This Week In European Climb-downs

As political humiliations go, it's tough to find a deeper dish of humble pie (presumably shepherd's) than what UK Prime Minister Theresa May tucked into yesterday. Rather than risk a resounding defeat in Parliament for the controversial Brexit agreement that her government has negotiated with the European Union, she called off the vote altogether.


She didn't have much choice. The agreement on the terms of UK's exit from the EU was headed for a disastrous defeat. Remainers obviously saw nothing to love in it, but more importantly, hardline pro-Brexit members within her own coalition thought the proposal too "soft": it would have allowed the UK to remain in the EU Customs Union indefinitely while negotiators figured out how to extricate the UK from the EU without cutting off Ireland (an EU country) from Northern Ireland (part of the UK).

With the vote postponed, it's not clear what comes next. Ms. May pledged yesterday to secure reassurances from Brussels. But EU negotiators say after more than a year of tortuous negotiations, the books are closed for good. To sharpen the point, EU leaders announced fresh preparations for the economic blow of a "no-deal" Brexit, in which the UK crashes out of the EU in March without any new commercial agreements in place.

Politically, this result leaves Ms. May hanging by a thread that, for all the country's anguish over Brexit, no one is yet willing to cut. Critics within her own Tory party don't' have the votes to oust her, but neither do does the opposition Labour party. She could call new elections in a bid to bolster support in Parliament for her more moderate vision of Brexit, but her call for early elections last year didn't go so well, and she looks weaker now than she did then.

What about a second referendum? Prospects of a do-over were given a fresh lift on Monday when the EU's highest court ruled London is free to unilaterally cancel Brexit without the consent of the other 27 EU members. Still, another referendum is a very remote prospect – contentious and bungled as Brexit has been, lawmakers are loath to revisit a decision made by a majority of voters that could very well produce the same result.

For now, the clock continues to tick – with or without an agreement, the UK has just 108 days until its planned departure from the EU.

In Italy, stacks of plastic boxes in supermarkets and stores are not garbage - they are collected and reused, thanks to a consortium that specializes in recycling them for food storage. How do these "circular" plastic boxes help reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions?

Learn more in this episode of Eni's Energy SUPERFACTS series.

British economist Jim O'Neill says the global economy can bounce back right to where it was before, in a V-shaped recovery. But his argument is based on a lot of "ifs," plus comparisons to the 2008 recession and conditions in China and South Korea that may not truly apply. Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group's Robert Kahn take issue with O'Neill's op-ed, on this edition of The Red Pen.

Today, we're taking our Red Pen to an article titled "A V-Shaped Recovery Could Still Happen." I'm not buying it. It's published recently by Project Syndicate, authored by British economist named Jim O'Neill. Jim O'Neill is very well known. He was chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. He's the guy that coined the acronym BRICS, Brazil, Russia, India, China. So, no slouch. But as you know, we don't agree with everything out there. And this is the case. Brought to you by the letter V. We're taking sharp issue with the idea that recovery from all the economic devastation created by the coronavirus pandemic is going to happen quickly. That after the sharp drop that the world has experienced, everything bounces back to where it was before. That's the V. Economists around the world are debating how quickly recovery will happen to be sure. But we're not buying the V. Here's why. W-H-Y.

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Over the past few years, we've seen three major emerging powers take bold action to right what they say are historical wrongs.

First came Crimea. When the Kremlin decided in 2014 that Western powers were working against Russian interests in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, which was then part of Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Crimea and its ethnic Russian majority had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries until a shameful deal in 1954 made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Americans and Europeans imposed sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine is not part of NATO or the EU, and no further action was taken.

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Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, provides his perspective on technology news:

Will the new audit of Facebook civil rights practices change the way the company operates?

Yes. It came under a lot of pressure from civil rights activists who organized an advertising boycott. And then an internal audit on Facebook's effect on civil rights came out. It was quite critical. Those two things, one after the other, will surely lead to changes at the company.

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The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but their COVID-19 death toll trajectories have recently become very different. Since the beginning of July, the average number of both new fatalities and new deaths per 1 million people is rapidly increasing in the US while it remains mostly flat in the EU. We compare this to the average number of new cases each seven days in both regions, where the US trend continues upward but is not surging like the death toll. EU countries' robust public health systems and citizens' willingness to wear masks and maintain social distance could explain the disparity.