The World This Week

Covid-19 vaccines, Merkel's legacy, America under Joe Biden and Ethiopia's conflict


The year 2020 may have ended with Christmas effectively cancelled in Britain, but the country broke ground in offering its population a shot in the arm. Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old British pensioner, became the first member of the general public to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. BioNTech was founded in 2008 by Austrian cancer researcher Christoph Huber and scientists Ugur Sahin and his wife Özlem Türeci, both children of Turkish immigrants. But now the virus is mutating. So far, fingers crossed, the vaccines seem effective.


The pandemic response will not just be medical. The European Union, still smarting from a timid response to the 2008 financial crisis that prompted a populist backlash, this time broke a taboo. Member states overcame the objections of fiscal hawks like the Netherlands and for the first time agreed to borrow; to mutualise debt in order to fund the recovery.

That turning point for Europe happened on the watch of Germany. Berlin hands over the rotating presidency of the bloc to Portugal on January 1. How much will what has unfolded cement the legacy of its chancellor as Angela Merkel enters the last nine months of a 16-year reign? At Germany's last EU summit in charge, Merkel hoped it will not be just a recovery, but a legacy: a green legacy.

In 2021, it will be goodbye to Merkel and hello to a new US president. And while Joe Biden is 78 and has been in Washington since 1973, he knows it is a new era and that he has got his work cut out. Biden will be returning to the Paris climate accords but he will not be reversing Trump's hawkish stance on China. Nor will he be breaking what the Trump administration called the Abraham Accords: the normalisation of ties between Israel and Gulf States, which has been followed by Sudan and an eleventh hour sweetener to permit full relations with Morocco. That's US recognition of Rabat's 1975 annexation of Western Sahara, thus reversing decades of diplomacy that backed UN mediation in that former Spanish colony. Can Biden return to the Iran nuclear deal? It depends also on Tehran. The recent hanging of journalist-turned-activist Ruhollah Zam is seen as a victory of hardliners over moderates.

A year ago, the world was toasting its 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Now, instead of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed brokering peace in Khartoum, it was Sudan's civilian leader making the trip to Addis Ababa to try to mediate in the conflict with the rebel province of Tigray.

Produced by Alessandro Xenos, Juliette Laurain and Imen Mellaz.

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