Western Europe
Brexit Forecast for the United Kingdom
Elena Ananyeva
Doctor of Philosophy, Head of the Centre for British Studies at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences
At critical moments, history moves forward briskly. Events happen one after another. Subjective factors are interspersed with objective tendencies. And conformity with the laws of history push through chance. For years to come, foreign and domestic political life of the United Kingdom will be determined by the outcome of Brexit. Uncertainty has become the default position of not only the economy of the United Kingdom, but the country's domestic and foreign policies.

The mutual influence of external and internal factors will have an impact on the economic development of the United Kingdom. Consequently, separating the two for the purposes of analysis is a difficult task. Objectively speaking, the United Kingdom has a trade deficit with the European Union, and members of the political establishment were always unhappy with the prospect losing a portion of its parliamentary sovereignty to the supranational EU bodies. However, the 2016 referendum on the country's membership in the European Union was perhaps a subjective error on the part of then Prime Minister David Cameron that came about as the result of party infighting. The government failed to convince the nation of the benefits of EU membership. The controversial split over relations with the European Union now touches every corner of society, but none more than the Tory Party.

The Economic Situation

Projections for the growth of the UK economy in 2019 by leading international financial institutions (OECD, IMF and UN), the Bank of England, consultancy firms and think tanks vary from 1.1% to 1.8%. While the Office for Budget Responsibility has upped its forecasts for 2019 and 2020, economic growth will not reach the same level that was observed before the referendum until 2023. [1] The IMF has predicted a growth of 1.9% in the eurozone in 2019. [2] Given the fact that the IMF expects a slowdown in global economic growth, it seems difficult to separate the influence of Brexit on the state of the global economic environment.

Forecasts for the United Kingdom up to 2024 are uncertain. Economists argue that the referendum has affected the prospects for economic development, and GDP is growing at a more pedestrian pace than was observed before the referendum. Overall, the forecasts for the UK economy in the short term (up until 2030) suggest a slowdown in growth rates, regardless of the terms of the Brexit outcome. [3]

Domestic Politics

In the United Kingdom itself, the objectivity of forecasts is often tainted by the subjective preferences of those who either support Brexit (Bremainers) or oppose it (Brexiters). Thus, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond (a Bremainer) believes that the economic slowdown caused by a no-deal Brexit (and the transition to WTO rules) would lead to a decline in government revenues. Consequently, government borrowing will increase by £80 billion annually by the 2033/2034 financial year, while GDP growth will be 7.7% lower over the course of the next 15 years. The government has already abandoned austerity measures and the task of balancing the budget by 2020 set by David Cameron. The Treasury has been preparing additional financing for key ministries in the event of a no-deal Brexit. [4]

In October 2018, the government presented its budget for the 2019/2020 financial year (which starts in April), marking the end of austerity measures and increasing social spending. The budget still must be approved by parliament, but the change in the country's economic course is important, nevertheless. Economic growth of 1.69% has been promised for 2019, alongside increased social spending, tax cuts (although for middle-income earners rather than for the poorer segments of society), and an increase in the minimum wage. [5] Theresa May has pledged to provide the NHS with £20 billion in funding over the next five years. Philip Hammond also announced additional expenditures on cybersecurity and the modernization of the Trident nuclear programme to the tune of £1 billion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has warned that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the United Kingdom would have to deal with the problem of importing food and medicines and conclude new deals with the EU on air travel. The budget will have to be revised (since there will be no 21-month transition period), as will economic development forecasts. Having said that, the current budget was drawn up with a 24-month transition period in mind, which may indicate that Theresa May plans to extend the original 21-month window due to the unresolved issues of the Irish border. [6] If the situation changes, the government will have to either increase sovereign debt or raise taxes. By abandoning austerity measures, the Theresa May cabinet is creating a "safety cushion" in the event of an early general election.

It is true that the terms of the November 25 Draft Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the Political Declaration Setting out the Framework for the Future Relationship Between the European Union and the United Kingdom were rejected in by the British people. [7] However, the concessions made by the United Kingdom in its negotiations with the European Union were objective in nature (regarding the Irish border, for example) and had nothing to do with the personality of the prime minister. Even before the parliamentary vote in December 2018 it was obvious that the government would not be able to secure its approval, as Brexiters and Bremainers alike were unhappy with the documents. Subsequent events could unfold according to one of several different paths:

— a repeat vote in parliament after 21 days;

—a no-deal exit from the European Union;

— a "negotiated no deal" in which the United Kingdom would, with the consent of the European Union, leave the EU one year later than originally agreed without a deal;

— a second referendum (which is only possible with the approval of parliament, if such a bill is introduced, although the government is categorically against this, as it fears that opposition in the country will escalate); [8]

— continued membership in the European Union (assuming a second referendum takes place and the vote is to remain);

— an early general election (in the event of a vote of no-confidence in the government);

— the resignation of Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister (if 158 members of her own party express no-confidence in her) and a new leadership election.

