Foreign Policy

France and Germany shut as Europe prepares for the grim winter

Here is today's foreign policy mandate: France and Germany Announcement of new coronavirus bans, Brexit Trade talks are to be concluded, and Nagorno-Karabakh Peace talks begin in Geneva.

We look forward to your feedback at Morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

France and Germany are moving towards lockdown as cases increase

The two most populous countries in the European Union have entered a second lockdown phase as coronavirus cases continue their steep rise across the continent.

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced new restrictions on Wednesday that will close most public spaces but keep shops, churches and schools open. France has gone one step further and has revived the strict lockdown measures lifted in the summer with a break: the schools will remain open this time.

France is the second European country to return to a full lockdown after Ireland announced similar measures earlier this month. French President Emmanuel Macron said the measures were necessary because the spread of the virus was accelerating at a rate that "not even the most pessimistic forecasts expected". The French hospital association, which represents 4,800 hospitals, welcomed the move and described it as the "only solution".

Across the pond. In the United States, U.S. President Donald Trump mocked lockdowns at a rally in Arizona, warning that Joe Biden would make matters worse. "If you vote for Joe Biden, it means there are no kids in school, no graduations, no weddings, no thanks, no Christmas and no joint fourth of July," said Trump. "That being said, you'll have a wonderful life. I can't see anyone, but that's fine."

The US outlook is no better than France and Germany. The United States has registered more than 80,000 new coronavirus cases three times in the past week. Even during the earlier peak of confirmed cases in July, the highest single-day total was around 79,000.

The market picture. The S&P 500 index fell 3.5 percent on Wednesday. This was the biggest drop since June 11th on news of rising cases in the US. The European STOXX 600 index fell by almost 3 percent.

The United States should prepare for more exciting news today as the Bureau of Economic Analysis releases its first estimate of US GDP for the third quarter of 2020, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases weekly unemployment data.

What we are following today

Only five days left. U.S. President Donald Trump is rallying in North Carolina and Florida today, while Vice President Mike Pence is in Iowa and Nevada. Democratic candidate Joe Biden visits Florida with stops in Tampa and Broward Counties. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, will host a virtual rally with Sen. Bernie Sanders. Three out of five national polls released on Wednesday show that Biden Trump leads in double digits.

Further information on 2020 elections and their international impact can be found in FP's detailed reporting here.

Brexit trade talks are concluded. The European Union and UK negotiators are expected to complete one-week talks in London today. Press conferences are expected to see whether both sides are getting closer to resolving trade talks. According to Bloomberg reporting, joint work on the text of a level playing field agreement has started and a state aid agreement is also imminent.

Further Nagorno-Karabakh talks. Representatives from Russia, France and the United States will meet with Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Geneva today to advance peace talks between the two sides following the collapse of a third ceasefire signed just last weekend. Talks come after both sides said civilians have been attacked by enemy fire in recent days.

US attempts to block WTO candidates. Former Nigerian Treasury Secretary Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's status as the alleged next director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been threatened after her candidacy was challenged by the United States, which supports South Korean Trade Secretary Yoo Myung-hee.

The US objection sparked consternation among other WTO member states on a conference call Wednesday, with other nations questioning US commitment to the organization. The WTO Director General is traditionally elected by consensus, which means that any of the 164 member states can block a candidate if they so wish. The opposition the United States showed so late in the process, however, has led the WTO to consider a democratic vote for the first time. If such a vote were to take place, Okonjo-Iweala would likely win solidly.

Phil Levy and Chad P. Brown wrote in Foreign Policy in May that a US exit from the WTO would be a big mistake.

Explosion in the Venezuelan oil refinery. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that the oil refinery in Anuay suffered a terrorist attack on Wednesday that used a "long, powerful weapon". The explosion in a distillation plant occurred when oil production was stopped and there are no reports of injuries. Maduro added that the alleged attack should not cripple the country's energy needs and that there are enough reserves for 20 days of consumption.

Admission of US refugees at record low. The number of refugees allowed to enter the United States in the coming year will be at its lowest level since the White House announced that only 15,000 refugees will be allowed to live in the country next year. According to a White House memo, 5,000 of these places will go to refugees facing religious persecution, 4,000 will be reserved for refugees from Iraq who helped the United States, and 1,000 will be for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. There remain 5,000 vacancies, although refugees from Somalia, Syria and Yemen are banned unless they can meet specific humanitarian criteria.

The future of U.S. refugee policy hangs on Tuesday's vote: Former Vice President Joe Biden has pledged to increase the annual intake of refugees to 125,000, while the Guardian reports that a second Trump administration would attempt to reduce that intake to zero to lower.

With people mostly indoors, an endangered species of sea turtle thrives. A conservation group from the indigenous Seri in northern Mexico has reported that it has released a record number of olive Ridley sea turtles into the Gulf of California – more than 2,250 total. In a normal year, only 500 of the baby turtles would reach the ocean. Restrictions on tourism and fishing due to the coronavirus pandemic are believed to have helped more turtle nests remain intact.

That's it for today.

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Photo credit: Christophe Simon / AFP

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