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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?

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Iran rules out nuclear talks… for now: Iran has reportedly rejected an offer to join direct talks with the US and EU over its nuclear program, saying it won't start the conversation until sanctions on Iran's economy are eased. To be clear, this does NOT mean that prospects for reviving the Iran nuclear deal are dead. Europeans and the Biden administration want a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, and Iran certainly needs the economic boost that would come from a removal of sanctions. But Tehran is going to try to maximize its leverage before any talks begin, especially since this is a sensitive election year in in the country. Iran's leaders are going to play hard to get for a while longer before edging their way back to the bargaining table. Still, it's high stakes diplomacy here between parties that have almost no mutual trust — and one misstep could throw things off track quickly.

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18: A week after threatening protesters with a severe crackdown, Myanmar's ruling junta killed at least 18 people across the country in the bloodiest day of clashes since the generals staged a coup last month.
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The country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, joins Ian Bremmer to talk vaccines, school re-openings, and when—and how—the pandemic could finally come end. He was last on GZERO World just weeks before the pandemic hit in the fall of 2019 and he described at the time what kept him up at night: a "pandemic-like respiratory illness." This time, he'll talk about how closely that nightmare scenario foreshadowed the COVID-19 pandemic. He'll also offer some guidance about what public health measures vaccinated Americans should continue to take in the coming months (hint: masks stay on).

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

Quick Take