Think 2016 was rough? Europe looking toward a dismal 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin is considered one of many problems Europe will be facing in 2017. Here, he holds a sword on December 30, 2016.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is considered one of many problems Europe will be facing in 2017. Here, he holds a sword on December 30, 2016. AP

The European Union will continue to fail. France will check out of continental politics. Russia will grow as a threat. There’s Brexit, of course. And the refugees will keep coming to (and continue to die in the effort to reach) Europe.

European-based experts looking at what to expect in 2017 see gloom, doom and irrelevance, according to a New Year forecast from the German Marshall Fund think tank (which is German-founded but based in Washington, D.C., and works on trans-Atlantic issues).

Still, they don’t see answers coming from the United States in the new administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

What do they expect to go wrong?

The European Union “failed as an elite project and will never move the hearts and minds of Europeans.” Germany is heading into a chaotic election year, as “the political landscape is more polarized than ever in postwar Germany.” The European refugee crisis will continue, though “migration pressure will shift from the eastern to the central Mediterranean.” And there’s much more.

Or, to sum up, “there are a number of things that could go dramatically wrong in the year ahead, and few that look like they might go right…”

In fact, their forecast (issued Tuesday) noted that solutions to the many problems and crises facing Europe will be hard to come by. The 11 experts from the fund, who contributed to the forecast, might have lacked a little in New Year’s optimism.

“Europe will not be able to solve any of its other crises until the underlying instability surrounding the euro crisis is properly fixed,” Rachel Tausendfreund, the fund’s editorial director, wrote to introduce the forecast, and referring to the struggling single European currency. “Italy and Greece will start the new year fiscally unsound and with new warnings of failing banks.”

The threat of Brexit, the United Kingdom exit from the European Union that was approved by voters in 2016 but expected to move toward implementation in 2017, continues to loom.

And the experts mentioned Russia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, several times. Michael Leigh, a senior fellow with the fund, wrote that “hackers based in Russia are expected to target the 2017 elections in France and Germany.”

The result of that won’t be good news. He wrote “Some mainstream leaders may remain in office but will be increasingly beholden to the extremes. This takes the politics of intolerance from the periphery to the core of Europe, with parallel developments… in the United States.”

When nations turn more toward nationalist agendas, the time spent on international ones will be limited.

Daniel Twining, Director and Senior Fellow of the Asia Program, wrote that he wondered if Europe would be endangered in the coming year.

“Trump could make a (Henry Kissinger-like) attempt to split Russia from China to improve America’s strategic leverage in East Asia,” he wrote. “The great risk is that this could come at the expense of NATO unity and deterrence, at a time when the Russian military is postured for rapid strikes against NATO members Poland and Estonia. America’s supreme interest lies in shoring up the European security order, not in another Russian ‘reset.’”

Do they see any silver linings to the coming 12 months? Well, they see progress toward an actual unification agreement for Cyprus, ending a 40-year conflict with Turkey.

And Corinna Horst, the fund’s deputy director in Brussels, wrote that “It will be interesting to watch feminists persevere in light of macho and populist leaderships that seem to be the only answer to the chaotic world forces. There will be analysis, calm and judicious voices and new approaches as well as hype, spin, and personal battles regarding women’s role and place in society. I expect a new recognition of diversity within women’s advocacy groups and efforts to connect across communities to advance women and gender parity.”

Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews