New year, same old challenges

The EU needs to get un-squeezed by global giants

Photo: Ivailo Tsvetkov

With the start of the new year, the EU is once again confronted by the same old challenges which have haunted the Union during the last decade - migration, trade wars, Brexit, global uncertainty and the rising pressure by global giants such as the US, Russia and China. And on top of it, from the start of the year the EU will be led by its least experienced member - Croatia, while the new Commission is still to switch into a higher gear.

The year started with two different events hinting about what Europe may expect from its partners/adversaries in the months to come. US President Donald Trump hit at Iran, this time with rockets, not with economic sanctions, upping tensions in an already highly volatile region. At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially opened Turkish Stream gas pipeline, stepping up the pressure on the EU of being further caught in the Russian gas shackles.

The Iran confrontation, together with the unresolved situation in Syria and the deepening crisis in Libya, has the potential to unleash a new migration crisis similar if not bigger than the one in 2015, which the Union has not yet fully overcome. The meagre EU efforts to put on the table a genuine and working migration policy, unlike the one proposed so far, which is a simple re-distribution of those arrived illegally to the EU, have only created a tickling migration time-bomb. It is only a matter of time for it to explode.

No doubt, the year will pass once again under the sign of Brexit. While it is expected that the UK will finally leave the EU on 31 January, it will at the same time stay as semi-member at least until the end of the year, and much energy from both sides will be spent to negotiate future relations. Furthermore, the so-called transition period could be prolonged for yet another year, extending the tensions on the London-Brussels axis.

While the US and Russia are pressing the EU both politically and economically, another global giant, China, is exerting mainly economic strain on Europe, but in a much trickier way. On one hand, helped by cheap labour and state support, Chinese companies are dumping their European counterparts, and on the other, through the same means, China is trying to penetrate deeply into the European economy by acquiring most of the strategic European companies put for sale. Some Member States have already banned such purchases, but the trend is yet to get sorted out.

And last but not least, the internal tensions among Member States or groups of Member States on different issues are to become deeper. East will continue to confront West on the so-called Mobility Package, while West will continue to rebuke East on the so-called rule of law. Austerity, preferred by North, will confront lavishness practiced by South. France, and personally Macron, will try to displace Germany as the EU's true leader, betting on Merkel's shaken authority.

And on the top of it, populism across Europe continues to be steadily on the rise. And the most interesting is yet to come.

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