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What We’re Watching: Italian Squabbles, Merkel’s Worries

Italy's Squabbling Leaders On Monday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte threatened to resign unless Five Star and the League, the two parties that form the country's populist governing coalition, stop bickering and start working together. Campa cavallo (fat chance!) as they say. Tensions between the two parties have surfaced in recent weeks as Five Star's popularity wanes and League party leader Matteo Salvini becomes more popular and more aggressive in setting the country's political agenda. The results of last month's European Parliament elections have only accelerated the diverging fortunes of the two parties, leaving many to wonder if Salvini might just make a risky push for a snap election.

Pressure on Angela Merkel's government - More bad news this week for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who governs via an increasingly fragile and unpopular partnership between her Christian Democratic Union and the rival Social Democratic Party. Both parties did poorly in the recent EU Parliament elections. On Sunday, SPD boss Andrea Nahles said she would step down, and on Monday the head of Germany's leading industry association said it had lost faith in Merkel's grand coalition. With pressure mounting on all sides, Merkel can either try to ride it out, risk snap elections, lead a minority government, or seek a new coalition partner altogether before her fourth and final term expires in 2021.

What We're Ignoring: Xi in Russia, Duterte's Gay Bait

Xi in Moscow – Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Moscow today for a state visit with Vladimir Putin before heading to St Petersburg, where he'll be a guest of honor at a big Russian investment conference. Russia and China are seeking closer cooperation at a time when both countries have rocky relations with the United States. But while neither of them likes a world where the US is a sole superpower, their own relationship is still limited by mutual suspicions and meager economic ties beyond oil. Beijing's number one trade partner is still the US, after all, while Russia doesn't even make the top ten. Chinese companies will certainly sign Russian deals in the coming days, but at the grand strategic level, we're not sure what precisely Russia can offer Beijing that it doesn't already have.

Duterte's Gay Bait – During a visit to Tokyo last week, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines announced that he had "cured" himself of homosexuality with the help of "beautiful women." You might think this is the kind of comment that would get an elected official in trouble, particularly since its purpose was to insult a political rival he claims is gay and "uncured." But we're confident we can ignore any risk of political fallout. After all, his past claim that God is a "stupid son of a bitch" in a country that's 80 percent Catholic didn't cut into his 81 percent approval rating or prevent his party from increasing the number of congressional seats it holds in last month's elections.

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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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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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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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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