IHT Rendezvous: What to Watch for in Europe in 2013

Russians outside St. Petersburg celebrated the start of the New Year.Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Russians outside St. Petersburg celebrated the start of the New Year.

LONDON — New Year’s predictions, like New Year’s resolutions, are probably best avoided.

François Hollande, the French president, was perhaps tempting fate when he told his fellow citizens in a New Year’s message that everything would be done to reverse the growth in unemployment by the end of 2013.

And Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, may have been offering a hostage to fortune when he assured Britons, “We are on the right track.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to better reflect the zeitgeist when she told her fellow Germans: “We still need a lot of patience. The crisis is far from over.”

The economy dominated in Europe in 2012. But it could have been worse. Despite pessimistic forecasts at the start of the year, the euro did not crash and burn.

So what is in store for 2013?

Predictions aside, here are a few developments to watch in Europe and nearby:

As Ms. Merkel says, Europe’s economic crisis is far from over. The economy will continue to be issue No. 1. On one hand, Europe will have to break a downward spiral for countries on its southern tier: their contracting economies are making it ever hard to escape debt and rekindle growth. And Europe will have to pray that France doesn’t become the next front in that fight.

“Europe still has plenty to worry about. Economic output is shrinking in 9 of the 17 nations that use the euro. European banks remain weak, and many have yet to confront their problems decisively,” my colleague Jack Ewing reported on Sunday.

There will be the fight over the European Union budget that was kicked down the road till this spring. And concerns that Great Britain could eventually be heading for a “Brexit.” Mr. Cameron is expected to affirm that he will seek to claw back powers that have been passed to Europe and that he is prepared to hold a national referendum on E.U. membership after the next British election.

And there is still the financing of all the E.U. bailouts — Greece and company — in which European leaders will have to convince their citizens to stay the course.

No citizens will be more important than the Germans. 2013 is an election year in Germany and Italy. Ms. Merkel is favored to retain the chancellorship in the face of what my colleague Nicholas Kulish has described as the gaffe-prone campaign of Peer Steinbrück, her Social Democratic Party rival.

In Italy, Mario Monti, the prime minister, will face the electorate in February as a politician rather than a technocrat, as Silvio Berlusconi, his predecessor, hovers in the wings. The center-left Democratic Party is favorite to win, with Mr. Monti tipped as possible finance minister in a new coalition.

Europeans will also be watching election developments in Israel and Iran. The results will affect the current standoff over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapon program after a year in which an Israeli military strike was at times predicted as imminent.

The Europeans have staked everything on firming up sanctions in a policy aimed as much at restraining Israel as it was at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

As my colleagues David E. Sanger and James Risen recently reported, there are signs Iran wants to avoid a direct confrontation and is now more interested in a deal to end the standoff.

At the start of the New Year, the civil war in Syria remains unresolved, while potential conflicts are looming on Europe’s periphery.

Mali is likely to be in the news as Western and fellow African states struggle to resolve how to deal with a crisis provoked by an Islamist takeover of the north of the country.

An international intervention might not be ready to deploy there until September. But look out for action earlier than that if France, in particular, perceives the need to counter what many see as a potential terrorist threat to Europe from the Islamist regime there.

Article source: http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/01/what-to-watch-for-in-europe-in-2013/?partner=rss&emc=rss

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