Scandals, problems arising from the pandemic, international crises – 2021 was a difficult year for world leaders.
The era of Angela Merkel officially ended on December 6. During her 16 years in power, the Chancellor imposed her style of governing – the so-called Merkelism, marked by firmness, workaholism, taking risks when necessary, a sense of dialogue, but also awareness of the need for compromise, pragmatism, and change of position if necessary to deal with crises. And there have been as many crises during Merkel’s rule as the people wanted – the global financial crisis, the eurozone debt crisis, the migrant and coronavirus crises.
Now the former chancellor is considering, according to media reports, writing a resume in which to explain some of her more important decisions. Meanwhile, her successor, Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, will have to pull the country out of the pandemic crisis and return it to economic recovery, as well as tackle many other global challenges. In this task, he will be assisted by a women’s triumvirate in key positions – environmental minister Annalena Baerbock, who is foreign minister, Nancy Fezer, who is interior minister, and Christine Lambrecht, head of defense. The first is a triple bronze medalist in the German trampoline championship, who likens the sport’s foreign policy to saying that both require courage and lead to unpredictable endings.
In the first days of his post, Baerbock demonstrated enviable Merkel’s activism and met with Emmanuel Macron in Paris, with his counterparts from other EU member states in Brussels, with his Polish counterpart in Warsaw, and during the meeting of the foreign ministers of G- 7 in Liverpool over the weekend, she was the main voice announcing the important decisions taken at her. Fezer, on the other hand, will have to deal with migration, border protection, the rise of far-right extremism, and the rise of anti-Semitism in the country. Lambrecht, who has been a justice minister until now but has little experience in security matters, will have to modernize Germany’s armed forces with tens of billions of euros so that they remain a reliable partner in NATO.
An era has also ended in Norway. After eight years in power on the right of Prime Minister Erna Solberg, the left won the September election. During his years at the helm of Norway, Solberg, known for her political tenacity, hence her nickname Iron Erna, expanded the development of oil and gas fields, reduced taxes, and sought to make public administration more efficient. Oil and natural gas helped Norway get up
Now the new left-wing government, led by Jonas Gass Store, will have to decide what the future holds for a thriving oil and gas industry and how the country will achieve its environmental goals by focusing on cleaner energies. However, the last months of Iron Erna’s rule were marked by public outrage over unpopular anti-antiquity measures she introduced and the fact that she violated them by organizing a birthday party in February in a mountain resort, at a time when many people were banned. Solberg was therefore fined NOK 20,000 (approximately $ 2,350).
In neighboring Sweden, 100 years after women were given the right to vote and nearly 150 years after becoming prime minister, it was held for the first time by a woman – the current finance minister, Social Democrat Magdalena Andersson. Because of her direct approach, her tenacity, and her workaholism, she earned the nickname bulldozer. And because of its commitment to the principle of budget moderation, many called it the Swedish Merkel. This unprecedented female debut of the Swedish Prime Minister came about due to several factors.
After 7 years in power, Stefan Löwen’s Social Democrats increasingly lost ground, during which time the country experienced a migration crisis, a rise of the far-right, a rapprochement between the Swedish Moderate Coalition Party and the far right of the Swedish Democrats, an increase in organized crime and shootings. big cities. The corona crisis also revealed shortcomings in the country’s social system. Leuven’s position shook even more over the summer over a rental liberalization project. This led to a vote of no confidence in him in parliament at the initiative of the Left Party, which has supported him so far. In the end, Leuven was re-elected head of government, and the liberalization of rents was postponed, but the Prime Minister himself realized that if the Swedes remain in power, the Social Democrats’ fatigue will intensify and another political victory will win the next elections in September 2022. camp.
Leuven resigned as leader of the Social Democrats and as prime minister and was succeeded by Andersson. A former swimmer, she will now have to immerse herself in the unhappy Swedish reality and deal with all the problems that have accumulated during the years of Leuven’s rule. That it would not be easy for her from the beginning, when it turned out that she would have to manage a budget proposed not by her government but by three opposition parties, including the Swedish Democrats.
In this alternative budget, instead of 74 billion Swedish kronor ($ 8.2 billion) for reforms, as Anderson wanted, only 20 billion kronor ($ 2.2 billion) is earmarked for the same purpose. But it is set to reduce the excise tax on gasoline and diesel and increase the money for law enforcement agencies. The current coalition partner in the government, the Green Party, did not like this, and it announced that it was resigning from the future Andersson government. Now her Social Democrat-only government will have only 100 seats in the 349-seat parliament. Andersson said all this did not scare her and that she hoped to be in power for another 10 years, but she would have to convince her compatriots that he was not just a caretaker prime minister until next year’s elections, but a reformer who would also have to restore confidence in the Social Democrats.
