Last year we wrote that in 2017, the world saw a myriad of change. 2018 has proved to be another rollercoaster year for the political and legal landscape. Here we cover the major events of this year:
Key elections and voting
There have been some major elections this year, which have had major implications for the EU political climate.
Italy: In late 2017, after a tumultuous year politically, President Sergio Mattarella dissolved Parliament and a new general election was called. The centre-right coalition, led by Matteo Salvini’s right-wing League, won a plurality of seats in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio became the party with the largest number of votes. The centre-left coalition, led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, came third. However, no political group or party won an outright majority, leaving a hung parliament.
After three months of negotiation, a coalition between the M5S and the League was formed, with MS5-linked independent Giuseppe Conte as Prime Minister.
Czech Republic: In January, the Czech Republic held their presidential elections. After no candidate won a majority, there was a run-off between Jiří Drahoš, from Party of Civic Rights, and incumbent President Miloš Zeman. The turnout was the 66.60%, the highest since 1998, and Zeman held onto his position with 38.57%.
Cyprus: In another run-off election, the President incumbent Nicos Anastasiades failed to gain 50% of the vote needed; at the run-off, Anastasiades achieved 55.99% of the vote, retaining his Presidency.
Finland: In Finland, the incumbent President Sauli Niinistö received 62.7% of the vote and was elected for a second term. Interestingly, although the President is elected by direct election, he gained a plurality in all municipalities and a majority in all but 13 municipalities.
Hungary: In April, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, won a sweeping victory in national elections.
By securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, Mr. Orban’s party, Fidesz and its ally, the Christian Democrats — now has the power to change the Constitution. Later in the year, the EU triggered a disciplinary procedure declaring that Hungary was at risk of breaching the EU’s core values, citing concerns about judicial independence, corruption, freedom of expression, academic freedom, the rights of minorities and migrants, and other issues.
Ireland: President Michael D Higgins was re-elected in Ireland, in the first election since 1966 where an incumbent President faced a contest for a second term and the first occasion on which an incumbent president nominating themselves for re-election had been opposed.
The election took place on the same day as a referendum on removing the offence of blasphemy from the constitution, where 64.85% voted yes to removal.
In May, Ireland voted overwhelmingly to overturn the abortion ban by 66.4% to 33.6%.
Previously, abortion was only allowed when a woman’s life is at risk, but not in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.
It has been a year of twists and turns for Brexit, with no clear outcome at the time of publication.
In December 2017, the joint report between the EU and UK was published, triggering the start of a long debate on the Irish Border, which has proven to be arguably the most divisive issue in negotiations.
Early in 2018, Theresa May made a speech at Mansion House which angered some hard Brexiteers. This approach went nowhere, leading to the now in-famous Chequers proposal which caused Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis to resign.
In Autumn, the Prime Minister had an unsuccessful trip to Salzburg where she was rebuffed by the other Member States. Meanwhile, talk of a second referendum or “People’s Vote” started heating up after the Labour Annual Conference.
In November, Ms May returned from Brussels with a deal, which led a wave of resignations across her cabinet and eventually lead to a No Confidence vote being held. The Prime Minister survived the vote but 117 of her MPs voted against her – over a third of the Conservative parliamentary party.
After another unsuccessful attempt to negotiate in Brussels, the PM returned and postponed the meaningful vote on her deal until the New Year.
With only a few months until crunch time, January looks to be a fascinating, if dramatic, month for Brexit.
Arguably the biggest news across the Atlantic has been the ongoing trade war between China and the US. Both countries are disputing tariffs imposed on goods traded between them, an issue that has spanned several US presidencies.
As a result, China’s export growth has slowed and a substantial number of Chinese companies are laying off staff and cutting wages. Prices are being slashed on goods subject to tariffs.
The effects are being felt elsewhere too. In Singapore, exports fell by 2.6 per cent in November.
It’s been a busy year for the digital industry with widespread panic coupled with an inundation of emails in March with the GDPR coming into force closely followed by the UK Data Protection Act 2018. “Consent” has been the key word many have latched onto post GDPR and businesses and consumers alike have started to be more conscious and protective of personal data.
This year has been big for Artificial Intelligence with the Commission publishing its European Approach paper on Artificial intelligence in April with the aim of boosting investment in the sector to keep up with international competitors as well as setting ethical guidelines. Following this, the Commission has launched the European AI Alliance, a high-level expert group consisting of 52 independent experts representing academia, industry, and civil society.
The Declaration of cooperation on Artificial Intelligence signed by Member States took place earlier this year as well, where states have declared a strong will to join forces and engage in a European approach to deal with Artificial Intelligence. By teaming up, the opportunities of AI for Europe can be fully ensured, while the challenges can be dealt with collectively making progress in this highly competitive, fast moving area smoother.
It has been an exciting and productive year for our offices across Europe too. Click here to see some of the major work we’ve been involved in.