World Review: Oil, vigilantism in America, refugees, Swedish politics and Omicron

Prepare for an oil price war in 2022. The combatants are OPEC and a consortium of top energy consuming countries including the US, China, UK, Japan, India and South Korea. All of these countries have built up huge strategic oil reserves in case of emergency such as war or another 1973-style OPEC oil embargo. The US has the largest reserves with 638 million barrels tucked away in storage facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The last two times America’s oil reserves were used was after Hurricane Katrina and during the Gulf War. Biden is depleting them to combat the energy shortage which has pushed up prices to $81 a barrel and is threatening the US and world economic recovery from the pandemic.

The OPEC countries (and Russia), however, like the high prices and they are used to controlling the market to suit their needs by raising and lowering production. They fear that Biden’s move on economic rather than security grounds threatens their historic stranglehold on the market. An OPEC summit is planned for 2 December. The oil ministers were planning to announce a 100 million barrel increase in production from January; not enough to substantially reduce prices, but possibly enough to stabilise them. That is expected to be off next week’s agenda. President Biden also has internal problems in the form of the Republicans who advocate increasing domestic oil production and reinstating projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline to reduce reliance foreign sources. But that, of course, runs afoul of climate change promises.

The jury is still out on the future of vigilantism in America. A Wisconsin jury found in its favour when it acquitted teenager Kyle Rittenhouse of murder on the grounds of self-defence. But in the Deep South a Georgia jury rejected the self-defence plea and convicted former policeman Gregory Michael, his son Travis and William Bryan of the murder of 25-year-old African-American jogger Ahmed Arbery. To be honest, there were reasonable legal grounds for the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse. He was more of an idiot than a criminal. The problem was that he was an idiot who was able to easily lay his hands on a semi-automatic rifle and cross state laws contrary to federal law to “protect property” in a Black Lives protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In Georgia, three white men armed with a shotgun systematically pursued an unarmed Black man and then shot him because they thought he was a burglar. In both cases people who should not have had guns had them and decided to use them to take the law into their own hands. They were vigilantes. In the eyes of the Second Amendmenters, the National Rifle Association, White Supremacists and Donald Trump they are heroes. To the gun control lobby they are a threat to civilised society.

People like to do business with people they like. French President Emmanuel Macron does not like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He didn’t like him when he was the face of the Brexit campaign. He did not like him when he was foreign secretary and he especially does not like him now that he is in 10 Downing Street. He regards him as a double-dealing no-goodnik which is diplomatic speak for a liar and a cheat. He is certainly not inclined to go the extra kilometre to help Boris and his equally disliked Home Secretary Pritti Patel with their refugee problem, which this week resulted in 27 dead asylum seekers dying in the freezing waters of the English Channel.

Boris immediately wrote a public letter to Macron to seek French help in stemming the flow of refugees. It infuriated the Elysee Palace. A planned meeting between Ms Patel and her French counterpart Gerald Dormanin was immediately cancelled. Not only was the substance unacceptable but by publishing it on Twitter, Boris took the issue out of the diplomatic realm and into the domestic political arena. Leading the French government to conclude that the British are trying to shift blame and responsibility onto French shoulders for the sake of winning British anti-immigrant votes.

For the French, Brexit is the root of the problem. There was a fairly effective mechanism for dealing with refugees in the Lisbon Treaty. And during the withdrawal negotiations Brussels offered a post-Brexit refugee deal. The Brexiteers said no. They wanted to control British borders. In 2016, 25 percent of the asylum seekers that arrived in Britain were returned either to another EU country or their country of origin. In 2021 the figure was five people. Brexit was meant to stem the flow of refugees. It has had the exact opposite effect.

Magdalena Andersson has broken two records this week: She became Sweden’s first woman Prime Minister and, after just seven hours in the job, the shortest-serving PM. Swedish politics are in a mess. Andersson’s government fell because her coalition partners in the Riksdag (the Swedish parliament) refused to pass Andersson’s budget and instead allowed a budget from the right-wing Opposition to go through. In most Western democracies this would mean resignations and a change of government. But not in today’s Sweden. Social Democrat leader Ms Andersson has announced that she plans to form a minority government with just her 100 Social Democrat MPs (179 are needed for a majority) and the parties that pulled out of the coalition over the budget said they would support her return to the Premiership. This means that until the scheduled election is held on 11 September 2022, Ms Andersson could be heading a government 79 seats short of majority and working with the budget set by the Opposition.

At the root of this chaos lies a fear of the anti-immigrant Euro-sceptic Swedish Democrats. They started in the 1980s with a clear Fascist platform. At the turn of the century the leadership started purging violent extremists and the party began to climb in the polls. It now has 62 Riksdag seats. For years the established political parties refused to have anything to do with the Swedish Democrats. But recently the Christian Democrats broke ranks to say that they could work with the far-right party. An election now could be a disaster for the small parties that generally support Andersson and a boost for the Christian Democrats and Swedish Democrats. Andersson appears prepared to stomach anything to postpone that feared eventuality.

We have a new Covid variant B.1.1.529, now names Omicron by the WHO. It is coming from Southern Africa. The scientists who discovered it have described it as “horrific.” That is because it has mutated so far from the original virus that there is doubt about the ability of the current crop of vaccines to combat Omicron. It is also expected to be more easily transmissible. The new virus is another scary element in the winter nightmare that is descending on Europe, once again the epicentre of the pandemic. Two weeks ago, the World Health Organisation was predicting 500,000 European deaths by the end of February. This week they revised that figure up to 700,000. Austria has gone into national lockdown and made vaccinations mandatory. Germany is expected to follow suit. As the number of cases rise to new records there have been anti-vax demonstrations in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. Britain and the EU are suspending flights to and from six Southern African countries where the new virus is believed to taken hold. It looks like a second European winter of discontent.

* Tom Arms is the Foreign Editor of Liberal Democratic Voice. His book “America Made in Britain” has recently been published by Amberley Books. He is also the author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War.”