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What We’re Watching: EU vaccination campaign, Indian farm bill talks, two elections in Africa

Medical syringe illustrations in Ukraine. Reuters

EU rolls out vaccines: As COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise throughout the European Union, the bloc on Sunday officially kicked off its campaign to vaccinate roughly 450 million EU residents against the disease. But even as shoulders are bared for the needle across the Union, two fights are already brewing about the process. First, Italy is concerned that Germany may be getting more than its fair share of the precious shots based on its population — as agreed to by EU member states — because a German company, BioNTech, jointly developed the EU-approved vaccine with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Second, problems with maintaining the drugs at the required ultra-cold temperature have already led to vaccination delays in Spain. The challenges now are to ensure all EU member states inoculate their residents at a similar pace, to overcome vaccine skepticism across the bloc, and to avoid shortages while waiting for other vaccine candidates to get approved.

A meeting about a meeting with India's farmers: Leaders of farmers' unions in India are sitting down on Tuesday with officials in a bid to organize yet another round of formal negotiations (the seventh, to be precise) with the government about new agriculture laws that farmers say pose a threat to their livelihoods. Mass protests and sit-ins have been going on for weeks now, led by farmers who worry that the laws — which permit farmers to sell their crops more freely — will put them at the mercy of large agriculture companies that can drive down prices and put them out of business. Talks have so far come to nothing: the government has signaled a willingness to revise the laws, but the farmers seek a complete repeal as a starting point for talks. With roughly 60 percent of India's population dependent on the agriculture sector for income, the issue has emerged as a huge political challenge for the otherwise popular government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Two elections in Africa: The citizens of two long-troubled African nations — the Central African Republic (CAR) and Niger — went to the polls on Sunday in elections seen as a test for democracy amid widespread threats of violence. In the mineral-rich CAR, incumbent President Faustin-Archange Touadéra's reelection bid has been overshadowed by the constitutional court's decision to ban his predecessor François Bozizé (ousted six years ago during the country's civil war) from running against him. Armed supporters of both Touadéra and Bozizé have threatened to march on the capital, Bangui, if their candidate doesn't win. Meanwhile, Niger is preparing for its first-ever peaceful transition of power. President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is voluntarily stepping down after two terms, is expected to be succeeded by his handpicked successor Mohamed Bazoum, although two former presidents are also looking to return to power. The wider problem in Niger is fresh attacks by jihadists, who have been wreaking havoc across the country and the entire Sahel region since 2015. We're watching to see if both elections are conducted smoothly, and if the peace holds after results are announced.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

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.

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Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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