The Daily Brief: Tuesday, Mar. 21

The Daily Brief: Tuesday, Mar. 21

The stories that matter before they happen.

IN YOUR COURT: BOLIVIA’S MARITIME DREAMS

Photo: Brazilian Navy

Photo: Brazilian Navy

138 years ago Chile seized a 400-kilometre chunk of prime Bolivian territory in the War of the Pacific, cutting La Paz off from the sea. On Tuesday, Bolivia’s lawyers will present arguments to the International Court of Justice in a bid to settle the century-old dispute.

The Bolivian government wants the ICJ to compel Chile to negotiate ‘in good faith’ to ensure Bolivia’s sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean is fully restored. Such a return is unlikely – no self-respecting Chilean government would give away first-rate real estate, at least not without some sort of reimbursement.

But Bolivian President Evo Morales insists his legal team will “demolish” their opponents on Tuesday. The emphatic leader has made the battle to regain Bolivia’s coastal status a central credo, even inserting a constitutional clause labelling Pacific access an “irrevocable right”.

In support of this nationalist rhetoric, Bolivia’s 5,000-strong navy – which is currently confined to Lake Titicaca and rivers connected to the Amazon – has planned a demonstration through La Paz. It will be some time until they can return to the high seas (if ever).

POLITICAL STORM BREWING: INDYREF2

Photo: James Glossop/AFP/Getty

Photo: James Glossop/AFP/Getty

The UK will trigger Article 50 on March 29. But a battle over a second Scottish independence referendum is brewing in the background. Scotland’s parliament will debate this prospect on Tuesday and vote on whether to open formal negotiations with Westminster – whose permission it needs to hold the vote – on Wednesday.

With support from the Scottish National Party and Greens, which together hold a majority, the push for a second referendum is expected to pass Wednesday’s test. The outcome of future talks between Holyrood and Westminster is less certain.

Theresa May opposes IndyRef2. Recognising her weakened position in the face of impending Brexit negotiations, Ms May insists that “now is not the time” to re-run the 2014 vote. While SNP Chief Nicola Sturgeon has backed down from a demand that the vote be held in 2018, she insists that Scots be given a second bite at independence.

Granting a second Scottish referendum could be disastrous for the Union, which is threatening to unravel. Northern Ireland’s republican Sinn Fein party has already raised the prospect of holding a similar independence vote, as has Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru.

BENDING THE RULES: MONTE DEI PASCHI

Photo: Getty/Bloomberg

Photo: Getty/Bloomberg

Italy’s finance minister will meet top EU officials on Tuesday to discuss the fate of over-leveraged Monte dei Paschi – the world’s oldest bank. Rome wants to provide the struggling institution with a $7.1 billion bailout. But such a move could contravene EU regulations, which stipulate that ailing banks must first be helped by shareholders and creditors, not taxpayers. This is known as a bail-in.

The situation presents the EU with a dilemma. Outright opposition to Rome’s bailout plan could lead to the bank’s collapse. This in turn could devastate confidence in Italy’s financial system and lead to a recession in the Eurozone’s third-largest economy, which has been struggling with sluggish growth since 2008. The stakes for the EU couldn’t be higher: a weakened Euro and negative credit ratings could bring the debt crisis back with full force.

On the other hand, approving the state bailout too easily would set a dangerous precedent. Such a move would weaken a crucial EU regulation that aims to do away with taxpayer-financed bank rescues, which peeved many after the 2008 crisis.

Tuesday’s meeting will determine whether the Italian government has to amend its proposal. A delicate balancing act is needed from EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

 

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

Disgraced South Korean President Park Geun-hye will be summoned for questioning by prosecutors, who are looking to bring criminal bribery charges. Ms Park’s spectacular downfall has divided the nation. She continues to deny wrongdoing.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu will continue his state visit to China on Tuesday, but he’ll have one eye on Moscow as tensions between the two rise. Moscow summoned Israel’s ambassador on Friday after an Israeli jet conducting airstrikes near Palmyra, Syria almost hit Russian troops. Israel says the strikes were carried out “to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah”.

French presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen will visit Chad, where some 3,000 French troops are permanently stationed.