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Europe’s Year of Living Defensively

With the future of the EU-UK relationship shrouded in uncertainty and crises brewing in France, Italy, and elsewhere, 2019 will be another difficult year for Europe. And if populist forces prevail in the European Parliament election in May, it could be an impossible one.

BERLIN – From a European perspective, 2019 promises to be another difficult year, dominated by large challenges that could easily turn into menacing crises. Barring a major reversal, the United Kingdom will withdraw from the European Union on March 29. A brewing economic and financial crisis in Italy will intensify, threatening the stability of the eurozone. And France will likely remain beset by populist protests, diminishing its potential to take a lead role in the pursuit of EU-level reforms.

Moreover, the European Parliament election in May could well deliver a nationalist majority or near-majority, which would then determine the next members of the European Commission, the leaders of the European Council and European Central Bank, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Needless to say, a nationalist victory would be a disaster for the EU, because it would derail necessary reforms and further divide member states.

Whatever happens, Europe’s internal political drama will play out against a backdrop of international turmoil. At the same time that Russia is stepping up its aggression in eastern Ukraine, US President Donald Trump is waging a trade war against China, and could expand it to the EU (which he has deemed a “foe”). And, more broadly, the global economy is weakening, and growth will continue to slow in the months ahead.

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