2016 has been an eventful and unpredictable year, shaped very much in the UK by Brexit, and in the wider world by Donald Trump’s successful US Presidential Election campaign. What might 2017 hold in store?
1st January – António Guterrez succeeds Ban Ki-Moon as UN Secretary-General
Can the experienced former prime minister of Portugal revitalize an increasingly bypassed and weakened UN? His decade long experience as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees may prove useful should there be further exoduses of civilians from both the Syrian and Yemeni Civil Wars.
20th January – Trump officially becomes President of the USA
From this point onward, President Trump will not only have access to the nuclear codes, but will also need to implement the detail to his vague vision to ‘Make America Great Again’. Among the many actions promised on Day 1 of his presidency include the USA’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and marking his “drain the swamp” of Washington government efforts, banning top officials from lobbying within 5 years of leaving office.
Ongoing – South Korean Presidential Crisis
Following a far-reaching corruption scandal, President Park Guen-hye has now been suspended from office after a 234-56 vote in the South Korean Parliament to impeach her. However, as her lawyers have indicated their refusal to recognize the vote the process now moves on to the South Korean Constitutional Court, which must agree with Parliament by 7 June for her to be permanently removed. If this occurs, then Presidential elections must be held within 60 days. It remains to be seen if after impeachment, Ms Park herself will face corruption charges.
Ongoing – Syrian Civil War
Although very difficult to know whether the year might see an end to this prolonged conflict, how this and to a lesser extent, the Yemeni Civil War, will develop will indisputably shape high-level international relations in 2017.
Late Summer – German Federal Elections
This year will overdose on major European elections just like this writer did on mince pies at Christmas, with major elections in France, The Netherlands and possibly Italy. The German Federal elections are the pick of the bunch, however. Angela Merkel has chosen to remain as leader of the centre-right CDU and will be seeking a fourth term as Chancellor.
Undoubtedly key to the EU’s uncertain future, it would be a significant blow to remaining European political stability if ‘Mutti’ (German term for mother), as she is popularly nicknamed, were to lose power. As a response to the European Migrant Crisis in 2015, Merkel’s open-door policy towards refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East has dented to her popularity and prompted the rise of the populist right, anti-refugee and anti-immigration party, AfD. The CDU remains the largest party in opinion polls, making a fourth term as Chancellor for Merkel likely, although some awkward coalition-building may be required to keep her in power.
26th October – release of remaining JFK files
A day for conspiracy theorists as the last hidden President John F. Kennedy files collected by the Assassinations Records Review Board in 1992 are finally released. Expect revelations about US Spy Agency relationships during the height of the Cold War, but might it reveal pressure from some top officials to prevent a thorough investigation of the assassination of JFK? Only time will tell.
December – First human head transplant?
Although Phase 2 trials of a possible future commercially available HIV vaccine may turn out to be the more significant medical breakthrough of 2017, this too, if successful, would be a stunning medical achievement. It will be performed in China by Italian neuroscientist Sergio Canavero and Xiao-Ping Ren, who has performed a thousand head transplants on mice.
The patient who volunteered is Russian Valery Spiridonov, who suffers from the muscular degenerative condition of Werdnig-Hoffman’s. Tissue from the neck and spinal cord will be cut and fused onto the donor body in the estimated 36 hour-long operation. Spiridonov will then be induced into a coma for a month and given drugs to stop the body rejecting the new head. Canavero believes if successful the patient will be able to speak once he is woken and will be walking within a year.
And finally, ‘Brexit’ – Triggering of Article 50, no later than 31 March (in theory)
Enjoy the greatest political blockbuster of 2017: the beginnings of the UK’s negotiation to leave the EU. In January the Supreme Court will rule on the government’s appeal to the High Court’s ruling that Parliament must be consulted on the triggering of Article 50.
The timetable for triggering it has already been agreed by the Commons, so provided no further legal challenges appear, we will finally be on the path of ‘Brexit’ by 31 March. Expect every minor detail leaked from negotiations to be analysed minutely by the media as signs of a ‘Hard’ or ‘Soft’ Brexit materializing during the expected minimum two year negotiation process.