2019 was an interesting year in the European political landscape.
European Parliament elections were held at the end of May, with a “green wave” sweeping across the Continent, with Ireland gaining two extra MEPs once the UK has left the European Union. With the new Parliament came the new guard at the European Commission, with former German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen appointed the President in July.
Ireland’s Leo Varadkar’s name had also been floated as a possible contender when talks that ran over three days went down to the wire during the summer. But the 61-year-old mother of seven emerged as the compromise candidate.
Climate change continued to dominate the agenda and influence policy debate particularly on agricultural production and where our food comes from. Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg was named Time magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ 2019, but was left disappointed when UN Climate talks in Madrid (December 3rd to 15th) ended in stalemate.
Brexit negotiations rumbled on, with the Withdrawal Agreement failing to pass through the House of Commons. The only way to break the Brexit deadlock was to call a general election, which is what UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson did at the end of October. The gamble paid off on December 12th, with the Conservative Party emerging as victor in their biggest majority at Westminster since 1987 - securing 365 seats (+47). The emphatic win now paves the way for the country to leave the European Union on January 31, with next year to be dominated by talks towards an EU-UK bilateral trade deal led in part by Ireland’s Phil Hogan (Trade Commissioner).
During his victory speech on the morning of December 13th, Johnson was emphatic that ‘we will get Brexit done on time … no ifs, no buts, no maybes.’ The Conservatives made gains in Labour heartlands, with the opposition party losing 59 seats.
Jeremy Corbyn is expected to step down as leader in early 2020. The Liberal Democrats did not perform as well as expected with leader Jo Swinson losing her seat in East Dunbartonshire to the Scottish National Party (SNP), thus disqualifying her from continuing as party leader.
Having secured 48 out of the 59 Scottish seats, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has declared that she has won a renewed mandate for a second independence referendum, requesting the transfer of power from Westminster to Edinburgh to allow the region to leave the UK. On December 18th, the First Minister of Scotland sent a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlining a ‘detailed democratic case’ to transfer to Edinburgh the legal authority to call a second referendum.
Any such referendum currently requires parliamentary authorisation from Westminster and Edinburgh. Johnson has repeatedly stated that he would block any moves to dismantle the union.
Meanwhile, across the water, US President Donald Trump became the third president in history to be impeached by the House of Representatives on the grounds that he had abused his power and obstructed Congress. He now faces trial in the US Senate, which will decide if he stays in office.
As the Republicans control the Senate, it is highly unlikely he will be kicked out of the White House. In a statement issued by Washington, the President is said to be ‘confident that he will be fully exonerated’ in the Senate trial. With a presidential election coming up in November 2020, the Democrats are hoping this should sway people’s minds.
So 2020 is already shaping up to be an interesting and eventful year on the political scene. A new year and a new decade – I wonder what will be in store.
• Rose O’Donovan is the editor-in-chief of the Brussels-based agricultural policy newsletter AGRA FACTS.