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14 April 2021

Greenwashed out

More controversy about the EU’s planned green taxonomy, after a group advising the union on new rules for green investment published an open letter calling on the European Commission not to weaken them.  

The Commission has been working to update its green finance taxonomy because the most recent set of guidelines, published in 2019, were deemed too strict by some member states and industry lobbyists. One of the most contentious issues was that the 2019 guidelines excluded natural gas from a list of transition fuels, but debates are also raging over whether bioenergy, forestry and nuclear power should receive a green label.

An upcoming revised proposal is under fire from the advisory group because it is too weak. It deviates from environmentally sound parameters within the taxonomy by stretching the framework beyond scientific rigour, introducing substantive risks to its intended purpose and to the credibility of the project overall. In layman’s terms, projects that are not green will still be labelled green, which defeats the purpose of the entire endeavour.

Nine members of the 57-strong group have threatened to quit over the latest proposal because it would allow companies that are not currently considered green to claim investments, such as highly efficient steel production, and classify them as taxonomy-aligned. According to the group, the taxonomy defines what is green, but it does not specify that everything else is bad for the environment.

This means that the proposal will maintain a longstanding practise of mislabelling green investments. Under a previous set of guidelines, a system called the Rio markers was used to round up the green content of investments and projects. A project with even a tiny amount of green content would qualify as 40% green, and anything with more than 40% green content was rounded up to 100% green. Controversy over the latest proposal shows lobbyists have made their voices heard - will anyone listen to the scientists? 

The deadline for the latest proposal is 21 April.

13 April 2021

AfD supports Dexit

There is a lot of stuff going on in Germany right now, which would normally make big stories on their own. One of them is the decision by the AfD to support Dexit. There are no prizes for guessing what that word means. The party was born with an agenda to exit from the euro. Now it now wants to get out of the EU.

This decision was the result of a party revolt. Its co-leader, Jörg Meuthen, who is also an MEP, sought a more ambiguous formulation. But the party radicals managed to get the full-Monty Dexit into the official election programme. The party also, unsurprisingly, reiterated its anti-immigration stance, as well as its principled opposition to lockdown. Unsurprising too. But Dexit is interesting for a number of reasons.

Germany is not, of course, about to elect a party that favours Dexit. Nor will the AfD participate in a government. But we believe that the number of Germans who want the country to leave the EU is larger than the AfD’s existing support base. It makes strategic sense to us for a party of the right to support Dexit if no one else does.

Also, look at the dynamics of German politics right now. CDU/CSU are hopelessly divided. The liberal FDP will benefit from this, but the FDP does not reach into the right of the political spectrum. Immigration is less of an issue in 2021 compared to 2017. The lockdown will have ended by election day. And in any case, the FDP also takes a principled anti-lockdown position. But Dexit will still be a good theme in September. It unites all of their existing voters and activists. And it reaches beyond.

The AfD has come through a bad patch. They have recovered a little. The party is now polling at 11-12%, close to their 2017 result. If they managed to capture an additional two or three percentage points, that could have a strong influence on the coalition arithmetic. All other parties have declared that they will under no circumstances enter into a coalition with the AfD. This means, the larger the AfD becomes, the bigger the arithmetic hurdle for the next coalition. Two or three percentage points are therefore a big deal.

We noted a couple of complacent German political journalists concluding that Dexit was a losing proposition. We had a deja-vu experience. This is how Brexit started. The Remain-supporters were complacent, and when they realised they had a fight, they stuck to their old arguments about the benefits of the single market. It is not clear at all that German EU-supporters would know any better how to campaign in favour of EU membership if it ever came to that.

Also consider the parallels with the UK. There has been a lot anti-European rhetoric in the German European discourse over the last few years. The ECB is still unpopular. And the Germans blame the EU for their vaccine order disaster, not their own incompetent government. Support for the EU has fallen - not to the extent that there is a majority for leaving it. But there are enough Dexit supporters to sustain a single political party. One of the lessons of Brexit is not to underestimate the political consequences of an anti-European discourse.

12 April 2021

Bailing out the belt and road initiative

The inevitable fall-out of ill-conceived projects launched under China’s belt and road initiative is being felt in Europe. That hasn’t stopped countries from moving forward with white elephants that are at serious risk of becoming debt traps – and a major headache for the EU.

Euractiv reported late last month that Montenegro is calling for the EU’s help to repay a loan to China’s Exim Bank for the first section of a highway linking the port of Bar in the Adriatic Sea to Belgrade in Serbia.

