Written by Naja Bentzen,
Following 2016, a year of shifts and shocks, there is little doubt that 2017 holds potential for much uncertainty. A new EPRS publication, Ten issues to watch in 2017, explores a number of issues – internal and external security, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU (Brexit), the new United States administration, the question of rising inequalities, among other things – that are likely to impact Members’ work in 2017. The publication was launched at an event in the European Parliament Library Reading Room on 7 February 2017.
Forecasting what will happen in 2017 is a particularly tricky task, following the surprises of 2016, noted David McAllister, the newly elected Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, in his keynote speech. We cannot predict what can happen in 2017, but we can certainly prepare for it; we must be ready for the different scenarios that can unravel around major world event, McAllister urged, speaking at an EPRS event for the first time since his election as AFET Chair.
Video: 2017: Another year of shifts and shocks?, David McALLISTER, 7 February 2017
The debate was organised by the EPRS in cooperation with Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik; the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) that advises the German parliament (Bundestag) and the German government, as well the EU, NATO and the United Nations. Leading forecast experts from SWP, Oxford Analytica and The Economist Intelligence Unit joined the discussion on the external, internal and institutional challenges we face in 2017.
Politics as usual is not an option
Lars Brozus, senior researcher at SWP, where he coordinates foresight activities, expects another year of radical political uncertainty, characterised not only by the elections in the Netherlands, Germany and France, but also by great power realignments and military and possibly economic wars. Brozus outlined multiple threats to democracy, not least the global democratic recession, evident since 2006, with decreasing voter turnout and less satisfaction with institutions and governance in consolidated democracies. Brozus also sees increasing support for political ‘challengers’; similar to the new voters mobilised in German state elections in 2016; in the UK referendum (with an unexpected turnout of 2.6 million voters, many of whom had not voted for a long time); and in the USA, where the Clinton/Trump race achieved record voter mobilisation in the Primaries. The central message is that politics as usual is not an option. For Brozus, democratic recession will continue in 2017. If the trend towards economic inequality increases and there are further lay-offs in the manufacturing sector – under the assumption that inequality leads to more instability and dissatisfaction with democratic governance – we must brace ourselves for further radical political uncertainty.
Video: 2017: Another year of shifts and shocks?, Lars BROZUS, 7 February 2017
‘It’s the politics, stupid’, Joan Hoey, senior analyst and regional manager with the Europe team of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), rephrased Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign phrase ‘it’s the economy, stupid’. The broad anti-establishment backlash seen across Europe and the USA is not simply a reaction to the 2008 economic and financial crisis and the following austerity measures. Hoey explained that its roots go back before the crash: to the end of the post-war boom in the 1970s; the repercussions of the collapse of communism; transformation of the traditional Christian-democrat Conservative right-wing parties, and on the left, the Social-Democratic/Labour parties of the 1980s; the increasingly technocratic nature of politics; and the erosion of representative democracy resulting in growing distrust. This is an expression of a growing crisis of representative democracy, discussed for some years now in the EUI Annual Democracy Index. The crisis has become manifest in the growing divide in values between the political elite and the electorates. Unless we grasp that, the response is going to be inadequate, Hoey warned. Politics will not return to normal once the euro area recovery has gathered pace. The medium and long-term outlook is hardly inspiring, and this can only exacerbate current political fragility.
Video: 2017: Another year of shifts and shocks?, Joan HOEY, 7 February 2017
A race between catastrophe and creative solutions
Graham Hutchings, Principal of Oxford Analytica, a leading international provider of strategic analysis of world events, noted that, even if mainstream candidates from mainstream parties win in the Netherlands, in France, in Germany and elsewhere, this will not be the end of the story. Global society, global economy and the notion of power are experiencing deep, ‘subterranean’ changes. This is manifested in the ‘Brexit’ and Trump ‘dramas’, and the political tremors we see in Turkey, Moscow and Beijing.
Hutchings remarked on the coincidence of major questions arising of a kind that we do not often see in the history of international relations. The global role of the USA and the future of Europe are uncertain. The fragmentation of global power – political, military, cultural, soft, hard – is on the move. Technology is changing the labour market, impacting trade and manufacturing, while we see a simultaneous departure from ‘orthodox’ international values, as exhibited by Russia with regard to the treatment of its neighbours, and illustrated by Turkey’s attitude to democratic norms. China further demonstrates the trend in its challenge to the widely held assumption that a country inevitably becomes more democratic when it reaches a certain level of wealth. Countries with enormous domestic problems, but with the aspiration and potential to influence their neighbours, such as Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Vietnam, and Indonesia, are growing in influence. All these are features of a new international landscape, in which the EU and the US must negotiate, engage – and understand.
Hutchings concluded that the world today is rich in opportunities as much as rich in risk and peril; in a race between catastrophe and creative solutions: ‘The hour has come for visionary leaders, new frameworks, for thinking about the world as it is; not as it might or should be. When did we last hear a really good foreign policy speech? When will the next one come? Who is going to give it? And wouldn’t it be marvellous, if it came from Europe?’
Video: 2017: Another year of shifts and shocks?, Graham HUTCHINGS, 7 February 2017
Ten issues to watch in 2017
Economic and budgetary outlook