the big news is a sense of enthusiasm from the leaders that were speaking. You look at the transatlantic relationship, America First under President Trump was not meant to be popular in Europe, it was not popular in Europe. All of the leaders speaking today with Biden, happy to bang on the message that the United States is back on the global stage and embraces multilateralism and wants to work primarily with American allies.
Biden himself, committing to working together with partners on a host of issues like pandemic response and vaccine distribution, as well as climate change. Just a very different top-line message, a very different feel from the American president than we've seen from the last four years of Trump. Maybe the most interesting point from Joe Biden was him describing the world as being at an inflection point, calling out the need to defend democracy in the United States, as well as in Europe and saying to combat the rise of autocracy, you have to demonstrate that democracy can deliver for our people. And on the back of January 6th in the United States, on the back of a contested election, that many Americans still believe was stolen, on the back of so many in Western democracies that increasingly see the Chinese model seems stable and it's economically continuing to succeed, but they're getting angry about the effectiveness of their own democracies well before they exported, that certainly was a message, not of American exceptionalism, but rather of American potential, rather of what needs to be done, the work that needs to be done before the US can really be back. I think it's important, it's fine to say that America's back, but it's not like everybody really believes that we can just jump into the status quo ante.
Angela Merkel, this is her swan song. This is 16 years of Chancellor of Germany, and they come to an end this year. A very similar message, a very aligned message. I felt pretty confident that both Merkel and Biden had read each other's draft speeches before they gave their own comments, which is kind of a nice thing to see, shared belief that the democracy is the foundation of the transatlantic partnership, more than shared security, more than economic interests, alignment of values. Again, something that has taken an enormous hit over the past several years, both inside Europe and increasingly inside the United States to an even greater degree. And so, even though the allies may not agree on every issue and in some, they clearly don't, that on core values compared to countries like Russia and Iran and China and other rogue States around the world, that this is what the transatlantic relationship is founded on, and certainly what the Munich Security Conference has been founded on.
The reality is that there is near-term relief from everybody appearing, but also a lot of long-term mistrust, at least unease and still not an awful lot of real policy alignment. I mean, you see President Biden right before this speech announcing tougher "buy American" clauses to ensure that when the US spends trillions of dollars in relief and stimulus, that it goes to the United States and its corporations, and it doesn't go to other countries around the world, no matter how aligned they are. That is much more of an America First policy perspective, and much more unilateralism than the multilateralism that is being touted. But of course, that's a reality for how politics in Washington gets done, especially given how divided and how angry the population is. Europe doing an awful lot of that on issues like trade and technology as well. The US much more worried about China as the principal national security threat out there. Europe, it depends on who you talk to, not so much. Economics, much more important. Certainly, willingness to go after China on values, much, much weaker in the case of Europe these days. And the United States, increasingly not as interested in the Middle East, not like Europe has much of a choice, geographically and that is also going to be an area of tension.
Among other major themes today, climate for sure. Bill Gates, giving a speech drawing comparisons between climate change and global response on pandemic saying, "There is no vaccine for the environment and that we can't wait until it's too late." By the way, I'd add, there's also no vaccine for political divisions inside the United States and Europe. Another big problem, perhaps one that we'll hear Biden say in future speeches. Gates also said that by the end of the century, climate change will kill five times as many people per year as the pandemic is right now. Clearly that is what he is pivoting towards in terms of top priorities now that the vaccines have such a strong kickstart in the United States and increasingly in Europe too.
Also heard today on climate from John Kerry, President Biden's Special Envoy for Climate, it is a cabinet position, a new one, that climate change must be treated as a national security issue. Everyone in the Biden administration is rowing in the same direction on that. By the way, we expect at least two to $3 trillion for green infrastructure after the 1.9 trillion in initial coronavirus relief is passed in the coming weeks. That is an enormously big deal for 2021 made possible because you actually have 50 Democrats in Senate. A lot of that will be paid for by taxes, additional taxes, corporate taxes, taxes on the wealthy, but a lot of that's going to be more deficit financing as well. So, you're going to have your infrastructure year after so much failure for so many decades in the United States for not putting money into that as we see playing out in Texas, for example, right now. Also, Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister calling for building back better and greener after the pandemic, certainly wanting to show how aligned he is with the US and the Biden administration after the shambolic Brexit proceedings over the course of the last five plus years.
