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EUROPE LAID LOW BY VACCINE NATIONALISM
Europeans loved to hate Donald Trump and his nationalist impulses. But when it comes to managing Covid-19, they’re not afraid to follow in Trump’s footsteps. The EU’s executive, which has organized the bloc’s vaccine purchase program, will today enable its national governments to block vaccine exports if the EU’s own purchase orders haven’t been filled in a given week.
EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis insists it’s a “time-limited system” and that (eventual) shipments to poor countries and the international COVAX vaccine program will be exempted.
AstraZeneca the target: The EU’s new measures were targeted mainly at AstraZeneca (AZ), which a week ago abruptly announced that it would deliver roughly one-quarter of the vaccines it promised the EU planned for Q1 2021, leaving the bloc at least 75 million doses short of expectations. However, Pfizer/BioNTech is also below its targets. The new rule is designed to give governments freedom to block exports from any company up to a given level of weekly delivery targets.
Judge for yourself: Here is the contract between European Commission and AZ.
And yet the EU hasn’t even approved the AstraZeneca vaccine: EU regulatory approval may come today, but it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the EU could have avoided this situation had it approved the AZ vaccine a month ago (the U.K. managed to). The company does, after all, have paying clients around the world who have approved the vaccine.
Some EU countries are running out of available vaccines this week, which points to problems well beyond the AZ fight (and Spain is pointing its finger at Brussels). EU officials pushed back to POLITICO, saying that if they hadn’t negotiated contracts for the whole bloc, many smaller member countries would still be waiting for their first vaccine doses.
Red rag to an anti-Brexit bull: Whatever the EU’s flaw, AZ is playing the politics poorly. Its EU delivery cuts came after the U.K. earlier received vaccine shipments from AZ plants in the EU, while the company has refused to divert any supplies from its British factories to fill its EU contract.
Hi from the Downing Street Glass House: The U.K. will not remove export controls on dozens of medicines, despite the U.K. prime minister’s assertion this week that he did not want to see “restrictions on the supply of drugs across borders,” and Johnson’s criticism of the EU threat for vaccine export controls.
The next move: On Sunday afternoon, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is hauling the CEOs of all the vaccine manufacturers Brussels has contracts with to a video meeting: Sanofi’s Paul Hudson, Moderna’s Stéphane Bancel, Franz-Werner Haas of Curevac, BioNTech/Pfizer’s Uğur Şahin and Albert Bourla, AstraZeneca’s Pascal Soriot. Moncef Slaoui, who headed the U.S. operation Warp Speed to develop a vaccine, will open the debate (he might also need to stick around to referee the discussion!).
Germany hits AstraZeneca with a performance fault: The German government says AZ’s vaccine is ineffective for those over 65.
China aims to beat the West in vaccination race and establish new world order, and Hungary became the first country in the EU to approve a coronavirus vaccine from China.
CLIMATE COMMUNITY CLIMAX
President Joe Biden’s sweeping assault on climate change is generating an enthusiastic global reaction, stretching from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to development non-profits.
Via executive order, Biden has committed to ending taxpayer funding for foreign coal, oil and gas projects, “while simultaneously advancing sustainable development and a green recovery,” That means U.S. officials are now urged to steer international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank to promote both economic recovery plans and debt relief aligned with Paris agreement goals.
The IMF needs no encouragement. In her first comments on the policy, IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva said she couldn’t be happier at the move. She emailed Global Translations “the U.S. is our largest shareholder so it is great to have its commitment to efforts that are aligned with and support the goals of the Paris Agreement.” Georgieva called climate change a “fundamental risk to economic and financial stability” and said that a “low carbon and climate resilient economy is at the heart of our work.”
One top development official texted POLITICO “Wow. Wow. Wow. Everything,” upon reading Biden’s climate order. Other supporters among development officials, include U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who Thursday called for a “sustainable” global recovery including “debt relief for all developing and middle-income countries that need it.” Some go as far as to say Biden’s order will “reorient the world economy around net zero” emissions.
Biden leapfrogs the European Union in ambition: The bloc this week agreed on an immediate end to public finance for foreign coal projects and but said only that they would “discourage” investments in oil and gas. European finance ministries are also cautious about linking debt relief to climate goals.
Climate envoy John Kerry has wasted no time ramping up international engagement, addressing groups from the G-20’s business forum to the World Economic Forum and a climate adaptation summit in his first week. Kerry singled out China for being a major financier of fossil fuels around the world, saying Beijing was “funding 70 percent of the coal-fired power plants around the world in the Belt and Road initiative.” The U.S. will also announce a plan to increase financial flows to developing countries to help them cope with climate change, Kerry said.
GLOBAL RISKS AND TRENDS
DOUBLE MASK FOR DOUBLE TROUBLE?
Brazil — The Amazonian city that hatched the Brazil variant has been crushed by it: The variant overwhelmed the hospital system of Manaus — a city of two million, the Amazon region’s largest — in just 24 hours. Without support from the Bolsonaro government, and city officials who did not enforce social restrictions, disaster swept in. Hospitals not only ran out beds, but oxygen too.
South Africa — Variant exhibits ‘terrifying’ dominance: While the U.K. variant has traveled farthest (46 countries), the variant from South Africa’s Eastern Cape is in at least 31 countries, and responsible more than 90 percent of new Covid-19 cases in South Africa. What does that mean for vaccines? A Novavax vaccine that is yet to hit the market is around 90 percent effective in the original coronavirus strain, but only 49 percent effective against the South African variant, while Johnson & Johnson’s single shot vaccine showed is 52 percent effective against the variant.
