Europe in 2021: what to follow?
Anton Rovenskyy, Master of International Relations, International Political Scientist
The year of 2020 was full of the greatest challenges for the global political, economic and social systems. There is also a big variety of views and predictions, considering the year 2021, from apocalyptic to more than optimistic. In this article, we tried to encompass the most awaited European events of the year.
EU-US relations under the administration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
The conservative era of Donald Trump was a great challenge both for the transatlantic partnership and for its proponents. Today, the establishment in Brussels is rather optimistic with the results of US presidential elections. However, it is hard to believe in a full renaissance of warm relations between the two sides, which peaked in a period of EU expansion from 2004 to 2016. Apart from the tightening economic competition between American and European companies, there is a list of matters in the international agenda, in which Washington and Brussels have different views. The list includes the matters of security, cyber sovereignty, reform of international institutions, sanction policy, as well as relations with the third parties. The new Biden administration definitely has all the necessary instruments to eliminate a number of contradictions, which appeared between the two parties during the Trump presidency. The question is whether there is enough political resources and will to implement such policies, having in mind a turbulent domestic situation in the US. Moreover, the strongholds of European conservatives such as Poland and Hungary, which had followed the Trump lead, can challenge a number of Biden European initiatives.
German federal election
Angela Merkel, incumbent German federal chancellor, is going to finish her political career at the end of this year. However, the ‘Merkel course’ in the internal policy is not likely to change regardless of the name of a new chancellor or whatever the CDU/CSU results in the 2021 general elections would appear to be. Nevertheless, Germany will need some time to construct an ‘After Merkel’ system of political balances, which would reduce the international activities of the official Berlin and will lead to a new battle for leadership within the EU. Bearing in mind the Merkel departure and German internal transformations, Sebastian Kurz, the federal chancellor of Austria, and Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, who will face the reelection battle in 2022, may try to pick up the EU leadership.
The geopolitical rise of Turkey
Under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Turkey has become one of the most prominent actors of global politics. In 2020, Erdoğan has been equally successful on a number of geopolitical ‘chess desks’, including Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East, and Transcaucasia region. The Turkish president does not plan to refuse from his international ambitions, slowly redirecting his focus on the Balkans and Central Asia. One should point out, Turkish geopolitical successes are far behind its rates of economic growth. Such a situation creates risks of losing strategic tempo on the pivotal international directions for the official Ankara. The new year will show us the limits of Erdoğan’s geopolitical ambitions, as well as its resource potential. Moreover, it is particularly interesting how Erdoğan will manage to build relations with a new administration in Washington and the post-Brexit United Kingdom, which will shape Ankara’s international activities.
Scottish Parliament election
In May 2021, the new Scottish Parliament election takes place. The majority of experts predict a victorious campaign for the Scottish National Party (SNP), led by Nicola Sturgeon, incumbent First Minister of Scotland. This is the first election in Alba since Brexit, and in case of the SNP victory, the Government of the UK would face the reality of a new Scottish independence referendum: the previous referendum was held in 2014, resulting in the Unionists’ overall victory with 55.7% of the popular vote.
SNP has been consistent in its pro-EU policy prior to the Brexit referendum. An interesting fact: the average rate of ‘Remain’ vote in Scotland was the highest in the UK. For this reason, a successful result of the SNP in the May election will grant a vote of confidence to the Party to hold a new independence referendum. The days of the good old Great Britain might be doomed.
Belarus constitutional reform
In Q1 2021, we expect Aleksandr Lukashenko to outline the potential Belarus constitutional reform. The reasons are clear — to decrease the level of the civil protests, decentralize Belarus government, and establish a number of prerequisites for a successful transit of power. Nevertheless, the scope of problems in the country cannot be solved only by means of constitutional transformations. Due to a significant reduction of foreign support, Belarus desperately needs new sources for economic growth, which can be rapidly transformed into some positive social effects. In its turn, Belarus opposition, as well as a number of international players, does not rely on constitutional changes as a source of political and social compromise. For these reasons, the low-level political crisis in Belarus is likely to continue.
Nord Stream 2
The construction and launch of Nord Stream 2 has become a never-ending story: no one neither has any fixed guarantees of its full-scale operation, nor knows the date of its final launch. Moreover, by now its economic and political aspects have become matters of equal importance. On the one hand, Germany and Austria, which national businesses have invested in Nord Stream 2 heavily, will greatly benefit from its launch and occupy the leading positions in the European gas-distribution industry. On the other hand, the sanctions on the participants of the project become more intense while political and legal problems are skyrocketing. We can be more precise in our predictions on the destiny of Nord Stream 2 only in a few months, when the White House articulates its position in a more clear and distinctive manner.
Battle on the market of Covid-19 vaccines
Despite the start of a massive vaccination campaign in Europe, the vaccine market is not structured yet. The deep and cashful market of united Europe with more than 500 million consumers is a likely target for each and every vaccine producer. A fight for the market access appears to be not only conventional, but rather with the use of a broad variety of instruments, including political, economic and information pressure. It is a matter of national prestige for every member of the EU to develop and export its own vaccine, especially when there is proper scientific and technological infrastructure for the process. In this context, one should focus his attention on the recent statement of the Italian Pharmaceutical Agency, considering the launch of its own vaccine programme, which will help millions of Italians by September 2021.