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What We're Watching: "Illiberals" veto EU budget, Bangladesh's all-female cop unit, Armenian PM in trouble

What We're Watching: "Illiberals" veto EU budget, Bangladesh's all-female cop unit, Armenian PM in trouble

EU budget in peril: The European Union now faces an unexpected budget crisis after Hungary and Poland vetoed the bloc's 1.8 trillion euro ($2.14 trillion) spending proposal that will help steer the bloc's pandemic recovery, and fund the Union through 2027. Budapest and Warsaw balked after the EU included a provision that made disbursement of funds contingent on respecting EU rule-of-law norms — including on issues like judicial independence and human rights — which both countries vehemently oppose. The twin veto came as a surprise for many in Brussels, which had recently compromised on this issue by agreeing to only cut funding if the rule-of-law threat directly affects how EU money is spent, and if a simple majority of member states approve. Those terms were seen as narrow enough for Budapest and Warsaw to accept, but the EU's two "illiberal" states are playing hardball. We're watching to see how long Hungary and Poland — which often flout EU democratic norms — are willing to hold the EU budget hostage, or if the bloc will cave to their demands in order to release 750 billion euros in coronavirus relief funds that other member states are desperate to get their hands on.


Bangladesh launches all-female police unit: The scourge of violence against women in Bangladesh came to a head last month, when thousands of protesters flocked to the streets demanding change, prompting the government to implement the death penalty for rape convictions. For years, Bangladesh's government stood accused of facilitating a culture of impunity around gender-based violence (1,350 women were raped in the first 10 months of this year alone, likely a gross undercount because many sex crimes are not reported). In the wake of mounting public pressure, there are now some promising signs that the government is taking gender-based violence more seriously. This week, the first all-female police unit was launched to fight online abuse against women, who are disproportionately victims of digital crimes like revenge porn, sexual blackmail, and social media hacking. Indeed, Bangladesh has seen a massive increase in online sexual abuse as internet use has doubled over the past five years. Cause for optimism to be sure, but weeding out a web of legal and cultural norms that favor men remains extremely difficult.

Armenian government in hot water: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is facing mounting pressure to resign over the terms of the recent peace deal negotiated with Azerbaijan over the fiercely disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Thousands of Armenians took to the streets to demand Pashinyan's ouster after Armenia was widely perceived to have gotten the short end of the stick in the truce (the Azeris got to keep land won during the six-week war, while the Armenians agreed to withdraw from adjacent territory). Pashinyan has accepted responsibility for the loss of territory and Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan has stepped down, but many Armenians remain enraged at the PM's seeming willingness to surrender territory they see as theirs in the wake of a bloody war that's claimed over 2,300 Armenian lives. After weeks of conflict with the Azeris, the internal temperature inside Armenia is rising: just days ago, the security services claimed to have aborted a plot to assassinate Pashinyan, who rose to power just two years ago in the wake of a non-violent popular uprising against the old elite. Can he survive this crisis?

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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