It is a fair expectation that the euro crisis will continue to rage. As Europe’s political class talks about banking union and even political union, the markets will worry more about a Greek exit and the pace of reform in France. But alongside the crisis, there are three less discussed things to watch:
The Brixit Whatever happens in the euro crisis – the UK seems to be heading for the European slow-lane. It is even possible that over the next year, all three parties will pledge some kind of referendum on the EU. Like in 1975, most people would probably vote for membership but a UK exit after the next election is not inconceivable.
Kurdistan Europeans are too absorbed with their own affairs to do much about Syria but it could seriously undermine Turkey’s stability and in the process destabilise Europe. Ankara is terrified of an independent Kurdistan on its southeast border (where most of the 12 million Kurdish Turks live). Kurds already have de facto autonomy in Iraq and the fear is that this could spread further.
Anti-politics Key elections in Germany and Italy next year may buck the trend but politics has been recast in many countries recently as a dispute between the elites and the people. Increasingly populist political forces – from the Catalan nationalists to the True Finns – threaten to overtake mainstream parties. Over time this may lead to political realignment and in the short-term will make a solution to the crisis even more difficult.
By Mark Leonard, co-founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Norway Type: Parliamentary
Date: 9 September
Issues: Jens Stoltenberg won praise for his response to last year’s terrorist attacks but his Labour party is behind in the polls and unlikely to win a third term.
Germany Type: Parliamentary
Issues: Angela Merkel faces stiff competition from the SPD’s Peer Steinbrück.
Georgia Type: Presidential
Issues: The leader of 2003’s Rose Revolution, Mikheil Saakashvili, is stepping down after a decade in power. Opposition leader and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, fresh from his surprise parliamentary victory, is favourite to replace him.
Cyprus Type: Presidential
Date: 17 February
Issues: President Demetris Christofias, who leads Europe’s only Communist government, is not standing for re-election. The centre-left Democratic Party will hope to capitalise.
When Germany’s main opposition party, the SPD, finally nominated Angela Merkel’s official contender for next year’s federal election Berlin’s political commentators were impressed that they had not gone for left-leaning party chairman Sigmar Gabriel or Frank-Walter Steinmeier, vice chancellor under Merkel in the grand coalition between the CDU and SPD.
Instead the social democrats picked Peer Steinbrück and in doing so revealed a rather untypical choice. Steinbrück is widely seen as pro-business and free-market friendly – not necessarily terms to describe the rest of his party. As finance minister in 2008 and 2009 he successfully managed to keep the first wave of the financial crisis under control – and Germany on track.
Steinbrück can beat Merkel. But can he convince his party to endorse some more painful reforms?
In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, Europe is turning away from nuclear energy and by 2020 the EU has pledged that 20 per cent of its power will come from renewable sources. To hit their targets the EU is heading for the mountains. Austria and Switzerland are home to water reservoirs and man-made lakes that can be used to generate hydropower which is viewed as more reliable than solar and wind energy. The Swiss alone operate hundreds of pump-storage stations and are pouring billions of francs into new projects. So far, Germany has signed up to link its energy grid to its neighbours’ to meet its electricity needs.
Strict bailout conditions have made European leaders fairly unpopular in Ireland. EU officials might be less than enthusiastic about visiting Dublin when Ireland assumes the union’s presidency in January.