What We Are Watching: New EU Migrant Plan, A Governor on the Ropes, Trump’s Kashmir Curveball

What We Are Watching: New EU Migrant Plan, A Governor on the Ropes, Trump’s Kashmir Curveball

A new EU plan for refugees – French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that 14 EU countries now back a new plan for handling refugees rescued from the Mediterranean Sea. Details of the plan are vague, but at least one important country is not on board: Italy, where right-wing interior minister Mateo Salvini has chased away rescue boats and accused other member states of turning his country, often the first landing point for migrants from Africa, into "the refugee camp of Europe." Differences of opinion across the EU have hampered efforts to hammer out an effective union-wide migrant policy. That hasn't stopped people fleeing dire conditions in Africa and the Middle East: at last count, nearly 32,400 migrants had arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean since January.

Ricky on the Ropes – Puerto Rico's embattled governor Ricardo "Ricky" Rossello says he'll step down after his term ends next year but not before then. He's even willing, he says, to face impeachment – but he won't resign. That won't play well with the hundreds of thousands of protestors now demanding his ouster over unpopular austerity policies, a corruption scandal, the botched response to Hurricane Maria, and a recent leak of Rossello's vulgar and offensive chat messages. Can Ricky really ride this out, hoping that the protesters lose momentum in the summer heat? Or will he succumb to popular pressure, opening up a broader contest for power and potentially reopening basic questions about the relationship between Puerto Rico and Washington?

Claims on Kashmir – Kashmir is a territory claimed by both India and Pakistan. Sporadic fighting over it has killed tens of thousands over the past three decades. On Monday, President Donald Trump told visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked the US president to mediate this dispute. Khan was no doubt surprised and delighted: international mediation on Kashmir is a long-standing Pakistani goal. Not so for India, which continues to insist that Kashmir's status can be decided only by direct talks between India and Pakistan. Enraged opposition lawmakers in India have demanded that Modi explain himself. India's foreign ministry responded that "no such request [of Trump] has been made." We're watching to see what Modi himself will say.

What we are ignoring:

Rumors about dead strongmen – It's been a busy week on the are-they-dead-or-aren't-they front. First came the rumors that Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, a renowned trance DJ and rapper whose deft marksmanship recently earned him a mention in this newsletter, had died from kidney failure. Then it was Recep Tayyip Erdogan's turn in the rumor mill. On Monday night, several news reports of dubious provenance suggested that the Turkish president had suffered a heart attack and died. We're ignoring these rumors until we see some better sources or hear from the leaders themselves. But we do want to point out that more transparent governments don't usually suffer from this particular brand of fake news.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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