Morning Brief

France and Germany Lock Down As Europe Prepares for Bleak Winter

As Europe locks down, Trump mocks the concept.

French President Emmanuel Macron is seen on a TV screen in a cafe in Marseille, southern France, on October 28, 2020.
French President Emmanuel Macron is seen on a TV screen in a cafe in Marseille, southern France, on October 28, 2020. Christophe Simon/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: France and Germany announce new coronavirus lockdowns, Brexit trade talks are scheduled to conclude, and Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks begin in Geneva.

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France and Germany Move Toward Lockdown as Cases Rise

The European Union’s two most populous countries have entered into a second lockdown period as coronavirus cases across the continent continue their steep rise.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced new restrictions on Wednesday that would close most public spaces, but will keep shops, churches, and schools open. France has gone further, reviving strict lockdown measures that had been lifted in the summer, with one respite: schools will remain open this time around.

France is the second European country to return to a full-scale lockdown after Ireland announced similar measures earlier this month. French President Emmanuel Macron said the measures were necessary because the spread of the virus is accelerating at a speed that “not even the most pessimistic forecasts had anticipated.” The French Hospital Federation, which represents 4,800 hospitals, has welcomed the move, calling it the “only solution.”

Across the pond. In the United States, U.S. President Donald Trump mocked lockdowns at a rally in Arizona, and warned that Joe Biden would make matters worse. “If you vote for Joe Biden it means no kids in school, no graduations, no weddings, no thanksgivings, no Christmas, and no Fourth of July together,” Trump said. “Other than that you’ll have a wonderful life. Can’t see anybody, but that’s alright.”

The U.S. outlook is no better than in France and Germany. The United States has recorded 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 one-day total was roughly 79,000.

The market picture. The S&P 500 Index dropped 3.5 percent Wednesday, its biggest decline since June 11 on news of surging cases in the United States. The European STOXX 600 index fell nearly 3 percent.

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

What We’re Following Today

Five more days. U.S. President Donald Trump holds rallies in both 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 County. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, will host a virtual rally alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders. Three out of five national polls released on Wednesday show Biden leading Trump by double digits.

For more on Election 2020 and its international implications, read FP’s in-depth coverage here.

Brexit trade talks conclude. The chief negotiators of both the European Union and United Kingdom are expected to conclude a week of in-person talks in London today, with press conferences expected on whether the two sides are any closer to resolving trade talks. According to reporting in Bloomberg, joint work has begun on the text of an agreement on the so-called level competitive playing field, and an agreement covering state aid is also close. 

More Nagorno-Karabakh talks. Representatives from Russia, France, and the United States will meet the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan today in Geneva to advance peace talks between the two sides following the collapse of a third cease-fire, signed only last weekend. The talks come as both sides said civilians had been targeted by enemy shelling in recent days.

U.S. attempts to block WTO candidate. Former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s status as the presumed next director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is in jeopardy after her candidacy was called into question by the United States, which backs South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee.

The U.S. objection caused consternation with other WTO member states on a conference call Wednesday, with other nations questioning U.S. commitment to the organization. The WTO director-general is traditionally chosen by consensus, meaning any of the 164 member nations can block a candidate if they so wish. However, the opposition shown by the United States so late in the process has prompted the WTO to consider a democratic vote for the first time. If such a vote were to be held, Okonjo-Iweala would be likely to win soundly.

Writing in Foreign Policy in May, Phil Levy and Chad P. Brown argued that a U.S. departure from the WTO would be a big mistake.

Keep an Eye On

Explosion at Venezuelan oil refinery. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that the Anuay oil refinery suffered a terrorist attack on Wednesday in which a “long, powerful weapon” was used. The explosion at a distillation unit occurred while oil production was halted, and there are no reports of injuries. Maduro added that the alleged attack should not cripple the country’s energy needs, and that it had enough in reserve for 20 days of consumption. 

U.S. refugee admissions at record low. The number of refugees allowed into the United States in the coming year will be at its lowest level in modern times, after the White House announced just 15,000 refugees would be allowed settle in the country next year. According to a White House memo, 5,000 of those places will go to refugees facing religious persecution, 4,000 are reserved for refugees from Iraq who helped the United States, and 1,000 for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; 5,000 open slots remain, although refugees from Somalia, Syria, and Yemen are banned unless they can meet special humanitarian criteria.

The future of U.S. refugee policy hangs on Tuesday’s vote: Former Vice President Joe Biden has promised to increase annual refugee admissions to 125,000, while the Guardian reports that a second Trump administration would seek to slash such admissions to zero.

Odds and Ends

With humans mostly indoors, a vulnerable species of sea turtle is thriving. A conservation group made of the indigenous Seri people of northern Mexico have reported releasing a record number of olive ridley sea turtles into the Gulf of California—more than 2,250 in all. In a normal year, only 500 of the baby turtles would make it to the ocean. It’s believed that restrictions on tourism and fishing due to the coronavirus pandemic helped keep more turtle nests intact.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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