The World Today for March 11, 2020

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Change the Drain

Northern European populations are growing older, jeopardizing growth in the continent’s economic powerhouses. Young Southern Europeans are emigrating abroad, fleeing their basket-case economies when their energy and skills are arguably needed more than ever.

One would think the two sides could reach a meeting of minds to help each other. But it’s not that easy.

The European Union must determine “how to really support freedom of movement but at the same time … not to have some countries where we don’t have potential for innovation or growth,” Croatian Minister of Science and Education Blaženka Divjak told Euractiv recently.

The number of 15- to 34-year-olds has fallen by 15 percent in much of Eastern and Southern Europe in the past five years, according to a Guardian analysis. Many “youth deserts” are in former communist eastern Germany, where young people have fled for new jobs in the West. At the same time, economically dynamic regions like East London, Berlin and Paris have grown younger as new emigres have flooded in.

The trend is stark in Vidin, a provincial capital on the Danube River in northwestern Bulgaria. The city and its province have seen their population drop from 162,000 in 1985, when communist authorities made sure the region’s industries kept humming, to around 85,000 in 2018. The tipping point came in the early 1990s when the economy collapsed. The 2008 global financial crisis only hastened Vidin’s decline. The entrance of new countries into the Schengen Area, which grants free movement within Europe to EU citizens, hastened the momentum. Low fertility rates throughout the continent aren’t helping.

“Vidin is in a death spiral in which a stagnating economy and demographic decline have been circling each other,” wrote Balkan Insight. “People have been leaving the province in search of prosperity, and prosperity has eluded the province because so many people have left.”

In an op-ed in the Irish Times, Croatian author Slavenka Drakulic wrote that Eastern and Southern European politicians could do more to curb corruption and improve their economies.

Maybe. In Greece, where the economy has been on the ropes since a debt crisis that erupted more than a decade ago, the government is promising workers between the ages 28 and 40 a wage of more than $3,000 a month if they return from abroad with innovative ideas, Quartz reported.

Meanwhile, Germany has more than 1 million job vacancies. There probably aren’t enough job-seeking Greeks to fill those positions even if they all applied. German leaders recently changed the law to make it easier to hire non-European workers in order to shore up labor markets. This move comes as many Germans are very worried about migration changing their country.

They can worry all they want. But European leaders say something must change nonetheless.



A Change Too Far

Myanmar lawmakers on Tuesday blocked several proposed constitutional amendments by the party of leader Aung San Suu Kyi that would reduce the role of the military in the country’s politics, Reuters reported.

The parliament vetoed changes that would have altered the 2008 charter drafted by the former military junta. One of the proposed reforms recommended the gradual reduction of the number of legislators from the military in the legislature over a period of 15 years.

Myanmar’s current constitution guarantees military members of parliament a quarter of seats in the legislature. Meanwhile, any amendments would require the approval of more than two-thirds of lawmakers, giving the army an effective veto.

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy came to power in 2016 following a landslide electoral win and vowed to continue the democratic reforms that began in 2011.

Her administration has come under international criticism over a 2017 military crackdown against the Rohingya minority. The International Court of Justice in the Netherlands recently accused the Southeast Asian nation of genocide against the minority. The government has denied the charges.


Playing Coy

Russia’s lower house of parliament approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday that would allow President Vladimir Putin to run for a new term in 2024, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

The State Duma approved the law with 380 lawmakers voting in favor, 43 against, and one lawmaker abstaining.

The current constitution allows the president to serve two consecutive six-year terms. At the moment, Putin is due to step down by 2024. The amendment allows him to govern until 2036.

Initially against the removal of presidential term limits, Putin agreed with the change as long as the Constitutional Court approves it.

In January, Putin called for a series of reforms that would restructure the legal powers between the presidency and the parliament.

His critics argue that the long-term leader is laying the groundwork to stay in power after his current term expires in 2024, but Putin has rejected the accusation.


Taking Over

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and thousands of his supporters marched in the streets of the capital Tuesday with the aim of retaking control of Congress which has been held by pro-government factions, the Associated Press reported.

This is the first demonstration organized by Guaido since returning to Venezuela last month after an international tour.

President Nicolas Maduro, meanwhile, called on his supporters and security forces to rally in the streets of Caracas. He also announced military exercises to defend the nation’s major cities.

About 60 nations, including the United States, recognize Guaido – who is the head of Congress – as the country’s legitimate president and view Maduro’s 2018 reelection as fraudulent.

Maduro’s government, meanwhile, has insisted that Guaido is no longer the head of the National Assembly. His security forces have prevented opposition lawmakers led by Guaido from entering the legislative building since early January.

Maduro’s move has been criticized by Michelle Bachelet, the United Nation’s top human rights official. She said Tuesday that her office continues to receive letters alleging “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” at military counterintelligence prisons in Venezuela.


A Celestial Oddball

The universe is full of surprises. Recently, scientists discovered a new oddity 150 light years away from Earth, New Scientist reported.

The find: an unusually massive white dwarf star.

Generally, white dwarfs are small, dense stars – about 0.6 times the mass of our sun – that have burnt through their hydrogen fuel and shed their outer layers.

The new discovery, however, has nearly twice the mass of an average white dwarf and appears to be moving through the Milky Way faster than 99 percent of its neighbors.

The scientists wrote in their study that the uncommon star also had high levels of carbon and very low levels of hydrogen and helium, traits not usually found in a conventional white dwarf.

Researchers theorize that the celestial oddball was formed from the collision of two average-sized white dwarfs billions of years ago.

There are still a lot of questions surrounding the unique star, but the finding could have important implications in understanding the structure of the universe.

Some white dwarfs explode into supernovas when they die, an event that astronomers use to determine their distance.

The study of the odd white dwarf could help scientists understand why some go supernova and help researchers produce more accurate maps of the galaxy.

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