Cyber and technology, also a big topic. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen notably calling for ensuring that what is illegal offline is also illegal online and for internet companies to take a lot more responsibility for that. By the way, this is clearly the issue where there's very little alignment between the US and Europe. There is certainly no strategy between the two. I would argue that the Europeans mistrust the United States on tech policy almost as much as they mistrust China, which is quite something and going to be very hard to align this year.
Anyway, the first of several virtual events like this, I'm sure, on the road to Munich 2021, organizers of the conference, very optimistic that an in-person or hybrid event is going to happen later this year. When it does, GZERO will certainly be there to cover it.
Okay, I said I'd answer a couple of your questions. Here we go. I have them from you.
Number one, isn't it in the EU's interest to see more pro-China now that they are their biggest trade partners?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, lots of sharp language about the challenge posed by China across the board and the need to put up better competition. But the Europeans clearly see that on issues of trade and investment, China matters a lot more to them. And unless the United States has a very clear and aligned strategy that is very attractive to the Europeans in the near term, they are going to continue to hedge like crazy. Keep in mind, China's only getting bigger. By 2028, the expectation is that China becomes the largest economy in the world with a very different economic model, a very different political model, a very different technological model, a very different set of standards and architecture. The transatlantic relationship was set up common values, but also security dealing with Russia where actually for the United States, the principal concern now overwhelmingly is China and that's a real serious problem.
Okay. How much does Merkel's departure and Super Mario's arrival matter for US-European relations?
Surprisingly, not a single direct mention of Mario Draghi today. I'm a little shocked about that. I mean, this guy, after Merkel, is the most significant, the most respected leader on the European continent and he has just taken over a big majority as Prime Minister in Italy. This is the best news for one of the largest economies in the EU and he is a super advocate of stronger, more integrated European Union and a strong relationship with the United States. I'm really surprised that there were no callouts about Draghi's. The biggest, biggest mistake in my view made by the leaders speaking today. But I certainly think it will be good for US-EU relations, it will be good for keeping the Europeans closer together. As we know, in Italy, you can never count on governments for long, but this one is good while it lasts.
What will the international community do to ensure universal vaccine equity, particularly where's there's minimal state capacity and/or regime reluctance?
It's going to be tough. It's great that we saw that Joe Biden is committing $2 billion to COVAX with a pledge of an additional $2 billion if others step up. Emmanuel Macron talking about Africa, specifically, calling for a lot more aid to ensure that all healthcare workers there, he says about 6.5 million people, get the vaccine immediately. But the reality is you're getting vaccines to wealthy countries well before it gets to poorer countries, well before it gets to the poorest countries. You're rolling out vaccines, really fast to the wealthy countries, it's extraordinary. Most of the world still hasn't gotten their first jab yet. In most of the world's countries still haven't gotten their first job yet. So, there is an obvious and massive question on vaccine equity and it's going to hurt a lot of the economies of the world pretty stiffly. It's more of an economic issue than a healthcare issue. So many of these countries, very, very young people, which means not many people get really sick. Most of the spread is asymptomatic, but it's going to hurt them in terms of reopening their economies, getting their people to travel, remittances that come from that, all of these challenges, that's a big lift. I hope we'll see more.
So, that's it for me. I hope you enjoyed this. I hope you found the Munich coverage interesting and worthwhile and have a great weekend. Stay safe, stay warm and avoid people.
A year ago, the annual Munich Security Conference was the last major international event to take place before the world locked down following the appearance of a mysterious new virus in Wuhan, China. Close to 2.5 million COVID deaths later, world leaders again gathered on Friday, this time virtually, to discuss the future of global cooperation, particularly between the US and Europe, in the post-Trump era. Here are a few takeaways.
America is back. Conference participants celebrated America's return to the global cooperation arena with Joe Biden now in the White House. Top European partners expressed delight at the US' fresh willingness to be a part of – and in some cases lead — various joint commercial and security projects and multinational organizations.
In short order, the US has rejoined the World Health Organization and Paris Climate Accord, and has pledged $4 billion to the COVAX global scheme to ensure equitable distribution of COVID vaccines. There will be fewer threats from Washington, and more cross-border collaboration. These developments are not quite as well received in China or Russia, whose leaders weren't invited to this particular Zoom call.
