What to watch in 2022
Vaccination wars in Europe and the United States
The coronavirus pandemic has increased vulnerabilities to misleading narratives and blurred the lines between politically and financially motivated (geo) information campaigns as well as between foreign and domestic information manipulators. Although online campaigns have sparked violence offline on several occasions and anti-vaccination protests appear to be gateways to far-right movements, populist leaders have so far struggled to seize the opportunity. to channel vaccine resistance into targeted policy action. That could change in 2022. The Omicron variant has forced governments to impose faster and more stringent measures. In Europe, Austria reacted first to impose mandatory vaccinations and the far-right Freedom Party is adopting anti-vaccination sentiments with potential new elections this year. In the United States, which is preparing for the midterm elections, former White House strategist Steve Bannon has hinted that a “war on the unvaccinated” could provoke an armed response from the unvaccinated predominantly Republican. Such a scenario would serve domestic and foreign masters of mass manipulation who have an interest in weakening liberal democracies.
Naja Bentzen, resident scholar
Election of the next Italian president
On January 24, the Italian parliament will start voting for the new president of the republic. President Sergio Mattarella has made it clear that he is not running for re-election, frustrating the hopes of those who wanted him to stay until the general election of 2023. For them, Mario Draghi would have been the natural candidate to succeed him at the time. the outcome of his tenure as Prime Minister. Draghi would be a very strong candidate, given his prestige, but many ruling parties fear that his rise to the presidency will hasten the end of the government and trigger an early election. In this context, the other candidates are the vice-president of the Constitutional Court Giuliano Amato, who was twice Prime Minister before, Pierferdinando Casini, the former president of the Chamber of Deputies and longest-serving member of the parliament, the minister of Justice Marta Cartabia, the President of the Senate Maria Elisabetta Casellati and the European Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also hopes to be elected, but his candidacy is perceived by the center-left parties as too confrontational. In the history of the Italian presidential elections, there is a constant rule: surprises are not so surprising. This election is important for Italy and Europe because it will set the tone for the country’s politics for the years to come, years during which it will have the opportunity to transform and modernize thanks to funds from the UE Next Generation.
Dario Cristiani, IAI / GMF Principal Investigator
An explosive energy situation in Europe
The year opens with several unresolved energy issues in Europe. One is the intra-EU controversy over the status of nuclear and gas as future energy sources on the continent. Plans to give the two a green status have revealed deep divisions between and within European countries. Another headache is the low level of natural gas reserves due to the reduction in Russian supplies in recent months. Barring an exceptionally mild winter, Europe may well run out of this key commodity. Another challenge is the political crisis in Belarus and a possible Russian military escalation in Ukraine. With both countries home to key gas arteries to Europe, deterioration of one or both will likely jeopardize supplies. Finally, the very controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is awaiting authorization from the German authorities to operate. This Russo-German project clashes with much of Europe and the United States, with no political solution in sight. These aggravated energy issues form an explosive mix that can easily trigger a political and economic crisis.
Joerg Forbrig, Director for Central and Eastern Europe
Hungarian elections will put the EU to the test
It will be a crucial year for democracy and the rule of law in the European Union. The autocratization underway in some Member States can be further strengthened or reversed depending on two key developments. Hungary’s general election in April offers voters a chance to get rid of the EU’s oldest illiberal government that has degraded the country’s political system to a hybrid regime, but they can also challenge the EU with the first significantly rigged elections in a member state. How other Member States and EU institutions are responding to this challenge, and whether they will be ready to support a large OSCE election observation mission or to sanction the Fidesz party if it remains in power through electoral irregularities, can have a long-term impact on the integrity of elections in Central and Eastern Europe in general, and in Poland in particular. Similarly, premature disbursement of the suspended payments to Hungary and Poland from the European Recovery Fund would both undermine the leverage effect on the two autocratization regimes. If the rule of law conditions it has set out are not met – and they will not be – by Budapest and Warsaw, the European Commission should resist pressure from accommodating member states and suspend funds indefinitely. Otherwise, 2022 could prove to be the year of missed opportunities for the EU on the rule of law front.
Daniel Hegedüs, guest researcher for Central Europe