The €1.3bn project was financed in large part by China, and if Montenegro defaults, the terms of its contract for the loans give China the right to access Montenegrin land as collateral. Montenegro’s borrowing from China pushed the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio from 63% in 2012 to nearly 80% in 2019, and as it turns out, warnings that this highway was a bad idea went unheeded. Dritan Abazovic, Montenegro’s deputy prime minister, has said that the country is now dependent on Beijing, and without a kilometre of highway, as the deadline for completion of works has already been breached several times. Milojko Spajic, the country’s finance minister, has since gone to the media to make the case for an EU bail-out, arguing that it would be a small but easy win for the union.

We wonder how many small wins the EU will be facing in the coming years as the true cost of BRI projects becomes apparent. In Greece, for example, reports of growing disputes over the Piraeus port, which is now majority-owned by China Ocean Shipping Company, are becoming a media mainstay. Legal disputes over a Chinese-backed, €1.7bn coal-fired power plant planned for construction in Bosnia are ongoing.

More worrying in our view is Chinese-backed projects for which the business case is far more questionable, such as Fudan University’s planned new campus in Budapest. As investigative outlet Direkt36 reported last week, the €1.5bn project would be the largest investment in Hungarian higher education to date, but it will be built using Chinese materials, labour and loans, with the contract stating that construction must be carried out as a Chinese only project. Since the project is being developed under a Sino-Hungarian international agreement, EU rules about fair competition and procurement practises have been deemed not relevant.

The new campus will cost more than the state spent on Hungary’s entire higher education system in 2019, and it will be constructed on space that had been earmarked for the Budapest City Development project, which would have provided modern dormitory and community spaces for Hungarian students. Fudan University in Shanghai is considered a top higher education institution, offering world-class international relations studies. But in 2019, its charter’s chapters on freedom of thought and academic freedom were replaced by a declaration of allegiance to the Chinese communist party.

After Viktor Orbán expelled the Central European University, stakeholders warned that the country is suppressing liberal academia, with the Fudan campus demonstrating that Hungarian education is being reorganised under another state. A 2018 survey also found that 40% of Hungarians aged 18 to 24 said they or their family planned emigrate to seek better opportunities abroad. Like Montenegro’s highway, the business case for the new campus is weak. We wonder whether an EU bail-out for this project will also be branded as a small and easy win.

9 April 2021

Bold tax ideas and poor prospects

The IMF looked in its fiscal monitor at how Covid-19 affected inequality based on first evidence from last year. It is the rise in inequality through the pandemic, and the potential for social unrest, that prompted the IMF's call for a temporary levy on the privileged. While the rise in inequality is undeniable, the levy is harder to implement, even if there is a broad political will behind this initiative.

The evidence is still sketchy, but empirical studies confirm that the virus was more virulent in poorer communities, especially in urban areas, and that lockdowns affected mostly low-income service workers and those without digital skills. School closures threw back all children in their educational attainment, and this fallout was even more pronounced for children from poor families in developed countries or for developing countries. This educational gap will have to be addressed moving forward.

Coming out of this pandemic we will find a world where inequality has increased between countries and communities. Governments will face some difficult choices when it comes to financing education, health care, infrastructure, or social safety nets. Expect more diversity across countries in their policy choices.  How governments respond will define the future growth potential. Digital infrastructure, health care and education are important building blocks for a society to thrive. After this lockdown experience there is a chance to reform the school curriculum to reflect a new reality and new digital teaching tools. Universities already work on digital master programmes. Secondary and primary schools will need to teach new skills, and for this teachers will need to be equipped. 

We agree that this is an opportunity for governments to implement some bold reforms in the education sector, and a chance to rethink public health, digitalisation and industrial policies. We are more sceptical about how to finance it. The IMF's proposal to tax those who benefited from the crisis sounds all fair and good, but the past has shown that taxing the rich never really took off the ground. The Tobin tax on financial transactions, for example, has been debated since the 1970s, yet despite the financial crisis in 2008 and the general outrage over taxpayer bailouts for badly managed financial institutions, only 10 countries ended up levying a 0.1% financial transaction tax.

Janet Yellen called the IMF and World Bank meeting the Bretton Woods moment for the global economy. But the 21% global minimum tax rate as proposed by Yellen seems high. The OCED had proposed a 12.5% in earlier talks. How likely is it this tax will be applied? Look at where we are in the EU. The Irish won't give up their low corporate tax scheme or risk losing their business model. This will be no different on the global scale. 

