What are going to be the biggest news events of 2014? Below are 10 predictions for the coming year.
But before going any further, you might want to read the similar column I wrote at this time last year, then looking ahead to 2013. It provides a salutary warning not to take my powers of prediction too seriously.
You’ll see that I got many things wrong. I thought we would see a more effective Obama presidency, and the demise of President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria. We did not. At least my safer predictions - that Netanyahu and Merkel would win elections in Israel and Germany, and that the fragile Greek government would struggle on for another year - turned out to be correct. And Andy Murray did win Wimbledon!
Now, for 2014. The usual caveat applies - my predictions do not necessarily reflect my personal preferences. I am simply trying to judge/guess/estimate what the next 12 months have in store.
1. I’m doing a volte-face on Syria, and now believe that President Assad will survive at least until the end of 2014. I underestimated Russian, and Iranian commitment to keep him in power. The rebel groups will remain fractured. Western countries, dismayed at the spread of radical Islam, will feel increasingly ambivalent about the outcome. But much depends on the Geneva talks, scheduled for late January.
2. A crucial issue for global security will be the success of the interim Iranian nuclear deal, and whether it leads to a permanent deal with the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China. The obstacles are huge: the distrust between the US and Iran, and the complexity of internal politics in those countries as well as in Israel. But Presidents Obama and Rouhani will put huge amounts of political capital into making a nuclear deal stick, and most of the world will be cheering them on.
3. Many countries will hold elections in 2014 but India is perhaps the most important. In India the Congress Party, which has been so disappointing in government, will be swept from power. The Hindu-nationalist BJP, led by Narendra Modi, will dominate a new coalition, to the dismay of many Muslims.
4. There is also an election in South Africa. The ANC will win, but people are increasingly frustrated with corruption and poverty. Even the emotions unleashed by Nelson Mandela’s death may not help the ANC. As people reflect on Madiba’s legacy, dissatisfaction with President Zuma will grow.
5. Politics in Nigeria is even murkier. The ruling party, the PDP, is in a state of convulsion, with many defections. Nigerian political parties are not ideologically coherent entities, but vehicles for regional and personal interests. The PDP has an inglorious record in office, although it is an effective election-winning machine. But President Goodluck Jonathan will have to show hitherto concealed political skills if is government is to survive through 2014, before the election in 2015. A safer prediction, just as I wrote last year, is that African economies will continue to grow, and African middle-classes will grow more assertive, even as the standard of political leadership on the continent lags behind.
6. Scotland will vote on Independence from the UK... and the result will be ‘No’.
7. The Eurozone will remain intact (and will even grow, as Latvia becomes the 18th country to join the single currency on January 1) but politics in Italy, Portugal and Greece will remain volatile. Expect a government to fall in at least one of those countries.
8. At the end of 2014... Julian Assange will still be in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, Edward Snowden will still be in Russia... but Yulia Tymoshenko will no longer be in custody in Ukraine.
9. There will be a surge in tourism to...Sarajevo, as visitors mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the 1st World War by seeing where the catastrophe began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
10. The football World Cup in Brazil will be won by... Germany, who will thereby become the first European country to win the competition in South America.