Dec. 15 protest in Paris against the delaying of the reopening of cinemas, theaters and museums

Welcome to Wednesday, where the pandemic has spiked again in Germany and South Korea, New Zealand reports decades of child abuse and a cigar box contains an ancient Egyptian mystery. Le Monde, meanwhile, reports on France's Chechen community reeling since a radicalized 18-year-old beheaded a French teacher in October.


After COVID-19, similar contagious health (and other) crises could arise sooner rather than later. What, asks Jörg Phil Friedrich, writing in Berlin-based Die Welt, should we do to think ahead?

By now we've got the good news from the pharmaceutical industry: It has developed coronavirus vaccines heading into mass-production. This heralds the start of what may prove to be the greatest immunization effort in world history. Across the globe, millions of people will be vaccinated against coronavirus every day, and then, in summer 2021, or autumn at the latest, the pandemic will be over.

Or so we think. Politicians, cinema and theater owners, businesspeople, artists and restaurant owners are all pinning their hopes on the vaccine. But it may be false hope, and not because the vaccines will be ineffective.

The problem, rather, is that the current pandemic may well be the first in a long line of pandemics and other natural disasters. And for that reason, it is high time that we ask ourselves how we want to live in this new world, rather than locking down and waiting patiently for science to restore our former normality.

In 2014, no one knew the name of the virus that would spark a global crisis, but we knew there would be one. In December of that year, the then-U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech in which he warned that, along with climate change, the steady rise in personal travel and the transport of goods would lead to pandemics that were more dangerous than Ebola or swine flu. The current pandemic proves him right.

And of course, there's no reason to assume that eliminating this pandemic will also eliminate the causes of further pandemics. The decrease in business travel may be long-term, now that we've seen it's possible to hold negotiations, presentations and conferences over video calls. But tourism will return to pre-COVID-19 levels, and people will go back to their workplaces — meaning the brakes will only have been applied temporarily.

Even without a new pandemic, we already have our seasonal flu viruses, which can be serious indeed. We should thus ask, in light of our response to the COVID-19 crisis, how our society will react the next time we face a flu-like that of the winter of 2017/2018, which claimed around 25,000 lives in Germany.

And what if pandemics like the current one become as common as flu? We'll need to ask ourselves whether we want to shut down the economy, people's social lives, and the cultural and sporting sectors, as we have done this year? What would become of our society? Read the full article, translated from German at Worldcrunch.

— Jörg Phil Friedrich / Die Welt


• COVID-19 latest: Germany sees record daily deaths (952) as it introduces tougher restrictions. Record numbers of new cases are also reported in the U.S. and South Korea.

• Et tu, Mitch McConnell? The Republican Senate leader and prominent Trump ally Mitch McConnell has broken his silence to congratulate Joe Biden on winning the presidential election last month.

• Migrant abuse in Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Watch warns that Saudi Arabia is detaining hundreds of migrants, mainly from Ethiopia, in horrid conditions in a Riyadh camp.

• Hungary LGBT adoption ban: Hungary votes in favor of a constitutional amendment that de facto bans same-sex couples from adopting.

• New Zealand abuse: A public inquiry reveals that up to 250,000 children and other vulnerable people were physically and sexually abused in New Zealand's faith-based and state care institutions, from the 1960s to early 2000s.

• Let it snow: Biggest winter storm in years is set to hit the U.S. east coast, with major travel disruptions and power outages expected.

• Cigar box discovery: A box stored in a museum archive in Scotland turned out to contain a 5,000-year-old lost artifact from the Great Pyramid of Giza, shedding light on an enduring archaeological mystery.

"Rio's New Year's Eve cancelled," writes Brazilian daily O Dia as city hall announced that all "Réveillon" celebrations will be banned with the country recording the world's second highest daily toll after the United States.


The Chechen diaspora, which arrived in French during the early 2000s after the traumatic wars with Russia, has seen its image deteriorate sharply in recent times, writes Isabelle Mandraud in French daily Le Monde.

Two events of very different natures tainted the image of the Chechen diaspora specifically in France. Last June, violent Chechen gangs caused nights of unrest in working-class neighborhoods in Dijon and Nice. Then, in Oct., Professor Samuel Paty was assassinated by a young Chechen radical, Abdouallakh Anzorov, who had arrived in France at the age of 6. This tragedy, two years after a deadly knife attack committed by another young Chechen in Paris, left the community paralyzed.

This recently arrived diaspora, still little known and poorly organized, is estimated to have between 40,000 and 60,000 members across France, including 16,000 with refugee status in 2019.

Young and old, officially French citizens or those waiting for this status, they share a tragic history: the massacres perpetrated by the Russian Empire during the colonization of the region in the 19th century and the deportation of the entire population to Central Asia under Stalin.This is a weighty legacy, imported to Strasbourg, Paris or Nice, where the refugees have settled, for the most part in so-called "sensitive" neighborhoods.

Three hundred of them are registered in the file of alerts for the prevention of terrorist radicalization (FSPRT), which it must be noted is a small proportion. This did not prevent this summer's violence from getting wrapped up as a "Chechen problem," as French National Assembly Member Jean-Luc Mélenchon put it, thus giving substance to persistent clichés.

➡️ Read more on here.

$4.2 billion

MacKenzie Scott, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's ex-wife, has reportedly donated more than $4 billion to charities and pandemic relief organizations in just four months, taking her total donations to $6 billion this year.

The mother is a woman, the father a man.

— Lawmakers in Hungary have voted in favor of a change in the country's constitution that redefines the concept of a family and effectively prevents same-sex couples from adopting.

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European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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