Make multilateralism great again. After four years of transatlantic tension under Donald Trump, and with the pandemic still raging, the 2021 Munich consensus is that multilateral institutions are indispensable for dealing with the world's problems. The top priority now is rolling out jabs for everyone, for reasons epidemiological, economic and political, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel also said America must also do more to help Europe counter Islamic terrorism in Africa, for instance.
Global cooperation was dismal in many respects in dealing with the pandemic last year, and multilateral institutions became an afterthought. But the nationalist and populist policies that UN Secretary-General António Guterres argues failed to contain COVID have added to the urgency for greater cooperation and policy coordination. Guterres has a global plan to give jabs to everyone, everywhere — a dramatic U-turn from the "country first" responses that were so prominent last year.
Change is gonna come. While a shared vision rooted in liberal democratic values is important, events of the past few years indicate that it's simply not enough to tackle 21st century challenges. There are areas where the interests of like-minded nations will diverge.
In Munich on Friday, for example, French President Emmanuel Macron noted that while the US and Europe will remain close allies with a common worldview, their respective priorities do not always align. The US, for instance, is increasingly turning its attention to the Pacific, while Europe has a bigger footprint and more at stake in Africa. Acknowledging this reality and accounting for it in policy-making will strengthen the transatlantic relationship, Macron suggested, not weaken it. The same is true for NATO, which the French leader says needs to change its "strategic concept" in order to better respond to evolving global challenges like cyber weapons, China's more assertive foreign policy, Russian aggression, and climate change.
In 2019, the French leader caused a stir when he said the NATO alliance was suffering from "brain drain," which many saw as a diss to the workable status quo. But a global economic recession and pandemic later, will world leaders be more susceptible to the belief that Europe needs to reimagine its institutions and regain its "military sovereignty."
Platitudes. These sort of global forums are ripe ground for trite remarks, but whether world leaders will keep promises made from podiums always remains to be seen. President Biden's new climate czar, John Kerry, pledged an inclusive approach to climate action that helps low-income countries like Bangladesh and island nations that are most vulnerable to climate displacement. But the US has flip-flopped on climate commitments in the past. Can it be trusted this time? Lurking behind the satisfaction that Biden has replaced Trump is understandable concern that America might abruptly shift course again after the next election.
European and American leaders alike reiterated their commitment to a global vaccine distribution effort. Their words were heart-warming, sure, but vaccine hoarding by rich countries remains a big problem (130 low and middle-income countries haven't even started rolling out vaccines). Reversing this trend will take time, money, and an even scarcer and more precious resource — political will.Bottom line: (Most of) Europe is relieved that the era of standoffish America is over — at least for now. But a shift of political gears and a surge of hopeful rhetoric alone won't change the game. Enormous global challenges remain, and Brussels and Washington won't always see eye-to-eye on how to address them going forward.
Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.
Protests in Russia this weekend: When Russian dissident Alexey Navalny returned to Russia last weekend for the first time since being poisoned there in August, the police promptly — and unsurprisingly — arrested him. But as he was being taken into custody, Navalny live-streamed from his phone, calling for mass protests on 23 January, this Saturday. Then he dropped a stunning two-hour documentary which alleges that decades of corrupt dealings are what enabled President Vladimir Putin to build himself a 17,000 acre palace on the Black Sea, replete with private casinos, theaters, and even a strip club. The video has already been viewed nearly 50 million times on YouTube. But will people heed Navalny's call this weekend? Polls show that nearly 20 percent of Russians say (source in Russian) they'd take part in political protests. As it happens, that's the highest mark since 2011, when Navalny led the largest demonstrations in Russia's post-Soviet history. Still, talking to pollsters is one thing, braving batons is another: we're watching to see how many show up on Saturday. If it's, say, 10,000 or more, things could get interesting fast.
Let's be honest, who knows if 2021 will really be a better year than 2020.
On the one hand, you might say, "how could next year possibly be worse than this one?" On the other, 2020 has taught us that things can always — always — get worse.
But either way, YOU can always be a better YOU, and world leaders are, in principle, no different. Here's a look at the pledges that several world leaders are already making for the new year.
Emmanuel Macron, French President
I shall mingle with the common people. "Folks" I think you call them, yes? Angela Merkel's autumn exit will make me Europe's numéro un, but unless I persuade la France that I comprehend their problèmes, I may not be President de la Republique after the 2022 election.
