2019 is presented as a potentially very turbulent year, marked by a double struggle that can be exacerbated by a worrying economic slowdown, the pulses between powers and classes.
Between powers, because we live a moment of change, with the hegemonic superpower – the United States of Donald Trump – that aggressively seeks to maintain their supremacy with confrontation rather than cooperation; because the ascendant – China – feels more and more confident and aspires to greater prominence; the decadent – Russia – is increasingly insecure and, therefore, willing to take a step to rebalance their fall; and the European Union is afflicted by existential challenges.
Between classes, in the West, by the growing tension between the sectors until recently dominant who defend the globalist model and the popular classes that, when being harmed, embrace antagonistic proposals. The nationalism, in powerful peak in this decade, is the great totem in this whole panorama.
In the West, this nationalism is emerging as the main catalyst for the anger and fear of the losing classes of globalization. Workers who suffer from deindustrialization; middle and lower classes without the training and culture to mount the new economy wave; farmers who suffer from competition from other markets and survive despite subsidies; young people who do not find their place in the world of work. These social segments reject the system that disfavors them and blame the elites for having shaped it in an iniquitous manner. They have clung to nationalist proposals as a vector of that rejection, as a pulse to the liberal and cosmopolitan elites that, together with protected social sectors (officials, pensioners …), tend to defend the system. That’s where Trump, Salvini and Brexit come from, yellow vests (France) or Five Stars (Italy).
In the emergent powers also the nationalism is the main flag in this time. In China, the authoritarian regime uses it internally to keep the ranks tight at times of economic slowdown and externally to consolidate its push towards a global geopolitical rebalancing. The democratic India also opted for the nationalist proposal of Modi: it remains to be seen whether is confirmed this year. Russia also lives with Putin’s nationalism throughout the twenty-first century.
The departure of the United Kingdom from the EU scheduled for March 29, the elections to the European Parliament on May 26, the global trade war, the struggle of China to avoid an abrupt economic slowdown, the legislative in India, the stark pulse between the regional powers in the Middle East, etc. Almost everything can be decoded through the prism of nationalism, even in very different circumstances. Let’s see.
The Britannia that governed the waves meets the water of the Brexit up to the neck. The referendum that approved it was the first great symbol of the fatigue of the popular classes with open societies. At the end of March, the two years of negotiations under Article 50 of the EU treaty expire and the divorce with Brussels must materialize. As far as the eye can see, in Westminster there is no parliamentary majority for any type of Brexit: nor the one that sealed Theresa May with the Twenty-seven, nor any other.
It cannot be ruled out that in the end pragmatism prevails, as it is in the British tradition, but at this point the hypothesis of the recourse to some mechanism that allows gaining time and avoiding an abrupt departure in March becomes stronger. This could be done through a request from London to the partners to grant an extension or – less plausibly – with a unilateral British revocation of the activation of Article 50 (right recognized to London by the EU Court of Justice). That is, a unilateral abandonment of Brexit.
The added time would open the way to multiple options; from insisting on the search for a consensus in Westminster (and later checking to what extent that consensus would be acceptable by the Twenty-seven) to return the ball to the citizenry via early elections or another referendum. While the first option seems to be the most probable, the prospect of an abrupt exit – Hard Brexit or no deal Brexit – which terrifies the markets (considering the high degree of animosity/irrationality of the British political debate cannot be ruled out).
Even if pragmatism was imposed before March 29, an extension may be necessary, because after the vote in Westminster, the third week of January, a tortuous procedure of incorporation of the agreement into the new treaty will be necessary. British legislation.
The elections to elect the new European Parliament will be a huge battlefield in which defensive and antagonistic forces of the current globalist model will be measured. For the first time, these elections will not be a mere translation at European level of the internal impulses of the Member States, but a true pan-continental ideological pulse. Given their characteristics – a certain perception of distance, the European electoral appointments are very fertile ground for the protest vote. There are two figures to keep in mind to assess the result.
In the first place, the set of votes achieved by the core of the Europeanist consensus: popular, social democratic, liberal, green. In 2009, they obtained 80% among the four. In 2014, 70%. Second, the participation rate, in inexorable decline since 1979 (62%) until 2014 (42%).
Although the Europeanist nucleus retains the majority in the Chamber, a strong advance of the antagonistic groups would be a very strong political message and hardly elusive in a year in which the leaders of the institutions will have to be renewed – Commission President, Council, Parliament, Central Bank and foreign representative – and face complex issues. The EU keeps open at least two thorny dossiers in which the electoral message will be noted: one, the reform of the euro zone, in which the leaders have proposed to specify progress in the constitution of a budget precisely in the month of June, after the elections; and two, the migration issue, an intricate web of divergent norms and interests that touch the asylum system, the internal solidarity of the Twenty-seven, the porosity of internal borders. An unsolvable sudoku until now.
