2013: In Europe, some sunshine but spreading euroskepticism

The year just finished was a brighter one in Europe compared to the economic gloom of 2012. But support for the European Union continued to decline - perhaps to the benefit of far-right parties.

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
A sculpture depicting the euro is seen outside the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

As 2013 draws to a close, Monitor foreign correspondents look back on the global stories that had the greatest impact on the regions they cover. These stories, and the deeper trends that they reflect, are certain to remain in the headlines into the new year. We bring you tales of military posturing, democratic backsliding, and the death of a strongman. Watch this space for more in 2014. And click on the list of stories on the left hand side of this article for more year in review pieces from around the world.

If Europe in 2012 was the year of "existential crisis," as leaders faced a near demise of the euro, Europe in 2013 was in a sunnier mood. One could argue that the year played out as a prolonged, 365-day lull.

Few Europeans may be speculating about a switch from the euro back to francs or deutsche marks in the wake of the European Union's sovereign debt crisis. But many may wish they could leave the EU's common currency behind, as it binds members' economies closely to each other. Few worried about waking up this year and no longer counting Greece as part of the EU, as they did for much of 2012. But many wished that they themselves could be counted out of Europe's defining postwar project, the EU.

The mood was best captured in a Pew Research Global Attitudes Poll in May titled "The New Sick Man of Europe: the European Union." It showed a whopping 15-point decline in the favorability of the EU from 2012 to 2013.

In mid-2012, when Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, said that the bank would do "all it takes" to save the euro, most Europeans cheered. Sixty percent then, according to Pew, viewed the EU favorably. A year later, the EU has lost majority appeal: Its favorability has dropped to 45 percent.

Pessimism varies across the Continent, depending largely on whether countries sit on the debtor or creditor side of the crisis. Favorability has remained fairly high in countries such as Germany that have fared well, though its citizens may resent paying for the "mistakes" of others. In Spain, however, support fell from 60 percent to 46 percent, while in France it dropped from 60 percent to 41 percent. Britain is seriously debating whether it wants to be part of the EU at all.

What that's meant is a continued rise in the appeal of Europe's political extremes. That was underscored in November when France's popular National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, joined forces with Dutch politician Geert Wilders to launch a "historic" alliance of the far right. Europe is holding its breath to see how the forces of euroskepticism emerge in EU parliamentary elections in May.

Perhaps the most significant nod to Europe came from outside the EU's borders: Ukraine. The former Soviet satellite was gripped by intensifying protests in November and December after its president abruptly scrapped a deal with the EU, bowing to pressure from Russia. Thousands have flooded the streets of Kiev, the capital, waving the EU flag and saying their fate is with Western Europe, not Moscow.

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