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October 5, 2022

2012: A look into the crystal ball

What is this year going to be like? This is a question almost all people ask once the calendar has changed its counting. Either they think at a personal level, considering their own welfare chances, or they are experts questioning the status of the trends they have identified in the past months, in their respective areas of expertise – economics, politics, international relations, strategy, etc. – they all seem to have the same question on their lips. Publications abound in such forecasts, most of the time sharing the same page with a review of the previous 12 months’ highlights. Lists of crisis situations or potentially turbulent regions are put together, prices and profits are estimated, winners and losers are divined at the level of regions, corporations, states, networks and so forth. Because, by looking into the crystal ball, we want to bring the unknown closer to our comprehension, dissipate fears and foster hope.

What will the international stage be like in 2012? American ‘Time’ magazine declared the ‘protester’ as the ‘man of the year’ 2011. The one who, in the Tahrir Square in Cairo, in Homs, Syria, or New York, chanting ‘We are the 99 per cent’, or demanding a repeat of defrauded election in Moscow, or in a country like Greece, badly hurt by the sovereign debt crisis, spoke the voice of the ‘street’ in shaping the future of countries or even the planet he belonged to. Are they going to succeed in changing the axes of the world as we know them this year, as they have managed to remove dictators seemingly eternal in power in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya? That’s hard to tell, although there are things to suggest that what is in progress in the Arab region could go on beyond this winter to burst out into a new spring like the one victoriously recorded by 2011.

Protesters in Syria seem more determined to change the unnatural political custom of their country, just as ‘the 99 per cent’ show signs that they are not going to succumb to the hostility of the authorities and spread even more not just in the US, but also in the entire West. They are sailing downwind with the solution of austerity assumed by the European Union in coming out of the sovereign debt crisis, as well as the growing discontent about the grave imbalances induced by the unregulated operation of markets and generally about the neoliberal direction pursued by contemporary capitalism. Should we ask ourselves together with the world’s famous economic foreteller ‘Is Capitalism doomed?’ and agree with his answer: ‘Restoring robust growth is difficult enough without the ever-present spectre of deleveraging and a severe shortage of policy ammunition. But that is the challenge that a fragile and unbalanced global economy faces in 2012. To paraphrase Bette Davis in All about Eve, <Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy year!>’

Of course, a question – crucial one really – is still pending with regards to both 2012 and the years to come. In which direction is this wind of change determined by the fearless protesters blowing? In the Arab region, democratic elections have yielded both in Tunisia and Egypt more or less moderate Islamic majorities. Is this a trend of change in the Arab space where the secular may be replaced by the religious? Or where are the changes that could be brought along by the dissatisfaction with the austerity and huge disparities caused by unregulated neoliberalism pointing at? Possibly at a different form of capitalism, some sort of abandonment of the Chicago school which will be replaced by another one stemming from a different reading of Keynes, or perhaps a different, still unknown, form of social organisation?

And, because Europe is ours, its future is of utmost interest to us, because we are a part of it and also playing a role – Romania is still the EU’s seventh largest state – in shaping its future. Will the sovereign debt crisis – so virulent in 2011 – lead to the collapse of the euro zone and the dissolution of the European Union? At the beginning of a new year, Greece has already announced that it was considering returning to its former currency unless an agreement is signed with the partners in the euro zone to avoid default in the following three months. The European Central Bank is not showing any indubitable signals that it will undertake the role of a ‘last resort’ creditor for the EU member states. A member of the Constitutional Court of Germany – the state with the strongest voice in shaping the future of the EU – has found the courage to say that ‘it is a mistake to pursue a United States of Europe model. There is no ideal solution on earth, nor is there one that dates back to the 19th century. The supposed universal remedy of a United States of Europe could cause even greater conflicts than the current union with its many weights and counterweights that allow for a balance.’  Is it so far away the moment when the EU becomes one of ‘the big players’ in international relations?… in keeping with its economic weight and beyond and the ‘Old Continent’ relapses into its past, a past of national ‘parishes’ sharing jalousies, ancestral images of the enemy, conflicts and wars.

We cannot help asking ourselves why the EU has walked into such spiral of insecurity or, as some would call it, down the slope of dissolution? Could it be because its main ally, the US, has entered a period when its global responsibilities are redefined, one that some deem similar to a decline? We believe that Z. Bzezinski – the old American strategist who, for over forty years has been one of the guiding lights of the major US foreign designs – was right when he recently stated: ‘But those dreaming today of America’s collapse would probably come to regret it. And as the world after America would be increasingly complicated and chaotic, it is imperative that the United States pursue a new, timely strategic vision for its foreign policy – or start bracing itself for a dangerous slide into global turmoil.’

There is no doubt that the questions to which we seek answers to in the crystal ball are numerous. Is there going to be a war in the Strait of Hormuz?  What will be the price of oil? Is China going to see a property bubble as some analysts anticipate, with huge consequences on the entire global economy? Who will be the leaders of three of the biggest states on the planet – US, Russia and France – all having presidential elections this year? What kind of natural catastrophes could challenge identified political and economic trends? Is global warming going to keep the same growth rate or will it slow down? What epidemics will break out and where? So on and so forth.

The end of 2012 will tell how accurate our crystal ball was in answering all our questions.

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