September 03, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

Making Europe Great Again

The European Union is sending $3.25 billion in economic aid to Greece to help the country remain afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic, reported Ekathimerini.com, an English-language newspaper based in Athens. The aid was part of a recovery package of about $600 billion.

Anyone who has been following European politics for the past decade would know that the 19-member Eurozone bloc was not so happy to pour money into the country during the continent’s last major economic crisis.

Today is different. The EU has developed Eurobonds as an answer to the extraordinary challenge that the coronavirus has presented to nations that allow largely unobstructed travel from the Arctic Circle to the Strait of Gibraltar, as Seeking Alpha explained. The bonds pool the resources available to Europe’s commercial powers – think France, Germany and the Netherlands – and redistribute them to economically struggling member states like Greece.

“Eurobonds… are the Holy Grail of Eurozone integration,” wrote Bloomberg Opinion columnist Ferdinando Giugliano.

Plenty of folks think Eurobonds are bad news. The Germans have never liked the idea of mutualizing the bloc’s debt, argued Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times. Euroskeptics in the Netherlands could have a field day criticizing aid to Greece when Dutch hospitals are running out of supplies as they fight to stop the spread of Covid-19. The Atlantic Council laid out arguments against them, too.

But there’s no doubt that the bonds represent a new day in Europe, a new program that demonstrates how the EU can at least try to be flexible and come up with new solutions to new challenges.

In fact, Germany has adopted a new slogan – “Together. Making Europe strong again” – for its presidency of the Council of the EU that began in July, Politico reported. It seemed like a fitting marketing strategy as Europe reduces coronavirus infections and comes together to solve problems in a way that the Washington Post characterized as a breakthrough toward a more integrated union.

China’s efforts to draw closer to the EU are also raising eyebrows about the continent’s place in a geopolitical order where neither China nor the US exercise total sway over the globe, as the South China Morning Post explained. Europe already appears to be betting that more trade with China will help improve the continent’s lackluster growth in recent years. Even so, a recent tour of Europe’s capitals by China’s top diplomat didn’t go so well, as he faced tough criticism over the country’s handling of Hong Kong and other issues, leaving the continent empty-handed.

The EU has problems. Human rights groups accused the union of using the coronavirus as a pretext to keep out migrants from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, Al Jazeera reported. At the same time, Cyprus appears to be selling citizenships and passports to the highest bidders.

Those problems could be worse, of course. Nobody might be seeking entrance. Until that day comes, Europe will have great potential.

WANT TO KNOW

SOLOMON ISLANDS

Tug-of-War

The province of Malaita in the Solomon Islands will hold an independence referendum following the central government’s decision last year to cut ties with Taiwan in favor of China, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Leader Daniel Suidani said Tuesday that the federal government had applied continuous pressure on Malaita to accept China, despite the province’s refusal to recognize the change in diplomatic ties.

The office of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare did not comment on the announcement but it’s unlikely that the government will recognize an independence vote.

The strategically important Pacific nation has become embroiled in a tug-of-war between China and the United States for allies in the region.

Tensions between the central government and Malaita flared up recently after a shipment of medical aid from Taiwan en route to Malaita was seized by the central government in the capital, Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal.

Malaita is Solomon Islands’ most populous region and has long held ambitions to be independent. The US-aligned territory has been discussing plans with Washington and its allies to develop a deep-sea port in the region.

FRANCE

Je Suis Charlie

Fourteen people went on trial in Paris Wednesday for their role in helping the three perpetrators of the attacks on the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in early 2015, CBS News reported.

Among the charges, the suspects are accused of providing material support, funding and purchasing weapons for the perpetrators, brothers Saed and Cherif Kouachi, and Amedy Coulibaly.

The suspects face 10 years to life in prison.

It took nearly six years for police to determine that the attacks were coordinated and that the three attackers – who are all dead – had accomplices.

On Jan. 7, 2015, 12 people were killed when the Kouachi brothers shot up the newspaper’s offices, including a policeman posted on guard outside. Two days later, Coulibaly took control over a Jewish supermarket, where he killed five people, including a policewoman.

More than 140 witnesses will be called to testify. The trial is expected to last until Nov. 10.

Known for its controversial cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, Charlie Hebdo republished some of those cartoons – whose portrayal is considered blasphemous to Muslims – ahead of the trial.

AUSTRALIA

A Virus Victim

Australia’s economy officially entered into its first recession in nearly three decades as the country reels from the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic, CNN reported.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday that country’s gross domestic product shrank seven percent in the second quarter over the prior one, the largest drop since recordkeeping began in 1959.

Officials attributed the contraction to the lockdowns imposed to contain the pandemic. They added that the large wildfires earlier this year also hit the economy by reducing consumer spending and tourism.

Analysts say the situation could worsen, adding that economic recovery depends on how long the outbreak continues: Currently, a second wave in Victoria has prompted authorities to impose the harshest restrictions yet in Australia’s second-most populated state.

Australia enjoyed a 29-year run of economic growth, partly fueled by China’s increasing demand for commodities, such as iron ore and coal. Relations between the two nations have soured after Australia called for an investigation in the origins of the pandemic.

DISCOVERIES

Gold Fever

Most archaeologists find bones, ancient household items and the occasional mega-complex – it’s rare to uncover real treasure.

That’s why when Israeli youths struck gold recently in the form of a hoard of precious coins dating back more than 1,000 years, it created such a sensation, Live Science reported. The group found the treasure inside a buried jar while volunteering for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

The organization said in a statement that the 1.86-pound hoard is mostly 24-carat gold coins that date back to the Abbasid period, also known as the Islamic Golden Age. The Abbasid empire ruled most of the Middle East and parts of North Africa at its peak before the caliphate fell to the Mongols in the mid-13th century.

The IAA added that coins were in excellent condition, noting also that such a sum would have been able to purchase a luxurious house back then. Sadly, the hoard is worth approximately $52,600 based on the current price of gold.

Still, the treasure is one of the earliest known examples of gold caches from the ninth century in what is now Israel and could reveal more about the mysterious Abbasid period in the region.

“This rare treasure will certainly be a major contribution to research, as finds from the Abbasid period in Israel are relatively few,” said Robert Kool, a coin historian at IAA.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 6,114,768 (+0.64%)
  2. Brazil: 3,997,865 (+1.19%)
  3. India: 3,853,406 (+2.23%)
  4. Russia: 1,001,965 (+0.49%)
  5. Peru: 657,129 (0.00%)**
  6. Colombia: 633,321 (+1.49%)
  7. South Africa: 630,595 (+0.37%)
  8. Mexico: 610,957 (+0.81%)
  9. Spain: 479,554 (+1.82%)
  10. Argentina: 439,172 (+2.55%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country