Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs
Europe: Cameron Fulton
Swedish first female PM, Magdalena Andersson, took office this week in a monumental moment for the country. And yet, within hours she had been forced to resign and plunged the Scandinavian country into a political crisis. This came to a head due to failed negotiations of state budget with coalition partners in the Green Party.
Ms Andersson herself drafted the budget as finance minister previously, before beginning her reign as leader of the Social Democrats in September. The Green Party opted instead to back the opposition’s budget, forcing Ms Andersson to abide by this until a Spring budget revision. However, another twist occurred as the opposition withdrew key climate change promises: the Green Party resigned from the government in protest, leaving Ms Andersson both without a majority nor budget.
The latest twist of resignation does not leave Ms Andersson without hope of reclaiming the government: if she is able to reconnect her coalition, for which the Green Party have now promised backing, then reinstatement of power is likely. The Swedish political system has been muddled in recent years to the growing popularity of anti-immigrant policy, with growing support for the populist Sweden Democrat Party. Ms Andersson’s predecessor, Stefan Lofven, was the first Swedish PM to lose a vote of no confidence in June, before eventually announcing he was to resign in November amidst concerns over rising crime rates and COVID-19 restrictions.
Olaf Schulz is to become German chancellor, succeeding Angela Merkel, after signing a 178 page coalition deal. He has formed a government between his Social Democrats, Greens and liberals, promising extensive changes to German climate change policy, permissive drug policies and improved minimum wages. He has promised the “biggest industrial modernisation of Germany in more than 100 years”. This shift towards renewable energies will have repercussions for the rest of the continent, injecting some dynamism into EU policy making. However, the most urgent priority of the government will be curbing recent upward trends in COVID infections – 66,884 new cases were announced on Wednesday.
27 people have died crossing the English Channel from France on Thursday, in the worst accident ever from immigrant crossings. Prosecutors in Dunkirk have already begun seeking possible offences of people smuggling, in a reactionary crackdown from the tragedy. This is the latest loss of life from the perilous journey that has failed to be addressed by either Britain or France. London has regularly accused Paris of failing to stem the flow of migrants, whilst France argue they are at fault due to lax migration approach that allows illegal work. Over 25,700 asylum seekers have performed the journey this year alone, and are at their highest since 2004. Priti Patel has offered that the onus is on the French, whilst Macron is beginning crisis talks with the European Commission and continental neighbours. As such, Ms Patel’s invite has been rescinded – perhaps justly. Although, such tensions and finger pointing move away from the facts: people have died, and a solution must be found.
India: Rudra Sen
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked government officials to review the plans to ease travel restrictions after the World Health Organisation declared that the new variant, Omicron, is “of concern”. In light of this, the Indian government plans to monitor all international arrivals and implement testing guidelines by primarily focusing on countries ‘at risk’. Over the summer, India suffered severe effects of the second wave that revealed its unpreparedness to mitigate it and would, therefore, hope to avoid another wave. Meanwhile, India recorded the lowest rise of new cases in over a year due to increased vaccinations and the presence of antibodies in a significant proportion of its population from past infections. The Prime Minister has also urged people to be more cautious and take precautions in their pursuit to prevent another outbreak. That being said, pressure is mounting on the Indian government by opposition parties to stop flights from countries that are affected by the new COVID-19 variant.
Whatsapp has finally received regulatory approval to double the number of users on its payment service in India to 40 million. However, Whatsapp’s initial request to remove the maximum limit on users of its payment service was declined by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI). The NPCI instead allowed the messaging platform to double its user base that was previously restricted to 20 million. The decision of the regulatory body might come as a shock for Whatsapp’s ambitions to compete with other such platforms like Google Pay, Paytm and PhonePe. Furthermore, the launch of its payment features will facilitate a significant boost to its growth as India is its biggest market with over 500 million users. To add to Whatsapp’s woes, the NPCI has not publicly revealed when the new cap will come into effect.
The fifth National Family and Health Survey carried out by the Indian government between 2019 and 2021 has revealed that its population has 1,020 women for every 1,000 men. This is for the first time in India’s recorded history that there are more women than men in the population. The survey indicates that the Indian government might have made significant strides in tackling female foeticide, selective abortions and neglect of girls. These are among the many factors that negatively affect its female population. However, the survey does reflect that female foeticide and selective abortions have not been completely eradicated. Another significant takeaway of the survey is that India is no longer experiencing a population boom, with fertility rates down to two children per woman compared to 2.2 in the last survey conducted in 2015-16. That being said, experts have warned that the survey may not hold as it only covers a small proportion of the Indian population. They instead claim that the next census will portray a more clear and accurate picture.
Africa: Laura da Silva
The U.K., followed by many other countries, have rushed to ban travel from a group of Southern African countries after South African scientists identified a new strain of the coronavirus. Although there is no information on the severity of the new strain, or whether current vaccinations offer protection against the strain, the U.K was the first to institute a complete travel ban on the African countries only hours after South African epidemiologists reported the new variant on Thursday. The WHO says so far fewer than 100 sample sequences have been reported. The South African Health Ministry has called the hasty string of travel bans “unjustified”, as the WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel restrictions, saying they should rather look to a “risk-based and scientific approach”. Additionally, South Africa has contained surges in infection through tight lockdown restrictions and currently has only 2 average cases per 100k people, compared to 65.9 average cases per 100k in the UK, and 55.8 average cases per 100k in the European Union. The complete travel ban will have a severe impact on the already struggling South African economy, as the travel bans hit the South African tourism industry at what would be their busiest time of year. There is no doubt that the harsh travel restrictions will result in increased job losses for the country, which already has the highest unemployment rate in the world (34.4%).
