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Europe: My picks for 2010

Gavin Hewitt | 17:27 UK time, Thursday, 24 December 2009

EU member states' flagsThis is the time of year when we all imagine what the next 12 months will look like. Events have a habit of making fools of us all, but here are the stories that I expect to be looking at in 2010.

European confidence after Copenhagen

As early as January there will be much soul-searching over how Europe was sidelined at Copenhagen. Many of its ideas were picked up, but there will be pressure to regain its leadership role. Will the EU be more influential at the next big meeting in Bonn? First, the divisions within the Union will have to be addressed.

The debt crisis

This is perhaps the biggest fear for Europe. What will happen if a eurozone country can't reduce its deficit or finance its debt? Look at Greece. It has passed an "austerity" budget but believes it can cut its deficit by attacking corruption, tax evasion and waste. Many believe that won't do it. Then what? How far should the EU step in? Could it negotiate a bail-out and would countries like Germany agree to a bail-out?

Watch, too, the Republic of Ireland and Spain. And then there are the sick ecomonies outside the euro.

The recession

How will Europe emerge from the recession? How will it compare to the United States? Expect the Commission to try and enforce competition policy rigorously and to resist any signs of protectionism.

The Lisbon Treaty

Was it worth the eight years of argument and agony? Will the EU be more democratic, more efficient, and more effective on the world stage? The tests start in January with
the Spanish presidency of the EU. Already its foreign minister says that it will be at the service of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton, the new faces of the EU. There remains a strong suspicion that the big countries don't want these figures to take the limelight. We will know in the next 12 months.

European Parliament hearings

One of the claims for the Lisbon Treaty is that it makes the EU more democratic. Expect MEPs in January to flex their muscles at the confirmation hearings for the new commissioners. It will be interesting to see how they question the foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.

Identity

Europe will continue to be anxious over its identity, in the face of immigration and the fear that separate unintegrated communities are growing up. Early in the new year France will decide whether to ban the burka. There may be legal challenges in Switzerland to the ban on minarets.

The Tories in Britain

If the Tories win the election (probably in May) how will they act in power towards Europe? How willing will they be to expend capital on trying to wrest back powers from Brussels? Will they regret not being a member of the centre-right EPP bloc and losing influence?

Silvio Berlusconi

2009 was a horrible year for the Italian prime minister. Will he bounce back and will Italy become dangerously divided?

The EU budget

It grew again last year, but countries may resist paying more when they are busy paying down their debt. Expect scrutiny of EU spending and an argument once again over the dominant slice of the budget taken by the Common Agricultural Policy.

Energy

Europe will watch the Ukrainian elections anxiously to see if instability leads to another crisis with Russia and an interruption in gas supplies.

The environment

Finally, how will we judge whether Europe is serious about managing the environment? My pick is the bluefin tuna. That may be the litmus test of how serious the EU is in protecting species under threat.

I will take a break until 3 January, unless events intervene.To those who have enjoyed my blog: Thank you. To those who have disagreed: We will all have another chance to debate further in 2010. Happy New Year!

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