Maja Vajiralongkorn, King of Thailand
I too shall try to win more public affection, particularly among these young people who are now always protesting to limit my powers. I don't understand how these kids can't relate to me. I'm a filthy-rich sugar daddy, hip fashion icon, and recent victim of online revenge porn. Basically the ultimate Instagram star!
Vladimir Putin, President of Russia
Resolutions? Hmm, no, no I can't think of anything I'd really do differently. Been here for 20 years now — what is expression, "if not broken, don't fix," yes?
Ayatollah Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran
As far as we are concerned, the new year starts in March. Until then the only thing that requires resolution is the nuclear deal — we'll be waiting for your call, Joe.
Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister
I will not, under any circumstances, visit Scotland. One knows when and where one is persona non grata, and their parliamentary elections in May are all the more likely to pave the way toward another independence referendum — especially if I show my post-Brexit face on Scottish lands.
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
No matter how tempted I may be to kiss and hug him as though I were a Southern European, I will maintain my composure when my good old friend Joe Biden comes to visit next, this time as President. I WILL maintain it!
Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia
Give me a break! I'm quite preoccupied right now with a civil war, my neighbors want to stop filling my new dam, and my own ethnic brothers say I betrayed them. I'll try to take it easy in 2021, and maybe win another Nobel if I can make peace with Tigray.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey
Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil
Bibi Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel
I will not — WILL NOT — let my right-wing former so-called "friends" secure my defeat in parliamentary elections this coming March. Should I collude with a rabbi to reveal (sexual) secrets about my political foes? Perhaps try a little fear-mongering about Arab voters to boost turnout? Ha, those were my old tricks and shticks — just wait till you see what I have in store in 2021…
Xi Jinping, President of China
I am not going to let up an inch in my quest to put China at the center of the global stage. Let us see how Mr. Biden deals with that…
Donald Trump, President of the US
This is a disgrace — there is no way in hell I am going to be the last person on any list in 2021, that I can tell you.
You, dear readerWhat's your New Year's resolution? Let us know here.
Four and a half years after Britons voted to leave the EU, the missed deadlines and last-minute shenanigans are finally over. Just a week out from the December 31 deadline, when Great Britain would have crashed out of the European Union without a trade deal, the EU and the UK today announced they had reached an agreement on post-Brexit trade — the full details of which will become public in coming days.
The breakthrough comes as the two sides had come under intense pressure to settle their differences to avoid worsening the pandemic-induced recession. It's also an unexpected Christmas gift for Britons and Europeans, who have spent all year negotiating this deal and finally reached a consensus on several outstanding issues, including two key sticking points.
First, the "level playing field". Despite strong opposition from "hard Brexiteers," it appears the UK will have to respect EU rules that ensure it can't use labor, regulatory, environmental and tax policy to boost British competitiveness at the expense of European companies.
Second, fish. The UK and EU seem to have struck a compromise on the highly contentious issue of fishing rights, which almost derailed the agreement at the last moment. EU fishing boats will retain some access to British waters — albeit less access than they had when the UK was still part of the EU — while the UK will have more say in who can fish there and how much they can catch. This was a big deal for the Europeans, whose boats catch fish worth some £600 million (almost $813 million) in UK waters every year. Once terms are fully implemented, the UK will keep two thirds of its fish.
With today's announcement, Great Britain — which officially exited the EU on January 31, 2020 — avoids the nightmare scenario of a no-deal Brexit when the transition period expires on January 1. That could have resulted in major shortages, stranded truckers, and manufacturers facing huge delays to sell to EU customers. The EU breathes a sigh of relief too now that Britain will remain a mainly aligned commercial partner rather than a direct competitor in many industries.
So, what happens now? The Brits and Europeans still have one last bridge to cross. In order to come into effect, the deal will have to be ratified by the UK and EU parliaments, though widely shared fear of a no-deal crash will almost certainly move the process forward smoothly on both sides.
The UK and EU have yet to discuss how they'll cooperate on security issues, and we don't yet know specific details of how the agreement will affect UK financial services companies in the EU single market. But most agree that a deal is better than no deal, and that puts Johnson in a better position to negotiate a US-UK free-trade deal with the incoming Biden administration.
Looking ahead: There will be no no-deal Brexit, but it's still early to say how today's agreement will actually affect people and businesses on both sides of the English Channel. There are still many details to iron out. In other words, we haven't heard the last of Brexit and its impact.