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Opinion

Opinion: Things can only get better for the EU in 2017

Many crises will determine the course of European politics in 2017. But the EU also offers a glimmer of hope, says Bernd Riegert.

Things can only get better for the European Union in the New Year. Politically, Europe will be hard put to survive another twelve months of crises and catastrophes, terrorism and setbacks. 2015 was already bad from a political point of view, but 2016 was worse. So let's try to be optimistic about 2017! What hasn't knocked us out so far makes us stronger, as one EU commissioner put it shortly before Christmas. He'll be proved right. He has to be. Please!

Good news from Europe

After all, there are positive things in store for Europe in 2017. The EU will introduce standardized charger cables for cell phones. There's a European soccer championship: the Netherlands will host the women's competition in 2017! Berlin's new airport will open in October! Well, probably. Maybe. Whatever! Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie will stage its first concerts in the spring, and at last, Europe will have a new cultural temple! Despite the debt crisis in Greece and the banking crisis in Italy, the eurozone economy will grow in 2017 and inflation will remain low.

Okay, the European Central Bank will facilitate only a slow recovery, with lots of cheap money, but still, that's better than nothing. And the ECB won't be the only interesting thing about Frankfurt in 2017: As the "Green Capital of Europe" it will inform the public about renewable energy, sustainable construction and climate-neutral mobility. That's important, too.

Deutsche Welle Bernd Riegert

Deutsche Welle's Bernd Riegert

Unfortunately, that's pretty much it as far as positive prospects are concerned. The crises of the past year will continue to plague Europe in 2017: Islamist terrorism, Brexit, populism, mounting exasperation with the EU. The EU Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has called it the "polycrisis."

The maudlin mood is spiced with uncertainty associated with the inauguration of an unpredictable US president. Will the far-right, anti-European Marine Le Pen really only come second in the French elections? Where will Germany, the most important country in the EU, stand after its elections next autumn? With a weakened Merkel - or without her altogether? How will European societies change in response to the ongoing terrorist threat? Will they become more hostile toward strangers, toward Islam, toward people with different opinions? Will we be open to reform, to equipping the police and intelligence services better in order to safeguard the security of our citizens? Will we be able to bid farewell to excessive bureaucracy, national egotism among law enforcement agencies, and excessive data protection?

An anniversary year: reason to celebrate

2017 should also be a year for Europeans to celebrate: The European Union will be turning 60. But the party in Rome in March will not be a wild one, despite the fact that the unification of Europe has - until now - brought us peace and prosperity. But no one wants to hear that anymore. The EU will only be able to work its way out of the crisis slowly - but it must. Despots and anti-democrats are lurking all around, and watching: Erdogan, Putin, Orban, Trump.

2017 is hardly going to be a year of new beginnings, but rather a year of waiting and seeing, of muddling through. So couldn't we just skip the year altogether? Or smooth it over with fake news - positive fake news this time? Something like: "EU ends migration crisis and halves unemployment. Populists give up." "Farage and Johnson were doping - Brexit invalid!" Alas, too good to be true.

So there's nothing for it: close your eyes, hope for the best, and plunge on into the political vale of tears. 2017 will also pass. Everything's bound to be better and more positive in 2018, when we'll be remembering the end of the great catastrophe of the First World War. We'll also be looking forward to the World Cup in Russia, that doper's paradise; with the perennial Putin at the helm, who will presumably just have been returned to high office following dubious elections. Or something.

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