Good morning, Quartz readers!
The European Union is being attacked on multiple fronts. This year, its resilience will be tested by the UK’s willingness to leave without a new trade deal; the combative stance (paywall) of US president Donald Trump’s advisors; and multiple elections featuring increasingly popular far-right parties.
French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, for example, has vowed to pull France out of the euro and hold a referendum on EU membership if she wins the election in May. Should France vote to leave, the global economy could face deeply destabilizing political and economic ramifications—not least because Le Pen has said she would redenominate €1.7 trillion ($1.8 trillion) of public debt into a new national currency, resulting in a massive sovereign default.
Meanwhile, a stalemate between Greece’s European creditors and the IMF over the next tranche of bailout aid is making investors nervous. In Italy, the new government is wrestling with a weak banking system as anti-euro parties grow in popularity.
But the EU won’t go down easily. In an effort to alter the reputation of the European Commission—often seen as a group of all-powerful, unaccountable technocrats controlling millions of lives undemocratically—Brussels is now trying to hand decision-makingback to national governments. The effort by the Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, aims to save the EU from being used as a scapegoat for unpopular political decisions across the region.
There are also signs that Europe’s economy is finally enjoying a sustained recovery after two crises in the past decade. Last year, the euro-area economy grew faster than the US, and unemployment fell back into the single digits.
That said, national economic data won’t be enough to deter the rise of right-wing populism. The fight is in the hands of politicians—and they could still win it.
In Germany, European enthusiast Martin Schulz could pick up the torch from Angela Merkel after elections in September. France’s next leader is most likely to be the centrist Emmanuel Macron. And aGreek deal might be hashed out before €7 billion in debt repayments begin to come due this year—reducing the recurring chance that Greece could be forced out of the EU, and potentially boosting confidence in the body’s integration-first philosophy.
This year could take the EU to the brink of disaster, but it’s been there before. The challenge now is convincing people it’s worth bringing it back.—Eshe Nelson
FIVE THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
Donald Trump as unlikely savior… Two Nobel Peace Prize-winning nuclear experts explain why the US president may be thebest-positioned world leader on nuclear disarmament. Abolition requires public support, and with the Cold War over and the globe’s attention elsewhere, it has taken the fact that a man as inexperienced as Trump has access to the nuclear codes to reintroduce this base fear. But the fundamental problem, as James Muller and John Pastore argue, is not that Trump has his finger on the “big red button”—it’s that the button exists in the first place.
… and/or destroyer of dreams. While Indian outsourcing companies are tweaking their business models to prepare for a potential shift in US visa rules under Trump, a tightening of H1-B regulations could mean the end of the American dream for India’s tech talent. Itika Sharma Punit explores what the loss of this opportunity means for a generation of Indian engineers. At stake is a better quality of life, financial gain, and even improved marriage prospects.
Let’s not colonize Mars. In an interview with Georgia Frances King, former NASA astronaut Ron Garan makes the case for why we should solve our planet’s issues instead of finding a nook elsewhere in the solar system. However, that doesn’t mean aerospace enterprises like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic should halt their stratospheric missions. The technological innovations being engineered in our quest for Martian living could help us combat environmental issues back home.
Hairstyles as an art form. At Salooni, a pop-up hair salon and art installation in Uganda, African hair is treated as a science, culture, and art. Lily Kuo talks to the salon’s founders, who describe it as a “site of knowledge,” where they study everything from the fractals (patterns that repeat at varying scales) in African hairstyles to how cornrow braiding was an act of resistance among slaves in the New World.
Actual alternative facts. Over 100 years ago, sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois commissioned a series of infographics from his students to illustrate the lives of high-achieving black Americans. Design reporter Anne Quito examines how the still-revelatory graphics, meticulously hand-drawn in ink and watercolor, are a poignant example of Du Bois’ attempts to combat racism with data.
We have a favor to ask. Quartz is conducting a survey of our readers, and would be grateful if you would anonymously answer a handful of questions about yourself. It should only take three minutes. Thank you!
FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
A border wall covered in solar panels? In an absurdly elaboratethought experiment, FT Alphaville’s Bryce Elder explores the practicalities of building an energy-efficient barrier in minute detail: “We’re assuming the Wall needs to be wall-shaped. Whereas solar panels work best when pitched at an angle, there would be obvious downsides to building a ramp.”
Investing in infrastructure is harder than it looks. As Trump vows to spend a trillion taxpayer dollars on a building spree, Charlie Savage of The New York Times delves into the history of notorious traffic choke point Breezewood, Pennsylvania. It offers a case study(paywall) in what happens when you combine “legal quirks, powerful politicians, and opaque bureaucratic procedures”—and warns of plans that benefit only a small number of people, while many others suffer.
What loss makes of us. In Kathryn Schulz’s essay for The New Yorker, a tale about misplacing mundane objects turns into a thoughtful reflection on the loss of human connections and confronting grief. Her exploration of why things disappear, and how we process that absence, is a bittersweet reminder of the transient nature of human existence.
The Big Bang theory was a long time coming. Coming up with a successful scientific theory that explains the birth of the universe is a pretty complicated matter. Nautilus’s John Farrell takes us through the tangled timeline of the theory’s development, a “route to scientific recognition … littered with others’ bad luck.”
An old-school lunch lady outsmarted Jamie Oliver. Rhonda McCoy, a food-service supervisor in West Virginia, was painted as the villain in Oliver’s School Dinners reality show for stymying his efforts to serve fresh, healthy food. But as Jane Black explains in the Huffington Post, McCoy ultimately triumphed by working within, rather than against, the gargantuan US bureaucracy, to reform school lunch.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, theories of the universe, and school lunch recipes to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.