Predictions for 2011: BBC correspondents look ahead

What will be the big news of 2011? You can read the forecasts of a BBC panel below, or hear them on Radio 4 on 31 December or 1 January. Last year, diplomatic correspondent James Robbins accurately predicted economic meltdown in a eurozone country and North America editor Mark Mardell picked out Florida Republican Marco Rubio as a man to watch 11 months before he won a dramatic US Senate race.

Predictions for 2011

Stephen Sackur Lyse Doucet Mark Mardell Paul Mason James Robbins
Stephen Sackur

HARDtalk presenter

Lyse Doucet

World affairs correspondent

Mark Mardell

North America editor

Paul Mason

Newsnight Economics editor

James Robbins

Diplomatic correspondent

The big story

This will be the year of the austerity backlash. Spending cuts and youth unemployment will fuel protest across Europe. Greece will restructure its debt. Germany and some Nordics will create a Euromark, while others adopt a devalued Eurolite. The US Congress will aim protectionist measures at "currency manipulators" (ie China). High unemployment will convince Sarah Palin to run for the White House.

Barack Obama has vowed to start bringing US troops home from Afghanistan by July 2011, but will it be a significant pullout? Or just a symbolic one? And what about Mr Obama's hopes for a Palestinian state by September? Will Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu continue to defy his most important strategic ally? And if so, will the Palestinians act on their threats to find other ways to achieve statehood?

The biggest story will be the one we do not expect - think Icelandic volcanic ash and oil in the gulf of Mexico. On my patch, what happens to the fragile US economic recovery is critical. Unemployment may get worse as individual states make deep cutbacks when the last of Obama's stimulus money runs out. In Europe, the future of the euro - always a political project as much as a currency - will be a test for Germany in particular.

In 2011 we're going to need some kind of firebreak to the eurozone sovereign debt crisis. Either Germany and France will bail out the debt-crisis countries on new terms that alleviate the deep austerity they're having to impose, at the price of greater political and fiscal union - or they won't. If they don't, there are huge bets in place in the global markets on a breakup of the eurozone.

Public anger against austerity and cuts will make 2010 seem tame in retrospect. Poorer European countries will revolt against the disciplines of the euro. Paymaster countries - led by Germany - will revolt against bailing out what they see as delinquent economies. At least one European government will fall - but Silvio Berlusconi will sail serenely on at the helm of Italy, as it celebrates 150 years as a "united" nation.

People to watch

Kim Jong-Un: Does anything they teach you at Swiss finishing school prepare you for running a paranoid, poor, nuclear-armed dictatorship? We're about to find out.

Salva Kiir: He will be the first leader of an independent Southern Sudan, but he will face a host of challenges - not least how to resolve arguments over ownership of oil-fields.

Child X: In 2011 the world's seven billionth person will be born. No-one will know his or her identity, but the UN will find a suitably photogenic infant.

Jalaluddin Haqqani: The Afghan commander blamed for much of the fighting in eastern Afghanistan and Kabul enjoys safe haven in Pakistan's tribal areas. The US will keep urging Pakistan to go after him. Or they'll do it themselves.

Laurent Gbagbo: Will he continue to turn his back on world and African opinion, after Ivory Coast's disputed vote?

Aung San Suu Kyi: What will the world's most famous ex-political prisoner do next? Will she learn how to use new social media?

Mitch Daniels: During 2011 it will become clear who has a serious chance of taking on Barack Obama in 2012 as Republican presidential candidate. Staring at my list of 13 or 14 names I find it hard to believe any of them will make the grade. But Daniels, called by George W Bush "the blade" when he was his budget director, is an economic conservative who can appeal to the middle ground. Daniels v Sarah Palin would be an interesting race for the party's presidential nomination.

Sarah Palin: The momentum is there to nominate her, so how will the world react to the possibility of a Moose-huntin' right-wing mom as president?

Ed Balls: The Labour Party's prince across the water (or the corridor) will have a hard time biting his lip if the new party leadership does not improve.

Julian Assange: He ain't done yet!

Axel Weber: The Bundesbank boss who wants to run the ECB and definitely does not want more bailouts of the crisis-hit periphery.

Vince Cable: The fate of Britain's coalition does seem to be in his hands. He won't pull the plug in 2011, but it will be a very bumpy ride for his party, the Liberal Democrats.

Dilma Rousseff: Brazil's first woman president. She takes over from President Lula in January. Will this far less charismatic leader be able to continue the country's dazzling economic success and poverty reduction?

Looking forward to...

Most: I plan to do all the year's most tiresome chores on 29 April (Prince William and Kate's Big Day). Imagine - a trip to Ikea or the post office without a queue in sight!

Least: A very loud bang coming from Iceland... the Katla volcano is ready to blow and, if she does, we're all going to suffer.

Most: As the London 2012 Olympics approach, I am hoping for inspiring stories about athletes - a much needed antidote to the usual fare of conflict and crisis.

Least: The next big natural disaster. This year showed us how earthquakes wreak ever greater destruction (Haiti) and floods are ever more devastating (Pakistan).

Most: Getting out of Washington and meeting the Americans who make this country so engaging, fascinating and sometimes bewildering.

Least: The rest of the winter. Last February we had power cuts and snow half way up the front door. I hate getting up early. I hate getting up early in the cold and dark even more.

Most: There is a new zeitgeist within protest movements in Europe (on the left) and the US (on the right) - new ways of online organising and a new plebeian individualism. I am keen to see what happens.

Least: There is a chance of a commodities boom and bust, as in 2008 before the financial crisis: people starved while speculators made millions.

Most: Following the progress of Voyager I as it approaches the very edge of our solar system, after 33 years in space. It really feels like the last frontier.

Least: Almost nothing. I am a determined optimist. Perhaps the risk that governments will react to Wikileaks by saying less and less.

Last year's forecasts

Convulsions in Iran that could topple President Ahmadinejad. England to win World Cup.

Success or failure in Afghanistan will be the biggest story of 2010.

Florida Republican Senate hopeful Marco Rubio is a man to watch.

Paul Mason did not take part in last year's look-ahead.

Economic meltdown in Greece, Ireland, Spain or Italy. Failure of NPT review.

Please send your thoughts to the Radio 4 programme team by e-mailing lookahead@bbc.co.uk

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