Europe wrestles with defining itself
In 2004, the European Union added 10 countries, pushing its boundary eastward. In its bid to join the EU, Turkey pushed westward, renewing debate about how the Muslim country would affect European identity. Terrorist attacks in Madrid, Beslan, and Amsterdam raised new questions about the war on terror, while a strong euro threatened European economies. What stories might define 2005?Skip to next paragraph
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Expect popular President Vladimir Putin to intensify his transformation of Russia's fledgling system of post-Soviet democracy into a centrally controlled authoritarian regime. The Kremlin calls it "managed democracy": more legislation that is bringing order to Russian lives and uniformity to its political system.
Opposition parties are almost all defunct, and with broadcast media firmly under state influence, any challenger to Moscow's power has little voice. Russia may be one of the few countries left in the world that appears to be moving toward less freedom. The latest example: In mid-December, deputies voted that regional local governors would no longer be elected, but appointed.
At the same time, Moscow is strengthening its sense of national self-importance - a move that put it on a collision course with Washington during December's disputed presidential elections in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union, aggressive US missile defense plans, and Russian support for Iran's nuclear program could further chill Russia's relations with the West in 2005.
What to watch:
• Bush and Putin claim they have a close personal relationship. Their February meeting in the Slovak Republic could provide a gauge of where their two countries' relationship is headed.
- Scott Peterson, Moscow
From the March 11 Madrid bombings to the crackdown on terrorists in Britain, from the French head-scarf furor to the assassination of a Dutch filmmaker critical of Islam, 2004 has shown the depth of Europe's challenge in dealing with terrorists without alienating moderates, and in deciding which brands of Islam are dangerous and which are merely devout.
In 2005, the test will be to prevent terror attacks and root out Islamist radicals while reassuring the vast majority of moderate, law-abiding European Muslims.
Some academics say that unless Europe can tackle problems likely to cause militancy - poverty, alienation, and isolation of Islamic youth - the continent could become the new battleground between radical Islam and Western society.
What to watch:
• Britain's case against Egyptian-born cleric Abu Hamza for allegedly soliciting murder and racial hatred, which is set to resume in July, will require skillful handling to avoid drawing more young Muslims into the extremist camp.
• How Britain resolves its detention-without-trial policy for terror suspects.
• A Madrid summit on the March anniversary of its terror attacks aims to set guidelines for "the democratic response against terrorism."
- Mark Rice-Oxley, London
Bringing Turkey's 69 million Muslims into the EU fold could mend fences with the Islamic world, demonstrating that Europe is no anti-Islamic club. Accession talks are set to start in October, even as some nations voice concerns about immigration, economic, and security issues.