RE-BOOTING CHINA POLICY — THE CASE FOR FOCUSING ON XI
In Wednesday’s Global Translations we looked both at the rise of a patchwork coalition of China critics in democracies focused on the Chinese regime’s policies, and the success of Alexei Navalny’s personal targeting of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
What if America’s China policy became Navalny on superpower steroids? What if the U.S. went after Xi Jinping? Xi is, after all, acts as the accelerant of China’s structural challenge to democracy worldwide, and as a retardant to market reforms. Writing for POLITICO, an anonymous senior former government official lays out the case in detail. The same individual has published a longer report with the Atlantic Council, here. Their name is protected so they and their family remain protected.
Speaking of wolf warriors — Western vaccines China’s latest online target: Carmen Paun explains that the propaganda comes alongside disappointing clinical results for some Chinese vaccines, and reads like an anti-vaxxer Facebook page.
Memo from India — Asia is multi-polar: China likes to argue for a mulit-polar world. Indian external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar retorted in a speech Thursday “while both nations are committed to a multi-polar world, there should be a recognition that a multi-polar Asia is one of its essential constituents.”
WHO WILL GO NUCLEAR NEXT? The Economist warns that if more states (here’s looking at you, Iran) go nuclear, a competitive spiral is possible. That would mean a world where the Saudis and Turks feel they need to go nuclear, while Japan and South Korea will feel tempted in reaction to China’s aggression (never mind North Korea)
🤔 Really? Steven Schwarzmann, CEO of Blackstone, claimed to the Saudi Future Investment Initiative (a heavily criticized Saudi event and PR platform) that he’d “never heard of” Artificial Intelligence until he sat next to Jack Ma on a bus in Beijing six years ago.
Another AI Alliance (AAA) to the rescue: If anyone else is following Schwarzmann’s former head-in-sand AI approach, the World Economic Forum has you covered. A new Global AI Action Alliance aims to get practical by offering advice and to “connect members from industry, governments and civil society to use and test ethical AI systems,” focusing on “responsible product design, developing certification marks and reducing bias. IBM chief Arvind Krishna is leading the work. It will need to be action-oriented: otherwise it will be stuck in a crowded ethical space including the OECD AI principles, a G7 vision for the future of Artificial Intelligence, the EU AI alliance, and at least 82 other national government or private AI ethics initiatives.
Check out great reporting like Shen Lu’s dive into the gendered wolf cultures at big Chinese tech companies, and Kevin McAllister’s collection of ideas from Chinese tech that the world should copy.
INTERVIEW — AMBASSADOR ARMANDO VARRICCHIO, ITALY
I spoke to Ambassador Varricchio, Italy’s representative in Washington on Thursday afternoon, just after Antony Blinken finished a call with Italy’s 34-year-old foreign minister Luigi Di Maio. Varrichio wants you to see America and the transatlantic relationship from space: specifically, NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter, which was powered with Italian technology, and from where America’s internal difference and transatlantic disputes look tiny.
Back on earth, Italy’s is cheering on Dr. Jill (Giacoppa) Biden, Gina Raimondo and Nancy Pelosi: If you think anyone in the Italian government has forgotten this power trio’s Italian roots, or that Joe Biden descends from equally Catholic Ireland, you’re mistaken. Jill Biden’s grandfather was born in Sicily.
When will Italy’s 67th post-war government happen? Varricchio said Italian President Sergio Mattarella is insisting “a very tight schedule” for forming a new Italian government. We should expect to see it in place next week, with “a strong political mandate.”
G-20 presidency priorities: “Covid is top of the agenda, because our priorities are: people, planet, prosperity. We want to stress the importance of working together.”
Climate coordination: “The U.K. chairs the G-7, we chair the G-20 and together we host the COP26 climate conference. It’s working: we are very pleased John Kerry gave his first global address to the B-20 business forum of the G-20, the very first day in office.”
Balancing transatlantic alliance with European independence: “We’re not dependent, we’re partners. There’s never been in history, such a strong alliance. We have commerce, we have values, we have people-to-people connections, and 12,000 (American) men and women in uniform based in Italy. We are fully aware that working together, we are stronger, we are wealthier (but) we also respond to specific demands of our own citizens.”
BIDEN MEETS WORLD
NSC priority for Asia: National security adviser Jake Sullivan has dramatically restructured the National Security staff — downsizing the team devoted to the Middle East and bulking up the unit that focuses on the countries stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.
Biden revoked the “Mexico City Policy,” which has been used by successive Republican administrations to ban aid funding to any organization that performs abortion or abortion-related services, including basic information.
JOBS RECOVERY SPOTLIGHT
FRANCE — MURDER AT EMPLOYMENT AGENCY: An unemployed engineer Thursday morning shot and killed a government employment agency worker in France, before heading to a vehicle manufacturer and killing an executive. Now under arrest, police are working to establish a motive. All French employment agencies are closed today in response to the murder.
SNAP! NUTRITION ASSISTANCE HIGHLIGHTS ECONOMIC FRAGILITY: SNAP – the country’s largest nutrition assistance program, still known to many as food stamps, is now used by nearly 44 million individuals — one in every 8 Americans. Another reason why the figure of 12.6 million officially unemployed Americans does not tell the full jobs story.
Tracking the Return to Normal — a new dataset from Morning Consult — shows that If current remote workers were asked to return to the office before they felt safe, half (49 percent) would consider quitting.
“A RISING TIDE LIFTS ALL MEGA YACHTS”: Anand Giridharadas, who built a brand picking apart the hypocrisies of the Davos set, brings satire to the table to help you understand this year’s Zoom Davos.
Hamptons postcard: The American branch of the Davos family spent $5.49 billion on real estate in the Hamptons in 2020, Jennifer Gould reported.
SMILE, YOU’RE ON A SURVEILLANCE MAP: Amnesty International is attempting to crowdsource a map of surveillance cameras in New York City and New Delhi this spring (Fast Company)
Thanks to editor Blake Hounshell