7 Big Questions for Europe in 2014

The old continent has some serious problems to tackle.

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French President Francois Hollande answers a reporter during his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014, at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

After reviewing several events that took place in Europe in 2013, here are some thoughts about what to look for in 2014. This exercise of prediction may be a little futile, but some truth may emerge from it.

1. Will Europe's economy recover?: If 2013 was the year of stagnation, economists are expecting 2014 to be the year of a mild recovery. But while growth may be at the doorstep, governments have to continue reforming their economies, as the GDP forecast for EU member states shows a slow recovery fluctuating between zero and 1.9 percent growth. With the exception of Germany, most EU member states need to continue to address their fiscal and economic issues. The challenge remains to bring back competitiveness without killing the welfare state.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the 2014 Sochi Olympics.]

2. Will France be the sick man of Europe?: The socialist revolution led by the normal president has had some problems. President Francois Hollande hasn't had a break since getting elected, and now his love life fascinates the world.

Aside from love, the economic and financial situation in France is far from pretty. Its budget deficit is large, its GDP is rising slowly and its unemployment level is near 11 percent. Hollande's approach to solving France's problems has not been through austerity measures like those implemented in the periphery of Europe. To that extent, Hollande has frustrated French business elites. His policies have even stirred some tension between London and Paris, as London is arguing that Hollande is taking the French economy "into the sand." However, the French president is now calling for more reforms in order to cut public spending, taxes and labor costs.

2014 will be a turning point in Hollande's presidency. France is a country to watch closely.

3. Will the Olympic Games in Sochi be a disaster?: The winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are around the corner. So far the games have been on the map for all the wrong reasons: anti-gay policies championed by President Vladimir Putin; massive corruption charges, as billions of dollars supposedly dedicated to the games may have vanished; and credible terrorist threats. Two terrorist attacks in December caused more than 30 deaths in the Russian city of Volgograd, north of Sochi, so tensions in Russia are at their peak.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the European debt crisis.]

4. Is Britain going rogue?: The UK is on path to recovery for 2014, with growth estimated at 2.4 percent by the International Monetary Fund. Should this be a concern for the rest of Europe? With an economy re-emerging, Prime Minister David Cameron may be on its way to re-election.

Cameron has not made that many friends in Europe considering his latest comments on immigration and France, and his perpetual quest to bring power back from Brussels to London. In addition to his European agenda, Cameron will have to address the eventual referenda for the independence of Scotland from the U.K. and independence of Britain from the EU.

5. Will the extreme right get a spot at the table?: 2013 marked the rise on the European stage of extreme right-wing parties. Will 2014 be the year of their coronation? In May 2014, European citizens will be called to vote for the elections of the European Parliament. Since the first elections in 1979, turnout at European elections has decreased by almost 20 points.

The 2014 European elections are central for the future of the union. With the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament has progressively seen an increase of its power and influence on the decision-making in European affairs. With a stronger European Parliament, European citizens ought to accept their responsibility and go vote in May.

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6. Can Europe's neighborhood be stabilized?: The threats around Europe are real, between Turkey and Ukraine's political instabilities, and troubles in Syria, Egypt, Libya and Central Africa. France has stepped up in order to stabilize Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic, but the EU hasn't. However, France's actions have been at the expense of NATO and the Common Security and Defence Policy of the European Union. If Hollande is weak at home, he has certainly reinforced France's aura on the international stage, especially in Africa.

In addition, the U.S. is planning to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, which will force the Europeans to address the status of its police mission there, known as EUPOL-A. 2014 will be another year where the world wonders about the commitment of EU member states towards the CSDP and empowering their own military contributions to stabilizing their neighborhood. The recent decision by the EU Foreign Affairs minister to deploy a military CSDP mission in the Central African Republic may be an important step.

7. Will the transatlantic relationship survive Snowden?: 2013 was extremely tumultuous between the U.S. and the old continent. The revelations leaked by Edward Snowden had a disastrous impact on the transatlantic relationship. The massive gathering of metadata by British and American secret services did not help in merging interests and confidence across the pond.

As demonstrated in his recent speech, President Obama will not change much in how America conducts its business in order to defend its national security and advance its national interests. So he may be doing some damage control in 2014.

Maxime Larivé is a fellow at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami, where he is also a lecturer, and a senior blogger for the Foreign Policy Association.

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