The call from the IMF to temporarily tax businesses and wealthy individuals who benefited from the pandemic are bold, but face challenges once it comes to implementation. Imagine the US administration raised a tax on its tech companies. Do they expect Facebook or Twitter to just pay the bill? Or will companies fight back, either with an avalanche of law suits or by withdrawing services, as Facebook did in Australia? Even if companies accept the tax, they likely find a way to balanced it out, either by passing costs on to the customers or by cutting some other tax corners. There are legal challenges too. The German solidarity levy was successful precisely because it was clearly targeted and not limited to wealthy taxpayers. Everybody had to contribute according to their ability to pay. If you were to tax the wealthy only, you would tax income twice. Expect the debate to continue but solutions to remain vague. What is clear though, is that inequalities are starker today than they were before Covid-19 hit.

8 April 2021

Geopolitics of crypto

We would like to pick up on a comment made by Peter Thiel, the hedge fund billionaire who supported Donald Trump. Thiel said during a talk at the Richard Nixon Foundation that the US administration should take bitcoin more seriously. He speculated that China might be using bitcoin as a geopolitical weapon. In the long run, bitcoin threatens fiat money in general, and the dollar as the world’s premier currency in particular.

We have been asking ourselves similar questions, though we have not yet fully thought through the geopolitics of crypto. At the moment the debate in the west - and especially in Europe - is dominated mostly by comments from central bankers and macro folk who seem to confuse what they don’t want to happen with what they don’t expect to happen.

The fact that bitcoin and other crypto currencies do not fulfil the strict definitions of money is entirely irrelevant to the potential of such currencies to disrupt the money monopoly of the state. As crypto currencies become more widespread, we would expect to see closed digital crypto economies emerging - cycles of economic activity that will not be dependent on fiat money. This is also why the viability of crypto currencies will not be dependent on their dollar market value. A crash in the bitcoin dollar price - which is entirely possible - may constitute a potential source of financial instability, but not a threat to bitcoin itself.

Thiel's focus was on China going long on bitcoin, and the associated threat to what he described as the exorbitant privilege the US derives from the dollar as the world’s largest currency.

We would add that the implication for us Europeans would be even more severe. Even after 20 years, the euro area is an incomplete project. It is likely to remain incomplete for the foreseeable future. During the sovereign debt crisis, there was a lot of talk about parallel currencies - like Italy’s minibots - but these never saw the light of day. But that does not change the fact that the euro remains vulnerable to the emergence of other forms of parallel currency. Of course, you cannot pay your taxes in bitcoin, but if bitcoin becomes the currency of choice in the digital economy, the implications for the euro and the cohesion of the EU would be potentially troublesome. That’s a world into which monetary policy cannot reach.

7 April 2021

Beware of photo-ops with Erdogan

They had to have the photo op with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and it turned out to be bad idea, as we predicted. At a time when Erdogan is cracking down on admirals because of their public objection against the Istanbul canal, which was interpreted as an attempted coup, any show of European encouragement was completely out of place. But even without this context, the meeting will not be remembered for its content.

A video clip from the meeting went viral. It showed Charles Michel taking the seat next to Erdogan, forcing Ursula von der Leyen to sit on the sofa opposite the Turkish foreign minister. Symbols speak more than words, especially in countries like Turkey. The same is true for the official photo in which the two EU leaders smiled, while Erdogan looked like he just wanted to get it over and done with. If the EU does not know how speak in images, they are better off keeping meetings behind closed doors. 

Erdogan may not be Sergey Lavrov, but his seating arrangements were enough to display the rift between European Council and the Commission, and male dominance over a female leader. The EU's concern over Turkey's exit from the Istanbul Convention on Discrimination and Violence against Women suddenly lost its bite. 

In the press briefing afterwards, von der Leyen said human rights are non-negotiable and that Turkey should respect the recent rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for the release Turkish businessman Osman Kavala and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtain. She said the Commission will come up with a proposal for how to support Syrian refugees in Turkey in a show of good will. So goodwill first, non-negotiables after? One way to play with expectations is her announcement that it will benefit the other two major host countries, Jordan and Lebanon. Distribution of funds could thus matter. Turkey accuses the EU of only releasing €3.8bn of the €6bn promised under the Dublin pact. Brussels, for its part, accuses Turkey of refusing to take back any irregular migrants since the outbreak of the pandemic. Expect to see haggling over the price. Michel called on Turkey to make some concrete gestures towards Greece and Cyprus and remove all its troops from Libya as a prerequisite for talks on the customs union. This has been a long shot anyway, so neither side will be able to blackmail the other into concessions here. It will come down again to haggling, this time over who is to blame for what.