All these scenarios imply the postponement of Brexit to a later date (subject to parliament passing a new law and the European Union agreeing).

Other options have appeared, including the formation of a minority Labour government without a general election, or of a national (coalition) Labour–Conservative government (like the National Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald in 1931–1935).

Given all this, it is entirely possible that a second referendum on Scottish independence could take place – let us not forget that Scotland voted overwhelmingly in favour of the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union. On the other hand, relations have not been settled with Spain over Gibraltar, and the problem of the Irish border may worsen still. Thus, the territorial unity of the United Kingdom is being tested.

Political turbulence and polarization has hit a peak in the United Kingdom. Both the general public and the elites are spit along the vertical axis of the political spectrum (that divides Brexiters and Bremainers), having effectively forgotten about the classical opposition along its horizontal axis (left–right).

The country has yet to agree on the preferred Brexit option. At the same time, the British public does not rally behind any of the United Kingdom's prominent political figures as viable alternatives to Theresa May, although she has an extremely low approval rating. [9]

The Prime Minister has ruled out the possibility of a second referendum on EU membership and has no plans to call a snap election. However, a stalemate in parliament could provoke either or both. Given the fact that the ratings of the leading parties are within a margin of error, the Conservatives a not guaranteed a victory in a snap election (the next general election is slated for 2022), especially as the electorate views the Tories as being even more split than the Labour Party. Parties that are split do not win general elections.

Foreign Policy

The future trade and economic policy of the United Kingdom will largely depend on how it resolves its issues with the European Union. If the United Kingdom leaves without a deal, it will have to renegotiate all individual commitments under the WTO regarding trade duties, services, tariffs and quotas. It will also have to make deals with all WTO members, as if it were a brand-new member of the trade organization. [10]

The United Kingdom hopes to conclude a trade agreement with the United States, strengthening military and political ties. However, before the vote in parliament on the agreement with the European Union, US President Donald Trump, undermining Theresa May's position, announced that the agreement would make concluding a trade deal with the United States impossible. [11] We should note here that Washington's interest in the United Kingdom extends only to the extent of its membership in the European Union. It is likely that the "special relations" enjoyed by the two countries will suffer as a result of Brexit.

London's primary task in its post-Brexit relations with Brussels is to participate in its foreign and defence policies, specifically in the "European Army," the very idea of which the United Kingdom opposed when it was a member of the Union. In the field of defence and military-technical cooperation, the actions of London were and will be aimed at strengthening ties with individual European countries. Agreements have already been reached with Poland and Northern European countries (including Sweden and Finland, which are neutral) on their participation in the UK Joint Expeditionary Force. Even though it is leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom has nevertheless attempted to expand its presence in the Western Balkans, the countries of which are being aided by NATO in their attempts to become members of the European Union.

The United Kingdom intends to solidify its standing in NATO and even increase military spending to 3% per year, the figure set by Washington.

Considering Brexit, London has put forward the idea of a Global Britain in the hope that it will establish bilateral trade agreements with China and Commonwealth countries such as India. To this end, the country has stepped up its foreign policy activities in Africa and Asia and is using development assistance (0.7% of GNI) to strengthen its political influence in these regions.

The United Kingdom persists with its anti-Russian rhetoric, trying to raise its standing on the international stage, and is actively involved in countering the supposed Russian threat alongside its EU and NATO partners, as well as international organizations, thus contributing to an image of Russia as a pariah state in the UN Security Council. [12] It is unlikely that the United Kingdom will change its policies on Russia under a Conservative government. UK–Russia relations may improve if the Labour party comes to power, and even then only under certain conditions. [13]
Germany in Search of New Ideological Touchstones
Vladislav Belov
Deputy Director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Head of the German Research Centre
Domestic Politics

In February 2018, Germany's CDU/CSU union and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) agreed on a coalition. This was largely due to Chancellor Angela Merkel's ability to reach a compromise in the most difficult situations. Following the approval of the agreement by the core of the Social Democrats (the youth wing opposed the move), the Bundestag voted the new government in on the recommendation of the federal president. The agreement came into force in mid-March. Most Christian Democrats were unhappy with the significant concessions that Merkel had made to her partners in the party alliance (such as migration quotas) and the Social Democrats (entrusting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of finance to their representatives). Several conflicts broke out later during the year that could potentially lead to the collapse of the grand coalition. In late May and early July, Minister of the Interior, Building and Community and Leader of the Christian Social Union Horst Seehofer presented a master plan for migration. Merkel expressed her fundamental disagreement with Paragraph 27 of the plan, which contained a provision for the immediate deportation of persons who had applied for refugee status in another EU country and were attempting to cross the border into Germany. In the Chancellor's view, this provision contradicted fundamental European values and the interests of the partner countries that host the main stream of illegal immigrants. Following protracted debates, the coalition partners reached a compromise.

