2021 was an eventful year. From COP26 to the swearing-in of America’s 46th President, and the election of a new German Chancellor after 16 years of Angela Merkel at the top, global politics threw up just as many major headlines as any year. So, what do we have to look forward to this time around?
2022, like most years, will see nations elect new leaders – most notably in France, who head to the polls in April. First elected in 2017, Emmanuel Macron will face the voters once more, but this time with even more of a right-wing challenge. Macron himself is yet to formally declare, but two major rivals have: Marine Le Pen, and Eric Zemmour. Le Pen was Macron’s opponent in the 2017 run-off, and he handily defeated the far-right National Front leader, but in the face of increasing polarisation, Eric Zemmour has emerged. The former broadcaster turned right-wing nationalist goes far beyond Le Pen in his rhetoric, railing against French decline and immigration. He is far behind Macron in the polls, but has won the endorsement of Jean-Marie Le Pen; father of Marine Le Pen and the former leader of the party his daughter now leads. Macron will likely win a second term, and become the first French president to do so since Jacques Chirac in 2002. But in the year France holds the European Council presidency, in the face of an increasingly Eurosceptic France, europhile Macron must face down the far-right challenge and tactly navigate a divided electorate.
France are not the only European country going to the polls. Hungary, who have been led by nationalist Victor Orban since 2010 will also vote for their next leader in April. Orban, who leads Fidesz, will face an opposition who have united against him and his party, with polling currently showing a tight contest. Marki-Zay is the candidate facing up against him, who was victorious in a primary organised by the opposition alliance, and is a popular provincial Mayor. Orban is still favourite to win, with cries of foul play in previous election victories, but a united opposition will prove a strong challenger, even to him.
Just two years after Joe Biden assumed the US presidency, his reputation will be on the line in the midterm elections. The US go to the polls every second November, to elect members of the House of Representatives, and some states will also be electing Senators, Governors and other state-wide politicians. Biden’s Democratic Party is widely expected to lose seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate, whilst the most notable Gubernatorial race is in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is seeking to unseat Governor Brian Kemp in a state that Biden narrowly won in the 2020 election.
The Republican of Ireland are not going to the polls, but they are getting a new Taoiseach. In 2020, Ireland went to the polls, but no party could form a government, and instead a coalition was built between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Under the terms of the coalition, the role of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) would rotate between the parties, with current Taoiseach Michael Martin set to step down in December and be replaced by current Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and former Taoiseach Leo Varadker.
The United Kingdom will also see another round of elections, with many local councils asking their residents who they want to lead. But more significantly is the Northern Irish Assembly elections. The election could be perhaps the most significant election in Stormont (Northern Irish Parliament) this century. Firstly, a 2021 Census for Northern Ireland is expected to show a Catholic majority in the North for the first time, potentially meaning a rising movement to reunify with the Republic of Ireland. Secondly, the Assembly that is elected will be the representatives voting in 2024 on whether to keep the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit agreement, potentially setting the stage for a major clash between Stormont, Brussels and Westminster later in the decade.
Amid rising tensions between NATO and Russia, there is an increasing fear that Russia could invade Ukraine in 2022. Russia has been amassing troops near the Ukrainian border and there is a fear amongst many NATO leaders that an invasion is imminent, perhaps as early as 2022.
Tensions are also likely to escalate between China and the west. With growing Beijing influence in Hong Kong, and fears that China may stage an invasion of Taiwan in the near future, there is increasing pressure on western leaders to up sanctions on Beijing and challenge their sabre-rattling. The apparent Genocide of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province only adds to the increasing pressure for the west to act, and 2022 may be underlined by increasing tension; not easy to navigate when trying to bring China into the conversation to tackle climate change.
Speaking of climate change, after Glasgow hosted the 2021 COP26 climate change summit, Egypt will welcome world leaders once again, for COP27. After COP26, it had been decided that nations had a year to come up with a plan to hit net zero, and return in November 2022 – to Egypt – with their plan in hand, ready to implement the change needed to protect the planet.
There is a hope that it will solidify many of the goals set in Glasgow and spark greater action to back up the words of 2021.
Of course, just as 2021 did not signal the end of Coronavirus, there is no getting away from the virus that has dominated our lives for the past two years. 2021 saw the mass rollout of vaccines, and the beginning of reopening throughout the world economy, but Omicron saw much of that rolled back, and there will no doubt be further boosters and antiviral medication that comes to the fore in order to aid the fight.
Will we see a return to March 2020 style restrictions? Probably not; but there is no getting away from the virus that has dominated our lives, taken many, and will continue to create the ‘new normal’ that still feels anything but normal.