How cooperative Turkey is will become clear in the coming months, ahead of another crucial European Council in June. Don't hold your breath. Erdogan will do what he can to produce some gestures of goodwill, just in time for the summit, and otherwise continues as it pleases him. The Commission will have to square all those contradictions and work out a progressive, proportionate and reversible agenda for trade, high-level dialogue, refugees and mobility between the EU and Turkish people. Hard to keep smiling when all you have to offer are some carrots, but no real sticks. 

1 April 2021

Our scenarios for the post-Easter period

This will be our last briefing before the Easter break. We will resume on Tuesday, April 6. 

Our main story this morning is an assessment of the scenarios that lie ahead for Europe. The good news is that vaccine supply bottlenecks will ease. In the worst case, we are looking at another lost summer holiday season, and a delayed economic recovery. But the crisis, like any crisis, will eventually end. BioNTech/Pfizer are due to step up deliveries from this month onwards. BioNTech's new Marburg plant will have massive capacity to supply the whole of Europe with vaccines indefinitely.

The problems going forward lie elsewhere. The entire EU apparatus is geared to solving political problems - as opposed to actual, physical problems - the kind that do not respond to spin-doctoring. Many Europeans discuss lockdown as separate from vaccination. And they treat vaccination more as a private contract between the government and the individual, and less as a public-health issue. There were more discussions on the side-effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as opposed to its effects. Expect the confusion to persist for a while before the situation eases. The summer holiday season will go ahead on a smaller scale than envisaged, and the economic recovery will be postponed. The economic costs of the crisis mismanagement will dwarf the positive impact of the recovery by a very large factor.

Pandemic mismanagement has taken attention away from the other policy failures - notably the failure to generate a fiscal response large enough to close the output gap. There is no way the EU would ever use a fiscal accelerator with the same aggression as the US would. But most of our fiscal measures were loan guarantees that were not taken up. The recovery fund is large only if you are willing to be fooled by large headline numbers. We see the economic effect as 0.3% of GDP for a period of five or six years - which is macro-economically in the category of statistical noise. The main economic effect would be in the long run through reforms that boost productivity growth. We expect this effect to be present, but small.  

It is, of course, possible that the German constitutional court ends the charade. As we argued yesterday, the legal case of the plaintiff, under German law, is relatively strong. The composition of the court has not shifted to such an extent as to produce a majority willing to break with the principles established in previous rulings. So there is a risk that Germany cannot participate in the fund. An injunction against the own-resources legislation would constitute a political shock no doubt, but its main effect would to puncture the feel-good story about the recovery fund as the start of a fiscal union.

For that, the conference on the future of Europe is the more important development because this is where the foundations for a future fiscal union could be laid. It requires treaty change, and in the case of Germany also constitutional change. The EU will not be able to create a fiscal union based on Art. 122 TFEU, an emergency clause. If the German court allows the ratification, the recovery fund will go ahead. But we are certain that the court will prevent the German government from repeating this exercise in the future. If the courts stop ratification, the EU will have to find another way to circumvent existing law. 

Some of the events are inter-dependent. The more chaotic the summer, the worse it is for the economy, and the better it is for the Greens. We have a separate story on Green foreign policy below. On economic policy, they are the only party in Germany with an explicit agenda to change the German constitutional debt brake and the European fiscal rules. The two are logically linked, as the purpose of the debt brake was to provide legal instruments to implement the spirit of the original stability pact. It said that countries with debt levels of more than 60% of GDP were supposed to run a small surplus over the economic cycle, but hardly anybody took this seriously. The one prediction we are happy to make is that the EU will not change the fiscal rules without Germany changing its constitutional debt brake. 

A Green-led government will not achieve that on its own because constitutional change would require a two-thirds majority. If the CDU/CSU were to end up in opposition, that would probably be a worst-case scenario because they will never accept a relaxation of the debt brake when a government of the left is in power. The best-case scenario for debt-brake reform would be for a CDU-led government, with the Greens occupying the finance ministry. If such a coalition were to accept constitutional reforms, a majority is foreseeable since SPD and the Left Party would support it too.