The opposition took advantage of the discord within the coalition. The Free Democratic Party (FDP) continued to criticise Merkel for the migration policy mistakes she made back in 2015, and expressed its readiness to resume discussions about the possibility of a Jamaica coalition, but only if the alliance had not include the incumbent federal chancellor. The Greens did not object to this proposal.

The popularity of the nationwide parties (especially the SPD) decreased throughout 2018. This was reflected, among other things, during the October elections in Bavaria and Hesse, where these parties got very low shares of the vote. The level of appreciation of small parties, primarily the Alternative for Germany (AfD), has grown at both the federal and regional levels. AfD is now represented in the parliaments of all the German regions. The party is trying to achieve "legitimization" by promoting conservative initiatives in the regional and federal parliaments that other factions cannot but support.

The crisis of the nationwide parties (the CDU/CSU alliance and the SPD) will continue. Their leaders will continue to seek new ideological touchstones, and discussions within the parties will intensify. The parties' youth organizations will play an important role in these processes. The Young Social Democrats are particularly critical. The only way to win back the voters' erstwhile trust will be to radically renew the party leadership (this requires new but charismatic leaders) and find new mechanisms of interaction with different groups of voters.

At its federal congress in early December 2018, the CDU will elect its new chairperson to replace Merkel, who announced in late October that she would be stepping down and would not stand for chancellor or the Bundestag. This decision was chiefly caused by the need to consolidate the party and put an end to internal clashes within the CDU. It is highly likely that Andrea Nahles will also resign as chairperson of the SPD. Seehofer announced his decision to step down as leader of the CSU in mid-November 2018.

The main question for 2019 is whether Merkel will be able to save the grand coalition. This will depend both on the outcome of the CDU congress (and who will become the new party chairperson and whether the party will support Merkel's decision to continue as the head of government until 2021) and on developments in 2019. In any case, Merkel will do everything in her power to preserve the coalition during the current legislative period. Both the CSU and the SPD are interested in this. However, 2019 may bring new conflicts within the government, resulting in changes to its party representation or an early election.

If there is no early election to the Bundestag (the probability of which is considerably higher than zero), then the next election will be held in September 2021. There will be no grand coalition. The parties with the best chances to form an alliance are the CDU/CSU, Alliance 90/The Greens and the FDP. The Bundestag will continue to be represented by seven parties, and the AfD, currently more popular than the Social Democrats, may remain the main opposition force. In subsequent legislative periods (from 2025), new coalition options may emerge. It is unlikely that new mainstream minor parties will appear. Whatever the case, these subsequent governments will operate against the background of compromise agreements and growing populist sentiments. This will restrict the options for further social and economic reforms, which Germany will still need in the foreseeable future.


In 2018, the primary objective for Germany was to preserve and improve the competitiveness of its economic, political, socioeconomic, cultural and historical space (Standort). For the most part, this concerned the digital transformation of the German economy, which has been the key priority of coalition governments since 2013. Even though Germany is a leader in terms of innovation potential (in the number of registered patents and scientific publications), [1] its progress in implementing this potential, i.e. in innovative development, remains modest. [2] One of the factors here is the underdeveloped digital infrastructure. No particular progress was achieved in this area during 2018, so the objective will now have to be reached within the next six years.

The key priorities still include reforming the energy sector (the so-called energy transition). This involves abandoning nuclear energy completely, reducing the share of coal-fired power plants and increasing the share of renewable energy sources. Demand for natural gas, including from Russia, will grow. The energy transformation concept will gradually lose its appeal with the electorate. In the years to come, the government will be forced to soften on the energy approach by shifting the focus to the development of power grids and the introduction of digital technologies.

By late 2018, the forecast GDP growth rate had been reduced from 2.2 per cent to 1.6–1.8 per cent. The figure for 2019 is expected to be roughly similar. [3] It is obvious that GDP growth is unlikely to exceed 2 per cent by 2024. [4] The main reason for this is the decline in external demand due to increased protectionist trends in global trade, the growing uncertainty among German companies with regard to the prospects for economic cooperation with the United States and China, and the unpredictability of Brexit. This calls for stimulating domestic demand in the years to come.

