What We're Watching: EU accession, Nigerian visas, and a Hollywood legend's departure

What We're Watching: EU accession, Nigerian visas, and a Hollywood legend's departure

The EU's new accession rules – After months of EU infighting over the status of two western Balkan countries that want to join the bloc, the EU has streamlined the accession process. France, the Netherlands and Denmark have blocked the start of EU accession talks for Albania and North Macedonia, arguing that their political systems require reform. Germany, by contrast, insists that it's in the bloc's strategic interest to welcome in these western Balkan states. Now there's a compromise on the table. The new proposal gives all EU member states a role in vetting applicants and permits the EU to cut off negotiations if they slack on reforms. We're watching to see whether all 27 member states agree to this new way of doing things, but all eyes are really on French President Emmanuel Macron in particular. Et vous Monsieur President?


A Nigerian welcome – Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, is opening its doors to its neighbors. President Muhammadu Buhari this week unveiled a new immigration policy that grants visas on arrival to citizens of any of the 55 African Union member states. The measures, which aim to attract more innovation and talent into Nigeria, come amid broader economic integration efforts on the continent. On July 1, the new 54-country $3 trillion African Continental Free Trade Area will enter into force, though only about half of its signatories have ratified the agreement so far. Later this year the African Union is supposed to issue its own continental passports that will enable visa-free travel between all member-states.

Paths of Glory – Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas passed away this week at the age of 103 after jutting his jaw and gritting his teeth through more than 90 movies. Sure, he was Spartacus and (a peculiarly American) Vincent Van Gogh. But to see his true greatness, we'll be rewatching that other Stanley Kubrick-directed film, Paths of Glory.

What We're Ignoring

Russian TV's crowning conspiracy theory – Donald Trump used to give out crowns at his beauty pageants, right? Ok, and the word corona, as in "coronavirus," derives from the Latin word for "crown," correct? Need we say more? Russia's widely-watched, state controlled Channel One news says this coincidence makes it "absolutely clear" that the US developed the coronavirus in order to take down China. Granted, the virus is probably hurting China's economy more than Trump's scattershot trade war ever did, but this etymology-as-epidemiology sleuthing is contagiously stupid even by Russian state TV standards.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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35.4: The US has overtaken China as the country with the largest share of the world's Bitcoin mining networks, now accounting for 35.4 of the global mining presence. This comes after the Chinese government banned domestic cryptocurrency mining operations to promote its own digital yuan that would track every single transaction.

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