2017 has proven it’s the surprising events that really shape our era: Brexit, Trump’s election, the rise of ISIS and North Korea’s recurring nuclear tests. So although trying to envision world politics a year from now is a tough and unrealistic endeavour, there are a few things that we do know for certain.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Brexit will not go smoothly. Expect major delays and the government to be defeated repeatedly in Parliament in 2018.
First on the agenda this year is setting the conditions for a transition phase that gives everyone some more breathing room. Theresa May has suggested two years. The EU has suggested 21 months as it aligns better with the Budget calendar. The UK is to decide between adopting a free-trade agreement that covers trade in goods, such as the agreement the EU has with Canada; or an associate membership of the single market that includes cooperation in services, such as the agreement the bloc has with Norway.
In 2017 The United States retreated from three key multilateral negotiations on trade, migration and climate change.
In 2018 the United States can be expected to disengage on several other issues. This will potentially allow actors such as China and even the EU to gain stronger international leadership. As for president Trump’s tweets, these will continue to undermine the effectiveness of US foreign policymakers, specifically on issues such as the Middle East and NATO.
North and South Korea
As for North Korea, hopefully Trump’s mentally stable advisors Jim Mattis, John Kelly and McCaster will avoid war.
The Winter Olympics will take place in February in South Korea. This will not only be a festival of sport but also a test of the increasingly fragile peace in the region. Best-case scenario will be just wondering what is going on not too far from the border.
Russia’s presidential elections will take place in March and Vladimir Putin will most likely win his fourth term. Although this election’s outcome is pretty much settled, the campaign phase will bring to light how little the lives of Russians have improved under Putin’s mandate.
North, South and Central America
Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Mexico and Venezuela will hold presidential elections in 2018. The regional outcome is to be shaped by a combination of low commodity prices (which, at its best used to lead to economic growth, social and environmental conflict and human rights violations), low voter tolerance with corruption, and even lower trust in the political class and the democratic process itself.
Last year, analysts predicted the political demise of the leaders of Venezuela and Brazil. Despite incredibly low approval ratings and non-stop scandals (Brazil) and humanitarian crises/remarkable incompetence (Venezuela), they held on and can be expected to lead their respective nations in 2018.
Anti-immigration and Eurosceptic approaches no longer raise eyebrows in Europe. In fact, these themes look like vote-winners in Italy, heading for elections in spring 2018.
The autonomous Catalonia has a long history of trying to disaffiliate from Spain. Last year’s crisis however has shown that full withdrawal is unlikely.
In Germany, Merkel will manage to form a coalition and we can expect Franco-German relations to grow stronger as Macron and Merkel work together on ‘forging Europe’s future’.