On balance, good outcomes are possible. Bud so are poor outcomes. A debate on fiscal tightening could start once the immediate pandemic is over. We would expect the ECB's governing council at least to discuss exit strategies for asset purchases. We are marginally more optimistic about the rise of green investment in the next period ahead. The crisis has also - finally - persuaded some governments that they need to prioritise digitalisation. As the emergence of BioNTech has shown, there are pockets of technical excellence on the continent. But the entrepreneurial dynamics remain weak. And at least there is also a discussion about the defence of European interests, but still a lot of confusion about what these interests are.

We used to say that crises were good for the EU - and that may still be so in the very long run. But we have not seen it yet.

1 April 2021

Greens vs China

With Germany’s pandemic mismanagement now threatening the summer holidays, as well as the grand coalition’s re-election prospects, a Greens-led government is becoming a possibility. This could have profound implications for German and EU foreign policy, including German- and EU-China relations.

We noted a recent piece in Internationale Politik Quarterly examining how Germany’s approach to China would change under a government led by the Greens. Noah Barkin writes that the Greens have been the sole party in Germany to consistently take a stand against Germany’s business-first approach to China. Party support for human rights in China dates back to the 1980s – Greens founding member Petra Kelly was a strong supporter of Tibet – and the Greens fought Gerhard Schroeder’s efforts to lift an arms embargo to China in the early 2000s.

The Greens were also the first party in the Bundestag to release a strategy paper on China in 2012, in which they criticised the German government for prioritising German interests over European interests. The party has maintained this tougher stance in recent years: it was the first to challenge the German government’s position that it had no legal basis to exclude Huawei from 5G network development in 2018, and perhaps more significantly, it was the only party in Germany to oppose Angela Merkel’s rush to sign an in-principle deal, the EU-China comprehensive agreement on investment (CAI), in December.

According to Barkin, many Greens members argue that Germany must be prepared to make economic sacrifices in support of a stronger and more cohesive European strategy for China. This news will undoubtedly be welcomed by the Biden administration and China hawks in the US, who are keeping a watchful eye on Germany in the lead-up to the September elections. 

Maintaining a strong stance on China presents many challenges, however, particularly since there are some in the party itself who have adopted a more pragmatic approach. Keen to avoid being caught in the crossfire of a new Cold War, Greens members such as Jürgen Trittin have been quick to temper criticism of China with criticism of the US. American officials’ aggressive lobbying to exclude Huawei from European networks is viewed with scepticism by figures like Trittin, while other Greens members have supported the idea of adopting a softer position on China in order to foster better cooperation on climate change.

If the Greens return to power, they will need to make difficult decisions on Huawei, the CAI, and whether to boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Pressure from German companies with significant interests in China will intensify, and a Green-Black coalition with the CDU/CSU would only amplify pro-business voices.

But difficult choices extend far beyond China, and the Greens will likely also be struggling to implement key components of its domestic and European platforms, including a reform of Germany’s constitutional debt brake, increased European integration, and a total exit from fossil fuels. It is easy to imagine concerns over China’s human rights record falling by the wayside in the face of these pressing priorities.

We would argue that unless the Greens become the largest party in government, they are unlikely to have much of an impact on China policies because the chancellery holds the real diplomatic and foreign policymaking powers in Germany, whereas the foreign ministry remains limited to providing consular services and assistance at German embassies. A victory by the Greens is by no means certain, and the CDU/CSU could always rebound in the polls, particularly if it improves its dismal vaccine roll-out.

We would also argue that the economic sacrifices required might be too hard of a sell in post-pandemic Germany. Germany was far better-prepared than many European countries to face the economic shocks brought on by the pandemic, but it was in sore need of billions of investment in digitisation and green infrastructure even before the pandemic hit. Cutting ties with one of the world’s most valuable consumer markets – and a major source of high-tech investment – could cost more than German voters are ultimately willing to pay. Merkel’s departure leaves more space for the Greens to manoeuvre, but tensions between China and Europe are ramping up against the backdrop of a looming economic crisis. The walls are closing in.

