What We’re Watching: Europe's trucker shortage, Mapuche emergency in Chile, Japan’s military plans
Truck driver shortage across Europe: No, the UK is not the only European country with an acute shortage of drivers to move goods around. Indeed, the entire continent is now desperately in need of more truckers, mainly as a result of soaring demand coupled with less people willing to do a job for low pay and poor working conditions. The situation in mainland Europe is not as bad (yet) as in the UK, where Brexit has aggravated the problem: the army has been deployed to refill gas stations amid backed-up ports and empty supermarket shelves because EU drivers now need visas. Still, the shortage is creating a massive headache for European companies already struggling to keep up with so much pent-up demand. What's more, a new EU-wide law will soon require truckers to be paid the minimum wage in each EU member state they transit through. This is all precisely what the IMF has been talking about this week, when it warned that supply chain disruptions are slowing down the global post-pandemic recovery and driving up inflation.
Will Japan go Teddy Roosevelt? We all knew Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida speaks softly, but now his party wants him to also, as the 26th US president once advised, "carry a big stick." The ruling Liberal Democratic Party says it wants Japan to spend at least 2 percent of GDP — about $100 billion — on defense. That would double the country's current military budget, which has traditionally been pegged at 1 percent to comply with the pacifist spirit of the country's post-World War II constitution. Kishida hasn't committed to that target, but the mere party proposal could signal a profound shift in Japan's defense policy which has a lot to do with... China. When the more hawkish Shinzo Abe was in charge, the LDP didn't let him tweak the charter in order to beef up the military. But that was before China, whose navy often trolls Japan's near the disputed Senkaku islands, was as powerful as it is today. Still, the Japanese must tread carefully given that memories of its militaristic past remain fresh across Asia, and a move to boost spending could spark a regional arms race.
State of emergency in Chile: The president of Chile has declared a state of emergency and sent troops to two southern regions of the country, following deadly clashes between police and indigenous Mapuche groups there. The Mapuche have long demanded more autonomy and the restitution of certain ancestral lands that are now owned by logging companies. Mapuche grievances contributed to the wave of unrest that swept Chile in 2019-2020 over the broader issue of rising inequality. Those protests led to a referendum that voted in favor of rewriting the constitution, which currently doesn't recognize any rights for Chile's sizable Indigenous population. The current state of emergency lasts two weeks, but could be extended. We're watching to see if the move provokes further violence, and whether the Mapuche issue figures heavily in the run-up to the first round of the presidential election next month.