Dix dossiers en exergue

Les experts du club European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) regardent l’année 2013 et distinguent dix dossiers qui devraient dominer l’actualité.

1. The single market unravels.

As ECFR’s recent paper - “Why the euro crisis threatens the EU’s single market” - shows, however the EU and eurozone deal with the crisis this main achievement of European integration will be damaged. A full eurozone break up would shatter the single market (and Schengen) while a great leap towards integration would see shrinkage as others (like the UK) withdraw. But even “muddling through” will diminish its depth. In the past months banks in the eurozone have withdrawn from cross-border business. Because of the spreads, even poorly-managed German companies are paying significantly less interest than well-managed Spanish companies. All of these developments create new barriers and will lead to a renewed focus on domestic markets. For Europe, this means less competition, less growth, and higher prices for consumers. Our forthcoming paper on Europe’s “New Political Geography” (based upon ECFR’s 2012 series of 14 National Papers) shows how many EU member states are deeply concerned that differentiated integration is forcing them to the periphery of the European project.

2. “Small” states lead the EU’s foreign policy.

While the biggest countries of the eurozone are focused on the crisis and the UK is increasingly disengaged from Europe, new coalitions of willing members have been leading on the EU’s foreign policy. ECFR’s “Foreign Policy Scorecard 2012” showed that Poland and Sweden were the ones taking the initiative and leading Europe on the world stage. This year’s Scorecard, due to be published later this month, shows that Sweden is taking the initiative roughly as much as traditional large powers like France and the UK, with the Netherlands and Finland also demonstrating that in EU foreign policy size isn’t the only thing that matters.

3. The end of technocracy.

After a year where technocrats took over the countries of the periphery and other leaders, electoral politics will return to European integration. In Italy the vote could turn into a referendum on Monti’s reforms, with or without the current prime minister’s participation, with substantial implications for the rest of Europe. And the German elections could also see a new government elected that has less constraints on what it is able to do – although the danger is that Europe will be largely absent from the campaign.

4. The British debate over Europe becomes less toxic.

Although the UK Independence Party will continue to make gains and force many Conservative MPs towards more Eurosceptic positions, 2013 will see a growing realisation that the UK is sleepwalking towards a disastrous EU exit. Business leaders will lead the backlash, followed by politicians – including many Conservatives who decide that Euroscepticism divides their own party, helps UKIP, and distracts from their own challenges with economic dysfunction and a fractious coalition. The arguments over Scottish EU membership also serve to highlight the tangible benefits of membership (see Peter Kellner’s ECFR paper on how the result of a British referendum on the EU may turn on how many judge the EU in pragmatic rather than ideological terms).

5. Syria as the playground for proxy conflicts.

The ongoing civil war in Syria is the epicentre of a wider regional battle, complicating hopes of resolution and bringing in the threat of wider destabilisation. It is sharpening sectarian tensions, reinvigorating dormant Sunni jihadi forces, pushing Iran and its allies on the defensive, and providing new room for Kurdish ambitions. The febrile atmosphere in Kurdistan is opening cracks between Ankara and its de facto allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and reverberations are spreading into northern Iraq.

6. Political versus religious Islam.

With a backlash against political Islam evident in Egypt and Tunisia, it’s apparent that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists are finding it hard to deal with voters’ everyday practical problems and aspirations. Islamist parties have been forced to develop a more mature political style and formulate policies on socio-economic challenges to retain the support of essentially traditional and pragmatic voters. However this is creating a gap between political Islamists and their religious such as the Salafists who are seeking to take advantage of greater religiosity in civil society. This tension will become a defining issue for countries such as Egypt and Tunisia as they continue their political transitions.

7. Putin’s increasingly ungovernable Russia.

A sick and politically enfeebled Putin is no longer able to play different power clans off against each other, making the country increasingly ungovernable while the petro-economy slows down. This may prompt a return to defensive/aggressive posturing to its south and west (it will keep quiet over China), for instance through greater involvement in the Former Soviet Union (meddling in Ukraine and Georgia), and diplomatic muscle flexing in Syria and with the US and NATO over missile defence and the Magnitski list. However, underlying this is the realisation that Russia desperately needs the West and can’t afford to push too hard in difficult times.

8. Security in the Maghreb becomes a real issue.

While UN and African peacekeepers struggle with the crisis in Mali, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) will attempt to extend its ambitions to terrorist attacks in Europe, prompting an increase in French military strikes against AQIM.

9. China 3.0 meets Chinese leadership 1.5.

Chinese intellectuals and thinkers, think their country needs to enter a new era. After Mao’s political revolution (‘China 1.0’) and Deng Xiaoping’s economic revolution (‘China 2.0’), they are expecting a ‘China 3.0’. Now that China is becoming more affluent, how does China deal with growing inequalities, rebalance its economy and increase its exposure to the global economy ? How does the Communist Party retain stability, with increasing friction within Chinese society and half a billion ‘netizens’ active on the web ? But the 18th Party congress has anointed leaders who have more in common with the past than the future. As the political system becomes more rigid, and its foreign policy more aggressive, there is a growing tension between China’s strong society and its weak political system.

And finally, the big question in European foreign policy is…

10. Will post-American Europe fail to grow up or discover strategy ?

For European foreign policy the elections didn’t really matter, and now President Obama is proving it by showing that a “pivot” to Asia is a fundamental “shift” away from the North Atlantic. As the 2013 Scorecard suggests, Europe continues to find ways to fail to come to terms with foreign policy… but if Europe’s leaders finally look up from the euro crisis, notice how much the continent has lost power, prestige and influence, and accept the need to formulate a European Global Strategy it could all be so different (perhaps in 2014).