Stark vaccine inequality is set to worsen as G20 countries secure a further 71% of future vaccine deliveries. Africa has struggled to achieve vaccination goals, as vaccine hesitancy coupled with lack of supply due to the failing COVAX initiative has meant a slow vaccine rollout. Currently, only 3% of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated, while the figure exceeds 60% in both high-income countries and upper-middle-income countries. This gap in vaccination comes at great global risk as it allows for the continued mutation of the coronavirus. The discovery of a new variant in Southern Africa comes as no surprise when considering the low vaccination rates resultant of this continued vaccine hoarding by higher-income countries. As of Thursday, 23.51% of people in South Africa and 19.58% in Botswana have been fully vaccinated. This stark vaccine inequality has left the global population vulnerable to new COVID strains as the virus has been able to mutate and spread through unvaccinated populations – just as the WHO warned over a year ago when rich countries began to monopolize global vaccine stocks. Despite this, the gap in vaccinations seems to be worsening as G20 countries have failed to meet any vaccine donation goals to COVAX, and even now 71% of future vaccine deliveries are scheduled solely for this group of wealthy countries.
Business: Aoife Doyle
The emergence of the new Covid strain, Omicron, has caused stock markets across the world to tumble. In Europe, the FTSE 100 closed 3.6% lower, suffering the largest decline in 18 months, whilst main markets in Germany and France also closed 4% lower. Despite the fall in the FTSE 100, the index is still trading at 12% higher than it was a year ago. Due to the immediate introduction of a ban on flights from southern African countries, shares in airlines and travel firms were hit hard. Investors are fearing that a new Covid variant may lead to fresh lockdowns, mobility restrictions and lower economic growth. In the US, the Dow Jones index slumped 2.8% in its shortened trading day following the Thanksgiving holiday. Furthermore, US WTI crude oil tumbled 11.3% to $69.53 per barrel, and the European benchmark Brent fell 10.2% to $73.81. The drop in oil prices is an economic indicator that markets are worried about a reduction in economic activity. The flipside of falling commodity prices is that a weaker oil price should provide some relief in terms of inflationary pressures.
Jerome Powell, who has guided the Federal Reserve and the US economy through the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent recession has been nominated for a second term as chairman of the U.S. central bank. Following weeks of political pressure to nominate a more progressive Democrat than Powell, Biden reiterated his trust in Powell to lead the country through uncertain times. In the early days of the pandemic, the Fed rolled out an unprecedented array of economic stimuli whilst cutting interest rates back to near zero and instituting a monthly bond-buying programme. The announcement coincided with a boost to the stock market and government bond yields were higher across the board. Despite leading the Fed with great success, Powell has also experienced controversy during his tenure. Powell was wrapped up in an ethics scandal after disclosing that he owned municipal bonds – which the Fed were also purchasing – and he had previously bought and sold funds tied to the broad stock market indexes.
Initial data suggests that UK shoppers have spent the largest amount during Black Friday sales day ever, spending one-fifth more than last year as high street sales bounce back. The number of payments via Barclaycard were up 23% compared with the same period in 2020 and rose 2.4% on 2019 figures. Nationwide also saw an increase in trading, with 5.95m purchases made by its customers, an increase of 26% on last year and 24% on 2019. Despite fears of a slowdown in transactions due to delays in supplies, increases in sales of clothing, leisure and sports items helped offset lower volumes of toys, electronics and technology. The data suggests that the UK is on track for shoppers to spend almost £9.2bn this weekend. The surge in sales comes despite discontent regarding brands participation. Amazon’s largest UK warehouse in Dunfermline was blockaded by 20 Extinction Rebellion activists with other groups stopping delivery vehicles at sites across the country. The online fashion retailer Pretty Little Thing faced backlash after offering free items and its sister company Boohoo offering 99% off some items, leaving many questioning the ethics of both brands.
Culture: Armaan Gheewala
Crystal palace’s official LGBTQ+ supporter group, ‘Proud and Palace’ has urged the club to ‘put action behind their words in their most recent ‘rainbow lace’ campaign – ‘lace up, speak up’ explaining the potential performative nature of it if it’s not backed with actual change. This follows the years of solely celebratory events by football clubs and never truly reflective of the fight LGBTQ+ people have faced and some argue that it’s not just the queer community facing these kinds of struggles as racism is still a prevelant issue within the sport. However, with the historic coming out of several football players, Proud and Place are calling for concrete support by football clubs.
With Black Friday occuring this weekend, many have several ethical and environmental concerns with how big firms are able to charge such low prices. This brings into question the existence of child and slave labour that is outsource from first world countries to developing countries that do not afford the same human rights leading to this gross exploitation of labour. There is also the question of waste that it induces as it promotes a culture of overconsumption and wastefulness with many of these clothes ending up in a landfill, along with the production process of these garments increasing carbon emissions.
Theory: Cassi Ainsworth-Grace
US President Biden has announced intent to nominate Jerome Powell for another term as the Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Biden has also announced his intent to nominate Dr. Lael Brainard to serve as Vice Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System for another term. The Whitehouse points to the success of the Federal Reserve’s response to the pandemic, and Chair Powell’s decisive action over the last year and a half. Brainard has also proven effective in supporting Powell. The announcement also refers to the shared focus of Powell and the Administration that economic growth should benefit all American workers of all backgrounds. Biden still has three vacant seats on the Board of Governors to fill.