The year just ended has been marked by exhausting negotiations between London and Brussels. While the European Union has shown a significant – indeed, perhaps unexpected – degree of cohesion behind its chief negotiator Michel Barnier, the United Kingdom has turned out less and less united behind Prime Minister Theresa May. It is worth recalling that the Brexit referendum originated in the (unsuccessful) attempt by her predecessor David Cameron to heal the deep divisions within the Conservative party on EU membership.
Real growth in the global economy over the last two years (2017 and 2018) was 3.7% a year, the advanced countries (led by the USA) managing 2.5% and the emerging countries around 5%, buoyed by the excellent (and continuing) performance of the south-east Asian economies, especially China and India. The International Monetary Fund expects a slow-down in 2019; but the question all observers are asking themselves is whether that slowing will take the unpleasant form of a world-wide crisis just as we had almost forgotten the last one.
Are we really isolated within Europe? The quick and simple reply, judging from immediate experience, could be “yes”: we have given Europe problems, and have not managed to find either agreement or allies ready to support us.
A closer examination and more carefully articulated response, however, might lead to a more nuanced conclusion.
Is Europe falling apart? A deliberately provocative question, though grounded in more than trivialities. Our first answer could seem paradoxical, but has the facts on its side: the enormous difficulties faced by the United Kingdom in actually implementing the outcome of the Brexit referendum show that Europe is too strong to fall apart.
With the so-called “Gilets jaunes movement”, France has gone through a political mobilization which is both “déjà vu” and radically new. The “déjà vu” dimension is linked to the historical tradition of protest and political violence in a country where the representative channels and the intermediary groups are and always have been sociologically weak and politically illegitimate since the 1789 revolution. This French peculiarity has little to teach to other democratic systems which are usually better equipped with instruments of mediation both at the societal and political level.
The leaders of the G20 are meeting in Buenos Aires amid growing geopolitical and trade tensions. The Summit is a long shot from 2009, the first time it was held at the leaders' level. Back then, governments of the 19 industrialized nations (plus the EU) managed to avoid a major trade war in the face of the worst economic recession since 1929. Today, the US-China trade war is on, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is flaring up again, and the Khashoggi case continues to haunt Saudi Arabia.
The escalating trade war between the United States and China will be one of the hot issues during the Buenos Aires G20 meeting. This trade conflict, probably the most important since the second world war, started last January with the US introducing safeguard tariffs on imports from the world of solar panels and tariff rate-quotas on imports from the world of washing machines. These tariffs have been introduced in response to requests by US manufacturers.
As G20 leaders arrive in Buenos Aires to start their 13th summit on November 30, 2018, many observers wonder if they will fail, for the first time, to produce a collective communiqué at their summit’s end. Most assume that if they do, it will contain only a collection of watered-down, general platitudes, in sharp contrast to the 529 precise, future-oriented, politically obligatory commitments that they made at their last summit, in Hamburg, Germany, in July 2017.
The twentieth summit between the European Union and China, which ended on 16 July 2018 in Beijing, reinforces the collaboration between the two actors both at the economic-commercial and the geopolitical levels.
In 2011 a now infamous policy paper by the same author labelled the EU-India relationship as “A Loveless Arranged Marriage”. Seven years later, the EU-India strategic partnership has turned into one of the well most functioning of the EU’s strategic partnerships, even far ahead of the faltering EU-US strategic partnership under US President Trump.