Global Weekly Briefing: A World Underwater

The end of Macron’s honeymoon, Azerbaijan’s Laundromat scheme, and continued flooding in Africa and South Asia
Schoolchildren wade past a waterlogged railway street in the rain in Mumbai, India — Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 (AP/Rajanish Kakade, File)

Schoolchildren wade past a waterlogged railway street in the rain in Mumbai, India — Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 (AP/Rajanish Kakade, File)

Global Weekly is back! While the major international news story is centered on North Korea, here are some other developments to monitor:

Macron Facing Increasing Political Difficulties

French President Emmanuel Macron casts his ballot as he votes at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France, in the second round of the French parliamentary elections — Sunday, June 18, 2017. (Christophe Archambault/AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron casts his ballot as he votes at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France, in the second round of the French parliamentary elections — Sunday, June 18, 2017. (Christophe Archambault/AP)

The euphoria after the election of French President Emmanuel Macron has come and gone as quickly as the summer. Just two weeks past his 100-day mark and Macron’s approval ratings have dipped to 30 percent, the lowest level for a French president at this point in their term in about 15 years.

In a way, Macron’s post-election popularity wave was never going to last. While he placed first, he only earned just over a quarter of votes in the first round of the presidential elections. Though he secured about two-thirds of the vote in the second round, much of this was really a vote against his nationalist rival, Marine Le Pen. His party, La Republique En Marche (LREM), was praised for fielding MPs who were newcomers and younger than previous politicians. But they have also found it hard to get things done due to their inexperience. LREM’s platform, touted as both left and right, is increasingly seen as being neither.

Mr. Macron has also not done himself many favors. On the week of Bastille Day, the head of the French armed forces, Gen Pierre de Villiers, resigned after being publicly criticized by the president. General de Villiers had angrily spoken out against Macron’s proposed military spending cuts, prompting a speech by the president to his generals to remind them that “he is the boss.”

The move backfired, as the public mostly sided with the general. Reports of Macron spending more than $30,000 on makeup also didn’t help his image any. Macron and his supporters have waved off his unpopularity as temporary, the setbacks just growing pains for a young president. Though he still enjoys a majority in parliament, his quick fall from grace will not help him with the difficult legislative tasks ahead.

Foremost on the agenda is a reform of the country’s labor system. France is famous for its powerful unions and generous worker protections. However, such protections have also come at the expense of making it very difficult to hire and fire workers. Partly as a result, France’s unemployment rate, currently at 9.5 percent, is almost twice as high as Germany’s. France’s young people make up a very high portion of the unemployed; youth unemployment is over 23 percent.

In an effort to make the economy more flexible and adaptable to new industries, Macron has decreed a set of reforms that will make it easier for small businesses to hire workers and will reduce the payments made to fired ones. The reforms were reportedly created during negotiations with trade unions. While they expressed displeasure, two of the three major unions said they will not direct workers to strike. However, CGT, a union backed by France’s Communist Party, has vowed to mobilize its supporters on the streets. How Macron navigates these reforms will determine the success of the rest of his agenda. He will need more than overpriced foundation to succeed.

Azerbaijan’s Government Has Been Running A Slush Fund To Bribe Eurocrats

Tiny, gas-rich Azerbaijan usually doesn’t make international headlines. Yesterday, must, therefore have been a tough day for the PR team of Azerbaijan’s autocratic President Ilham Aliyev.

A report, published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), alleged that the Azerbaijani government funneled $2.9 billion dollars into a slush fund through British shell companies. The report states that the Azeris then used this money to bribe European officials, lobbyists, and journalists for more favorable political treatment and other favors. European banks connected to the slush fund are also accused of failing to alert authorities to the nefarious transactions. Even a Russian arms exporter is said to be involved. The office of Mr. Aliyev, who is accused of being connected to the fund, denies any wrongdoing.

Azerbaijan, a former Soviet state, is ruled almost entirely by the Aliyev family. In power after ousting his own father, Mr. Aliyev has become adept at rigging elections, muzzling the press, and suppressing any opposition. The country has been cited for numerous human rights abuses. Mr. Aliyev often rubs shoulders with fellow dictator Recep Erdogan of Turkey, theocrat Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran (where the majority of the Azeri people live), and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Despite this rap sheet, the country enjoys a cozy relationship with the West, mostly due to its large oil and gas reserves. The South Stream pipeline, a proposed project on the Black Sea, is seen by several European countries as crucial to diversifying their fuel imports and limiting their dependence on Russian fuel. Mr. Aliyev has also done an impressive job of goading Western officials into throwing support his way by feigning desire to join the European community, while at the same time continuing his alliances with Russia and Iran.

The strategy has worked, as Western officials have largely looked the other way on Mr. Aliyev’s abuses. Azerbaijan has also been presented with the distinction of playing host to major European events including the 2012 Eurovision contest, a singing competition, (which drew criticism from LGBT groups) and the 2015 European Games.

It remains to be seen just how much influence the laundering operation bought Mr. Aliyev and his cronies, and from whom. However, at a time when Europe faces political pressure and electoral tampering from Russia, evidence of bribery by another autocratic country does not inspire confidence in the transparency of European institutions.

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Flooding In South Asia And Africa Highlight Climate Change’s Human Toll

Many watched as Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on Houston and other parts of Texas and now brace for Hurricane Irma’s landfall in the Caribbean and Florida. However, major natural disasters occurred in other parts of the world at the same time. They received much less media attention, despite the fact that they left a path of human and physical destruction much more severe than that of Harvey.

Heavy monsoon rains and a cyclone have slammed the Indian subcontinent for much of the summer, causing widespread devastation in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. About 1,000 people have died from the resulting flooding and landslides, and as many as 41 million people are believed to be affected. These numbers are set to rise as rains now head north to Pakistan. Millions have been left homeless, and there have been reports of a massive increase in water borne illnesses.

The rainy season was no less forgiving in Africa. Heavy rains and mudslides have left hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands displaced in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Niger, and the DRC. This is to say nothing of the now two-year drought that has blighted Eastern and Southern Africa, putting as much as 38 million people at risk of food insecurity.

Natural disasters usually affect the poorest, who often live in poorly built dwellings in unregulated slums. Such slums are usually situated in precarious locations such as along hillsides or below sea level, making them all the more vulnerable to adverse weather. When disasters strike, most people lose everything.

While climate change isn’t responsible for natural disasters, there is ample evidence that rising global temperature makes such events all the more severe and frequent. Low-income countries must face the prospect of such disasters with strained budgets and very limited resources. If climate models are correct, this will mean that an ever growing part of the world’s population will be at risk. It is therefore increasingly not a stretch to declare the fight to reduce the effects of climate change to be one of life and death.

In the immediate term, more funding is needed for organizations working to provide emergency relief in affected countries. Below is a non-exhaustive list of organizations that provide humanitarian aid during natural disasters all over the world, all of which could use donations:

International Rescue Committee
Doctors Without Borders
International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

Global Outlook // Climate Change / India / Politics / World