1 April 2021

Legal challenges of Covid measures

First time around last year, no one was prepared for this pandemic. After China, European countries imposed strict lockdown measures nearly overnight and a stunned population had to adapt their lives to this new reality. People re-emerged in the summer and everyone thought this is it. But no. A second lockdown followed in November/December and now a third lockdown. Once the initial surprise was over, lockdown measures were contested by the health sector and the people as either not enough or too harsh. They were also contested legally in the courts. Can a restriction of citizens' freedom be justified by measures that may or may not work to protect public health? A functioning health sector and fundamental civil rights are playing against each other in this pandemic, and national courts may define a balance between the two. For this Easter briefing picked up three different stories of legal challenges coming from EU member states.

In Belgium the court of first instance dismissed Covid-19 measures as illegal with respect to citizens' rights. Their main argument relies on the fact that these measures are not a response to one-off emergencies, but a crisis that has lasted for more than a year. The pandemic law must therefore have a more solid legal basis, so the court says. The mechanism the Belgian government got approved in a first reading in parliament is based on a royal decree declaring an epidemic emergency. Parliament confirms this emergency and entrusts the executive with the task of taking measures for a period of three months. Regular reporting to parliament is planned. The text lists a series of measures that can be taken and which have been used for a year: restriction of movement, closures of establishments, curfews, etc. 

The Irish attorney general is concerned about the plan to extend mandatory hotel quarantines to 43 additional countries, including the US, France and Germany, according to the Irish Times. His reservations relate in large part to Ireland’s obligations under EU law to ensure the free movement of people, and also to the state’s powers to detain people. At the moment Ireland is the only EU country controlling the inward flow from other EU countries with mandatory hotel stays. Austria is already on the list that requires arriving passengers from other EU countries to quarantine in hotels for 12 days. The latest plans are to extend this list to include 17 other European countries. There is also a legal and political challenge over what to do with the Isle of Man, which is part of the Common Travel Area covering Ireland and the UK.

Finland has its own version of constitutional challenge. The Constitutional Law Committee that has to approve the government's latest partial lockdown ruled the proposal unconstitutional. According to the committee, restrictions on movement must be targeted precisely at the presumed sources of infection, i.e. private events and parties, moving around in groups and shopping, writes YLE. The committee pointed out that the prohibitions in the government's bill are subject to interpretation. Therefore, in practice, it would be impossible to predict what is forbidden or permissible. What is targeted here is the legal ambiguity of the lockdown measures, not the measures themselves. The more concrete the better. This requires the government to define exactly what they mean when they recommend celebrating Easter only with close ones, and what unnecessary travel is. As with all boundaries thus defined, this may end up dividing in those inside and those outside the legal parameters.

1 April 2021

Vaccinate to exit lockdown

Vaccination and lockdown go hand in hand. The more people are vaccinated, the easier it is to exit lockdown. What seems straightforward on paper is not in real life. In many member states, vaccination and lockdown are still discussed as two separate issues. 

Emmanuel Macron made exactly this link last night. Amid an alarming surge in infections and hospitalisations, Macron announced the extension of the lockdown light in 19 regions to the whole of France for four weeks, with schools closed for three, and put vaccination in front as the new yardstick. The logic is that everything opens once enough people are vaccinated as from mid-May. Using vaccines is to make the new constraints palatable and to stand up against the peoples' desire for freedom. Only in January, Macron decided against confinement for exactly this reason. Now vaccines are the new harbinger of hope and the message is: hold tight in April and you will be free in May. 

Macron's new bet, though, relies on the assumption that nothing goes wrong anymore with the vaccines, no order debacle or suspension of a vaccine. The logistics of the vaccination strategy have to deliver. And what exactly the formula will be to exit lockdown, we do not know yet. France is eager to catch up with the UK on vaccines, but how it moves from 11% to more than 50% vaccinated in just one month is still a mystery. Will it heal the rift with an overburdened health sector? Health professionals blame the executive for acting too late and warn that if it continues, they will have to choose who is to get treatment and who not. The symbolic threshold of 5000 beds in intensive care units has been passed this week. Last night Macron asked hospitals to increase numbers of beds in the intensive care units from 7000 to 10,000. In other words: do your job and I do mine. 

France and Germany both restricted AstraZeneca, with many appointments for this vaccine cancelled. They are now in talks with Russia over the Sputnik V vaccine. The official line from Berlin is that all vaccines are welcome as long as they are approved by the European medicines agency, EMA. But will it be improved in time for Macron's bet for mid-May? News reports suggest that EMA could approve Sputnik V within the next two months. Not fast enough for Macron, but good enough for member states including Austria to begin negotiating with the Russians.