In Denmark, a coronavirus scandal has tarnished the reputation of Prime Minister Mete Frederiksen. As part of measures to combat coronavirus infection, Frederiksen hastily ordered the killing of 15 million minks in November 2020, when several cases of the coronavirus mutation were detected in these animals and when human infections were reported after contact with infected minks. . So far, Denmark has been the world’s first exporter and the second-largest producer of mink skins in the world.
As part of the measures last year, the Danish parliament passed a law banning mink farming in 2021 and 2022. All this has devastated the industry. A parliamentary committee is now investigating Frederiksen’s order to kill the minks because it turned out that it did not have a legal basis to make such a decision. The Commission will have to establish whether Frederiksen was aware of this detail, whether its decision was not hasty at all, and whether the coronavirus cases in mink threatened the whole country with a dangerous viral mutation. On December 9, Frederiksen testified before the commission, while in Copenhagen protesters chanted against her that she was an uncontrollable liar.
The young Finnish Prime Minister Sana Marin has also been involved in a coronation scandal these days. Secular media spotted her partying at a disco in Helsinki, although she was in contact with virus-infected Foreign Minister Peka Havisto. Then the ministers of economy Mika Lintilla and the defense Anti Kaikonen were guilty, who, although they were also in contact with Havisto, went to a match and an official dinner, respectively. But the fire of criticism fell mainly on Marin, who had to apologize and justify that she had received instructions that since she had two doses of vaccine, she should not be isolated. And during the disco party, she was unable to get more up-to-date instructions to isolate herself, as she had left her office phone at home. This controversy was not the only one for Marin for the year.
The breakfast game scandal erupted in the spring when the media revealed that about 850 euros a month had been spent by the treasury on the snacks of the prime minister and her family at the prime minister’s residence. An investigation is under way into whether Marin was entitled to such costs. She justifies that the existing rules on the matter were unclear. The scandal has taken on such proportions that allegations have surfaced in the media that Marin’s wedding to her longtime partner last year was paid for with taxpayers’ money. The Prime Minister had to explain that she had paid all the expenses for the wedding celebration with personal savings.
The young Social Democrat came to power two years ago at the head of a five-party coalition with an ambitious reform program to combat domestic violence, tackle inequalities between men and women, improve education for children from poor and immigrant families, and facilitate gender recognition. of the transsexuals. Marin, who had a difficult childhood and who had to work from time to time to support herself, was seen as a representative of a new young generation who wanted their voice heard, who was more committed to national and world affairs, and who takes action against the status quo of older political generations. But her ambitious management plans and dream of being a role model have been overshadowed by a series of scandals.
In Central Europe, Slovak President Zuzana Chaputova, who came to power in 2020 with ambitions to eradicate corruption and impunity and sever political ties with criminals, had to deftly steer a pandemic-stricken country this year. Chaputova also skillfully dealt with a government crisis caused by the delivery of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, which split the ruling coalition and led to ministerial resignations and reshuffles. Otherwise, Chaputova managed to establish herself during the year in front of the international community as the leader of the Visegrad Group, with whom she can most easily communicate, unlike the leaders of Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Slovak society’s confidence in her remains high, and a recent hint from a Slovak populist that her daughter Emma broke into the modeling industry simply because she is the president’s daughter has infuriated both ordinary Slovaks and many Slovak politicians.
For Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Shimonite, the problems this year came from Belarus and China. Tensions between Belarus and Lithuania actually escalated last year, when Vilnius became the second home for Belarusian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovska. In May, Belarus diverted a plane from Athens to Vilnius and shot down and arrested critical Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich in Minsk. Vilnius has launched a terrorism investigation into the incident, and the EU has imposed sanctions on Minsk. Shortly afterward, migrants began arriving from the Middle East, first on Belarus ‘border with Lithuania, then on Belarus’ border with Latvia and Poland, to reach the current migration crisis.
As early as July, Shimonite saw in this atypical migration flow a hybrid attack by Minsk over European sanctions and began building a fence along the border with Belarus. It will cost around 100m euros, but will not be funded by the EU, which usually does not provide European funding for the construction of border barriers. But Brussels has promised Lithuania 20-30m euros for a better border protection system that includes monitoring.