The commercial matter is, together with the migration issue, the heart of the nationalist response to social unrest in the West. Many citizens perceive that globalization has produced a strong relocation of jobs in the manufacturing sector and that migratory flows create strong competition for jobs and dwindling social services. Right or wrong, that is the perception of many, and the response of nationalist leaders is simple: trade protectionism and sealed borders.
Trump’s protectionist onslaught has caused great turbulence in relations with the EU and China. Washington achieved an advantageous renegotiation of its free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico in 2018. But, obviously, the EU and China are actors with a much higher specific weight.
At the same time, the Dow Jones is sending disturbing messages. After a strong period of rise in 2017, the stock index is clearly suffering and has experienced a very negative month of December (it has lost around 10%). Perhaps these two factors explain that Trump has accepted a truce in the commercial battle with Beijing and Brussels. The first measures of 2019 will be far-reaching to see if the war resumes or if the situation is weakened.
In the United States there are at least two dynamics that can have a great global impact. First, the risk of radicalization of the Trump Administration after the stampede of the figures that represented the anchoring of pragmatism and experience (Tillerson, Kelly and Mattis, to name but three) in a Government, usually quite unorthodox.
Secondly, it will be interesting to observe the evolution of the Democratic Party. First, in his attitude in Congress after regaining control of the House of Representatives and, more generally, in presenting candidates for party candidates in the presidential elections of 2020. Like all parties In his area, the US Democrat must decide between the centrist anchor (which with different characteristics defended the Clinton and Barack Obama) or turn left (in an echo of Sanders, following the route of British Labor led by Jeremy Corbyn). Veteran senator Elizabeth Warren, from the party’s left wing, was the first to take the lead on Monday.
There is a third important dynamic in national key: the first wave of decisions of a Supreme Court clearly conservative after the appointments made by Trump.
China entered this decade at an annual GDP growth rate of 10%. We will leave it predictably at a rate of 6%. This slowdown of the expansive cycle worries the Chinese leadership, which openly mentions the issue as a great challenge for the coming years. The CCP leaders face the challenge of keeping alive the tacit contract that they have sealed with their citizens some time ago: prosperity in exchange for the renunciation of political liberties. The expectations of the population are enormous and directly proportional can be frustration.
This year is especially sensitive for the Chinese authorities because they coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen repression, the centennial of the student movement that led to the formation of the party in 1921 and the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. Each, in its own way, can be a catalyst for annoying manifestations of dissent. The authorities invest copiously in artificial intelligence tools to increase their control.
Elections in India and Indonesia
The first (India, 1,340 million inhabitants) and the third (Indonesia, 265 million) most populated democracies in the world will return to the polls. The Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi will seek a new term in the legislative elections scheduled for April and May 2019 in India. The polls give him an advantage over his main competitor, Raul Gandhi, of the historic National Congress. The appointment has enormous importance. A revalidation of Modi could give him the impetus to develop a more openly nationalist policy.
Also in Indonesia, the current president is seeking a second term in the presidential elections in April. Joko Widodo will face, as in 2014, the former general Prabowo Subianto. To diffuse the doubts about his lax religiosity, Widodo has chosen as number two the leader of the largest Islamic organization in the country.
2019 of the Latin American region will be marked by the dichotomy of the first bars of the new leaders of the two titans of the area: Brazil and Mexico. Right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro and leftist populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), however, face the task under very different conditions. Bolsonaro, with a very fragmented Parliament but with a perspective of great harmony with Washington and in the middle of a generalized right-wing wave in the continent. AMLO, with a solid parliamentary majority but with the latent threat of serious friction with the northern neighbor and substantially isolated in the continent.
The performance of the two in their first year of office will be important not only for their own countries, but probably also for the entire region. Because of the specific weight of both, and because of the tendency of Latin America to the rapid cross-border contagion of political experiences, as shown by the continental pendulum movement to the left in the first decade of this century and later generalized reflux to the right now. Who will have greater drag force? The Bolsonaro model or the AMLO model?
Among other events on the continent, we must highlight the presidential elections in Argentina, where Mauricio Macri will fight for re-election, wounded by the economic collapse, and the elections in Bolivia, where Evo Morales seeks to compete for the umpteenth time despite repeated rejections of the constitutionality of his candidacy.
The region faces a multitude of challenges, some very destabilizing. It will be necessary to observe how Iran absorbs the blow of the sanctions and if the popular discontent derives in protests; Israel returns to the polls in April and Netanyahu seeks to become the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history.
The Saudi monarchy will seek to stabilize after the serious damage suffered by the murder of journalist Khashoggi; Yemen experiences fragile symptoms of possible ceasefire that will have to be seen if they persist; Syria will probably advance in the task of reconstruction and return of refugees with Bashar al-Assad in command.. Moscow has gained a lot of influence in the region, while the US is in clear retreat.
The largest country in the continent by population (Nigeria, almost 200 million) and the second largest (Democratic Republic of Congo) face electoral processes.
In the case of Congo, it has started incomplete and very controversial. Nigeria should undertake it in February. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of these elections having a positive development.