10 Predictions for the EU in 2020

David Gow and Kirsty Hughes | 31 December 2019

© 2018 SCER

(1) Will the EU Agree a New Budget?

The EU27 will agree a new budget for 2021-2027 at their June summit. There will be tough bargaining down to the wire, getting to a final deal now much tougher with the departure of the UK. Germany, the Netherlands and other net contributors will keep pushing for a smaller overall budget; France will defend (as ever) agricultural spending; and the eastern and southern member states will fight against impending cuts to regional policy. Somewhere in this there should be increased spending on climate but not so much on defence. (KH)

(2) Will There be an EU-UK Trade Deal?

Yes, there will be a very basic trade deal agreed by December. Ahead of that, there will be big arguments over access to fishing waters, smaller debates over financial services and other services will be left out in the cold. Johnson’s government will find a form of words to commit to a level-playing field on labour and environmental regulation, but won’t ask for an extension of transition. There will be tariffs on agricultural and fisheries products but not on goods – though there will still be customs checks with trade in goods taking a big hit. (KH)

(3) Will France Continue to Block Accession Talks with North Macedonia and Albania?

Yes. France will come under renewed pressure to let talks start with North Macedonia and Albania but will keep pushing for more internal reforms first and/or a new, slower approach to how candidate countries join (the single market first for example). This may get resolved as the Conference on the Future of Europe planned for two years from 2020 gets fully under way. (KH)

(4) Will Angela Merkel Remain as German Chancellor?

Yes. She may be weaker now and have confirmed she will step down in 2021, when the next federal elections are due, but she remains Germany’s most popular politician – well ahead of her chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is unlikely on current form to be the choice of the ruling CDU. The social democrats’ (SPD) new left-leaning twin leaders are even less popular and, with the party polling just 13%, unlikely to quit the grand coalition for now. A full-scale recession might upset the apple-cart. (DG)

(5) Will the EU Manage to Unite Around a New Approach to Migration?

No. The EU remains divided over managing external migration and continues to put more emphasis on border management and return of refugees and asylum-seekers than on developing a fairer and more open migration policy. Populist governments and parties, not least in Italy, Hungary and Austria will continue to push hard-line policies, and the EU’s partnership with Libya, trenchantly critiqued by human rights organisations, will nonetheless continue, while the shocking state of refugee camps on some of the Greek islands will continue too. (KH)

(6) Will Macron Succeed in His Push for an EU-Russia Entente?

No – not yet. The French President has rightly acknowledged that Vladimir Putin emerges from 2019 as a greatly enhanced geo-political player and that, with Trump’s USA as an unreliable partner, a Realpolitik-driven pivot away from NATO may be at least discussed. But a) there remains huge opposition to that shift within the EU, not least the ex-Soviet parts, and b) so long as there is no lasting peace deal in Ukraine and its territorial/political integrity remains unstable, a genuine entente is impossible. (DG)

(7) How Will the EU-Big Tech Stand-Off Shape Up Under the New Commission?

Anybody hoping that Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition chief, will push the new European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen into ordering the forcible break-up of Big Tech, aka GAFA, will be sorely disappointed. The Tory bête noire, the ECJ, has already started rowing back on some of her decisions (fining Starbucks), with the biggie, the €13bn back tax fine on Apple, pending. And she has yet to spell out what the “more robust remedies” on top of record fines will be. But plenty of on- and off-field skirmishes ahead. (DG)

(8) Will there be a Scottish Independence Referendum?

No. It will be 2021 at the very earliest (some considerable time after the May 6 Holyrood elections) and more likely, if at all, in 2023. The Brexit pro-indy bounce is too weak so far, the spectre of the Alex Salmond trial casts its pall, Nicola Sturgeon may be distracted, Scottish Labour has yet to see its salvation may lie in a pro-indy stance…but, if Johnson botches his EU deal, all bets will be off. (DG)

(9) Will the EU Play a Leadership Role to Ensure COP26 in Glasgow is a Success?

The EU has played a more progressive role in global climate politics than the US, China or India but it faces its own internal divisions that will still impact on its ambitions in 2020. Its biggest challenge in influencing the COP26 outcome is its lack of strategic clout at global level compared to the US or China. So the EU will play a relatively positive role but it won’t lead and the outcome hangs in the balance. (KH)

(10) Will Far Right populists Make Further European Gains?

Yes. Already, a more overtly nativist/English nationalist Conservative party has won an 80-seat majority in the UK (despite hollow promises of ending austerity/spreading wealth to poorer regions) and Vox, Spain’s neo-Francoists, won over 15% a month earlier. It’s likely Matteo Salvini’s Lega (at 33% in the polls) will regain power on a straight anti-immigrant ticket as the Five Stars/PD coalition heads for the rocks. But, unlike Poland, Hungary is showing signs of being fed up with Viktor Orban’s hegemonic Fidesz, Austria’s FPÖ is on the canvass, Germany’s AfD is treading water and the strikes by gilets jaunes/public sector workers against Macron’s ‘reforms’ have not brought a sweeping pro-Le Pen tide while his popularity is rising. (DG)

This comment is co-published with sceptical.scot


Kirsty Hughes | Twitter


Dr Kirsty Hughes is Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations. A researcher, writer and commentator on European politics and policy, she has worked at a number of leading European think tanks.

David Gow | Twitter


David Gow is Editor of Sceptical.scot, Senior Adviser at Social Europe and Senior Adviser at Acumen Public Affairs. He is former European Business Editor of The Guardian and worked for The Scotsman and London Weekend Television.