Meanwhile, in November, he opened a representative office in Vilnius, Taiwan. This was made possible by the 2020 decision of the Shimon ruling coalition “to support those who are fighting for freedom in Taiwan.” Taiwan has other offices in European countries and the United States, but they are usually called the “Taipei Office”. In Vilnius, however, this is called the “Taiwan Representation” and the name has angered Beijing, which has given the false impression that Taiwan is separate from China. China considers Taiwan its province.
In response, Beijing lowered its diplomatic ties with Vilnius. And on December 9, Reuters reported that China had warned multinational companies to sever ties with Lithuania or be excluded from the Chinese market. This could create a problem for the Shimons. In general, Lithuania has modest trade relations with China. But because of its export-oriented economy, it has housed hundreds of companies that produce a variety of things, from furniture to lasers, from food to clothing for multinational giants, which then sell them in China.
2021 was the year in which Estonia parted ways with its pragmatic president, Kersti Kalulaid, and had a reform-minded prime minister, Kaya Kallas of the center-right Reform Party. Kalulaid, who was elected President of Estonia five years ago, fell victim to her outspokenness and opposition to the previous coalition government, which included the far-right of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party. If the Estonian president was elected directly by the people, Kalulaid would be re-elected. But the choice is made by parliament, and this year Liberal Kalulaid chose not to run for re-election because she realized she would not garner support among lawmakers. Otherwise, during his five years in power, Kalulaid showed a pragmatic and direct approach to Russia.
At the beginning of her term, she called for US military and Patriot missiles to be stationed on Estonian soil to protect Estonia from increasingly militant Moscow. According to Kalulaid, if something happened, the US response would be faster than NATO’s. This view of the threat coming from Russia did not prevent Kalyulaid from going to Moscow two years ago to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Because of her, Kalulaid drew criticism from neighboring Lithuania and Latvia, which saw this as a kind of retreat from Estonia to Russia. The visit was also criticized by many Estonian politicians, who said its program had not been agreed with by the Estonian government. Kalulaid defended his visit, arguing that the security of the three Baltic states is often discussed without their participation.
She spoke out against the principle of boycotting all contacts with Russia. Regarding the meeting with Putin, she said that the two listened to each other with respect, acknowledged that it is generally difficult to talk to someone whose values are so different from yours, and frankly said that in the end, the conversation did not lead. to nothing. With her direct and pragmatic approach, if she had remained in power, Kalulaid would have formed a very good management tandem with Prime Minister Kallas, the daughter of former Estonian Prime Minister and former EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas. She came to power in January with a promise of a greener future for the country, which means an end to investment in the fossil fuel industry.
Callas is a strong supporter of technological innovation and an opponent of obstacles to the creation of innovative companies. She also promised that marriage in Estonia would not be defined only as a union between a man and a woman. But at first, Callas’s task was to deal with the coronavirus crisis. In terms of foreign policy, Kallas is positioning himself these days as one of the ardent supporters of the position that Russia must pay a high price if it takes any action against Ukraine. More than 1,700 Estonian reservists were recently called up for military exercises, including the installation of a wire fence along 40km of Estonia’s border with Russia. Kallas defended the move in an interview with Reuters, saying that Estonia does not want to find itself in the situation in Lithuania, but to be prepared if for some reason the weapons of migration are used against it and the flow of migrants through Russia to the Estonian border.
In July, Moldova’s pro-Western President’s Action and Solidarity Party won early parliamentary elections, and a month later the country got a government led by a pro-Western prime minister, former Finance Minister Natalia Gavrilica, who is close to Sandu. Thus, after years of pro-Russian President Igor Dodon’s rule, Moldova, which has Euro-Atlantic aspirations, is turning to the West. But bad luck a month later, a five-year contract for the supply of Russian natural gas expired. And suddenly Moscow began demanding that Chisinau pay $ 790 a month for 1,000 cubic meters of gas, up from $ 148 on average last year. Moldova has fallen into an energy crisis, declared a state of emergency, sought alternative suppliers, and bought gas from Poland for the first time in its history.
Meanwhile, he was negotiating a new supply agreement with Moscow. It was eventually signed, but under a new agreement between gas companies Gazprom and Moldovagaz, Moldova had to pay $ 450 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas in November, and Gazprom thought of an old debt of $ 709 million. . This led to new tensions on the gas front when Gazprom issued an ultimatum to pay up to 48 hours of unpaid invoices for October and November, or turn on the tap.
Tensions eased when the Moldovan parliament approved an extraordinary $ 74 million for Gazprom’s requested payment. The two sides agreed to have an independent audit of Moldovagaz’s accumulated debt to Gazprom next year, after which the manner and terms for its repayment will be defined. All this was perceived as a punishment by Moscow for the election of a pro-Western president and prime minister in Moldova. Moscow denies and claims that this is only a trade issue.
For Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili this year, the problems came from the return of former President Mikheil Saakashvili after many years abroad. He claims to have returned to Georgia to vote in local elections in October, but according to Zurabishvili, he did so to destabilize the country. Saakashvili was immediately detained and sent to prison, as he was convicted in absentia for abuse of power and concealment of evidence while absent. But with such a notorious prisoner rushing to go on a hunger strike behind bars and not ceasing to claim that the cases against him were politically motivated, Georgia came under the scrutiny of the international community.
Zurabishvili had to promise that Saakashvili would be treated as a special prisoner, although there was no question of pardoning him. Another problem for the Georgian leader came from a recent request by Russia’s foreign ministry to withdraw its 2008 decision, which opens the door to membership in the Ukraine-Georgia alliance. In response, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Ukraine itself chooses which path to take, that Russia has no say in the matter, and that Kyiv’s relations with the alliance are defined by its member states and Ukraine itself. Coincidentally or not, nothing about Georgia was mentioned in this answer.
In the rest of the world, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, re-elected last year, faced a wave of protests against the long-standing lockdown imposed by the Delta coronavirus and had to change her strategy and speak out instead of eradicating the virus. There were allegations that she was planning a withdrawal, which she denied. On December 9, she demonstrated her sense of reform and unveiled an unprecedented plan that would ban future generations of New Zealanders from smoking.
According to the plan, which should be approved next year and enter into force in 2027, people who will then be 14 years old will not be able to buy cigarettes for the rest of their lives, because this will be prohibited in the country. This means de facto that in 2073, a person who will then be 60 years old (and who was 14 years old in 2027) will not be able to buy cigarettes due to the lifetime ban.
In Taiwan, President Cai Yingwen stepped-up diplomacy this year amid 40 years of tensions with China. She received delegations from the European Parliament, France and Slovakia, deepened ties with Lithuania, and sent Taiwan’s foreign minister on a tour of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. China has reacted sharply to this, recalling its goal of regaining the island and sending more and more warplanes to Taiwan’s airspace for identification.
In Myanmar, on February 1, the military overthrew the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. In 2015, her National League for Democracy party won the election, and it came to power in a country where the military also held the levers of power. Proof of this was 2017 when the military launched an operation against the Rohingya Muslim minority, defined by the international community as genocide. Nearly 750,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s raids in neighboring Bangladesh.
But surprisingly, Aung San Suu Kyi did not openly condemn the military’s actions, which shocked the international community and even called for the revocation of her Nobel Prize. In 2020, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won the election again by a wide margin, sparking military anger in the country. This led to a coup that plunged Myanmar into chaos and violence. Aung San Suu Kyi is now under house arrest in a secret location. She has been charged with many charges of possession of unlicensed telecommunications equipment, violating anti-law measures during last year’s election campaign, inciting public disorder and rioting by spreading false information, and violating state secrets laws.
The most striking were the accusations against her of corruption. She was accused of receiving a bribe of $ 600,000 and 7 gold bars in 2017-2018, and she used her position of power to rent a property below market prices in which she housed a foundation named after his mother. Aung San Suu Kyi denies all charges. She could face up to 15 years in prison on the most serious charges. Meanwhile, Myanmar’s election commission has launched an investigation against her and 15 other election fraud politicians, and her party could eventually be disbanded. According to the military, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was responsible for more than 11,000 electoral frauds last year, something she naturally denies.
In Tunisia, a woman was appointed prime minister for the first time. Najla Buden, a specialist in seismically sustainable engineering, will have to deal with the turmoil in her homeland caused by President Kais Sayed’s decision to concentrate all power in his hands, dismiss the previous government, and suspend parliament. Many see Buden as a puppet of the president, appointed only to quell accusations against him of carrying out a coup.
Honduras also elected the first woman president in its history in late November. Leftist Siomara Castro, the wife of ousted President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, will now have to convince her compatriots that she, not her husband, “commands the parade”. It has already called for the legalization of therapeutic abortions and same-sex marriage, two sensitive topics in Honduras, where Catholics and evangelicals predominate. Castro will also have to deal with crime and poverty, which make Honduras a constant source of illegal migration to the United States. It also promises to establish diplomatic ties with China, but that will put Honduras in a delicate position ahead of Taiwan, as it has so far been one of 15 countries in the world to recognize the island’s sovereignty.