Christmas, the season of Saturnalia, has come and gone.
The days are drawing out- albeit that it will be weeks before we notice the longer daylight.
It is impossible to know what 2007 holds. We can talk about trends, but this forgets the "black swan" events that are by their nature unpredictable. The Grim Reaper can confuse many calculations- as he seems to have done in Turkmenistan with the death of the brutal dictator Niyazov, leaving no obvious successor. New ideas can gain purchase rapidly and then turn into the Conventional Wisdom. So I make no serious predictions about the passage of events.
So I will devote this fallow period before real work restarts to some unserious thoughts about the kind of events that may shape the coming year.
"Unseriously", we could think of many things that might happen in 2007- Iran may go nuclear, or may go moderate. North Korea may collapse or linger on. China may reform or crack down. Each seems about equally likely at the moment.
Yet many things will inevitably change- Tony Blair is committed to leaving office, for example. It remains to be seen if his heir presumptive, Gordon Brown, can maintain the success of the power machine that the Labour Party has become. Yet whoever becomes the Prime Minister will face new and different challenges, not least from the changing European environment.
The European Union continues to struggle to establish the ground rules for a Union of 27. Now it does seem that an attempt will be made to resurrect the constitution in 2007. The defeat of (and in) France may prove to have been a transitory one, and in fact it is Britain- rejected by the United States and increasingly riven by separatist factions- that may face the greatest problems in the coming year. After all, it seems very likely in 2007 that France will have a replacement for her discredited leader, Jacques Chirac. In the likely honeymoon period that the new President may have, much may be achieved- at home as well as abroad. Quietly the ratification process of the constitution has continued- and 17 countries have ratified the treaty.
The problem is not what the Constitutional treaty is, the problem is what it represents. In fact, it is a series of compromises set out with the aim of reducing the cumbersome fabric of the European Union. Yet the political nature of the document has made it a domestic football in France and the Netherlands, and a total deal breaker in the United Kingdom. In short, the stance of the British Press and the Conservative Party would make it extremely difficult for the UK to ratify the treaty at all under most likely scenarios.
So, a first unserious prediction: Europe will return to the forefront of the political battleground in 2007