2019 Global Outlook: Europe’s year of living dangerously

Yellow Vest protesters in Brussels, Belgium
The spread of Yellow Vest protests to Brussels is one sign of the grassroots challenge the European Union will face as it picks new leadership in an election year (source: dpa)
  • The European Union must cope with many external and internal challenges in 2019
  • The internal challenges may prove tougher with European Parliament elections in May
  • Losses by mainstream parties could produce a swing toward more “populist” positions
  • Even in the best case, the vote will produce delay in tackling pan-European issues

2019 is shaping up to be a dangerous year for Europe. Among the signs of trouble: unstable leadership, rampant populism, strikes and demonstrations, terrorist outbreaks, migration disputes, an economic slowdown, currency swings, the makings of another financial crisis, Brexit surprises, security challenges (hybrid or otherwise) to the east and south, and not least – a battered American president, lashing out at real and imagined adversaries on the old continent. Like Canada, the European Union may also be dragged into Washington’s escalating trade war with China.

The “Franco-German” locomotive will sputter and euroskepticism will grow, restrained only by fear of replicating the Brexit mess. The French president, chastened by the Yellow Vest protests, will try to reclaim his role as a champion of liberal reform, with desultory support from Germany’s lame-duck chancellor. Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-migration, anti-EU League (Lega), will contend for the imperial crown in Rome. Spain will struggle on with a minority government and separatist brawls.

But all is not lost. The United Kingdom will step back from the cliff’s edge and the chaos of a no-deal Brexit should be avoided. London may well ask the EU-27 to prolong the negotiations or even cancel Britain’s withdrawal notice, while Prime Minister Theresa May fumbles for a new formula.

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