Politico: Europe’s big problems in 2020

POLITICO’s predictions for the year ahead.

2019 was the year that multiple European governments collapsed, Boris Johnson crushed his opponents with a promise to “Get Brexit done” and a 16-year-old from Sweden rallied environmental protests across the Continent.

As the calendar clicks over into January 2020, POLITICO’s editors predict the major tensions that will shape the coming year. Spoiler: The outlook isn’t rosy — and Brexit isn’t done yet.

Europe goes Chinese

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Protectionism will no longer be a dirty word in EU policymaking. After free-trading Britain leaves the EU, France and Germany will quickly shunt Brussels toward an industrial policy based on state support, central planning and European champions.

That will include vetoes on big Chinese buyouts in Europe and European governments excluding Asian companies from public contracts, as the EU picks its next generation of home-grown corporate winners in sectors such as electric vehicles, hydrogen and health care. Expect attempted mega mergers in telecoms and other stone-age industries.

Liberal nations (the Swedes and Dutch) and big recipients of Chinese investment (Greece and Portugal) will lambast the Franco-German industrial juggernaut for hypocrisy. But Paris and Berlin will be deaf to their complaints. It’ll be a much-trumpeted leap back to the supposed glory days of post-World War II reconstruction — and the results will be underwhelming.

A new financial crisis

The tectonic plates of the world’s financial system are building up tension and are overdue for a slip. More than a decade — a typical interval between panics — since the last crisis, protections are more or less in place against a recurrence of those events. But the next crisis is always different, as financiers like to say.

Finance officials and economists look with wary eyes to China’s shadow banking system. Alternative sources of credit, away from conventional banks, have boomed along with the economy. Officials have not taken the measure of the phenomenon with any degree of confidence. As China’s economy wobbles, that credit looks shaky. Even a small uptick in losses can wipe out lenders with thin financial cushions.

The truce in Trump’s trade offensives has been a taken with a sigh of relief. But the peace, and China’s economy, is fragile. Any political misstep could set off fresh hostilities that would dim growth prospects.

This comes while warning lights are flashing red on the control panels of market watchdogs and analysts. Several classes of stocks and bonds are trading at high prices. Those two forces together are ready to shake the financial world in 2020.

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