A record high employment rate was recorded in 2018 (44.9 million), and unemployment was at a record low (2.35 million). This, together with the high number of migrants receiving state support, stimulates household demand. The 2019 figures are expected to break records once again, at 45.2 million and 2.24 million, respectively. It is possible that, from 2021, these indicators will worsen somewhat as a result of the decline in global market situation and the further introduction of digital technologies. On the other hand, experts suggest that the impact of digitalization on the number of available jobs will be minimal. The "carrot and stick" (fördern und fordern) migration policy will continue. Immigrants who fail to obtain refugee status or break the law will be deported in increasingly higher numbers than the current average of 25,000 annually. Those remaining in the country will be integrated: there is an effective infrastructure in place to support official refugees, including in the form of vocational training.

Foreign Policy

The European Union

Germany's foreign policy is still primarily focused on the European Union and its close allies. The country will continue with the 2018 initiative to strengthen ties with France as the foundation for implementing EU reforms and improving European mechanisms. These reforms, largely based on the ideas of European values and shared responsibility, will be met with resistance by individual countries and country groups, primarily by the Visegrad Group. One of the obstacles is the growing right-wing populism and Euroscepticism. Whether this trend continues, will be clear from the results of the European Parliament election in May 2019. The CDU will make every to ensure the victory of European People's Party faction, and for its member Manfred Weber to be appointed head of the European Commission.

Germany is striving to achieve a joint resolution of the migration crisis, both in terms of protecting the EU's outer borders and in terms of distributing refugees across the European Union. This problem will remain a stumbling block in Berlin's relations with other European capitals in the next five years.

As before, Poland will remain the most difficult EU partner for Germany. Without changes in the Polish political leadership, which is prepared to do everything needed for the country to assume the United Kingdom's place as the chief Eurosceptic, we should not expect a rapprochement between Berlin and Warsaw. There is still no clarity with regard to Brexit. By late 2018, there were more variables than constants in this process. Regardless the outcome, the United Kingdom will remain a key political and economic partner for Germany until 2024.

Germany will continue to strengthen the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) policy, mainly through its cooperation with France. The probability of operational European politico-military structures emerging will increase gradually (although many Russian experts disagree with this forecast). Berlin, just like Paris, is interested in further increasing its relative politico-military independence in the global arena and expanding the scope of the European Union's international responsibility (but only in the context of the transatlantic commitments of Germany and France as the main European NATO member states). Germany will also continue with its efforts to obtain permanent membership in the UN Security Council.

The United States

Germany's transatlantic vector in 2018 was influenced by U.S. President Donald Trump's hard line in delivering on his campaign promises and using foreign policy as an instrument to achieve political goals at home, including in the context of the November mid-term election to Congress. Berlin was disappointed with the introduction in early April 2018 of extraterritorial sanctions against Russia under the CAATSA act of August 2, 2017, as well as with Washington's withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in May, the reintroduction of sanctions against Tehran (which affected German and European business interests) and the installation of protective import tariffs on European steel and aluminium. Even more disappointing were Trump's refusals to meet personal requests of Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron to find compromise solutions to the aforementioned problems. Germany was also unhappy about Washington's withdrawal from the INF Treaty, which dramatically increased the risks of a new arms race and, consequently, the risk of a military conflict on EU territory.

It is obvious that the situation is not going to change in 2019 and beyond. The U.S. administration has warmed to the implementation of the America First policy. Germany and France, while remaining loyal to the principles of Euro-Atlantic solidarity as EU leaders, will not be able to influence the behaviour of the United States.


Russia–Germany cooperation continued to improve in 2018. The turning point in bilateral relations after the spring of 2014 was the meeting between Angela Merkel and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 2, 2017. Since then, the dialogue has been split into two parts – official, open talks and informal contacts behind the scene. The parties identified the points of disagreement (Crimea, South-Eastern Ukraine, human rights and freedom of the press), and began to actively seek points of contact and ways to resolve existing problems. From May to November 2018, a number of substantive working meetings in a variety of formats were held at the level of heads of state and ministers. The main international topics discussed were Syria (certain opportunities for cooperation in restoring civilian infrastructure in that country), Ukraine (attempts to resolve the deadlocked situation in the southeast of the country, including through the implementation of the UN Action for Peacekeeping Initiative), Iran (preserving the nuclear deal and the Syrian conflict) and counteracting U.S. extraterritorial sanctions. Especially in the light of the Nord Stream 2 project: Germany confirmed its readiness to continue importing Russian hydrocarbons while attempting to protect the interests of its businesses from the U.S. sanctions. Also discussed were issues of economic cooperation, which is gradually recovering after the crisis years (the 2017 growth in bilateral trade in goods and services, continuing German direct investments, the opening of new industrial facilities in Russian regions, successful industrial cooperation and production localization, new cooperation opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as between Russian regions and federal states in the west and east of Germany). Good prospects remain for humanitarian cooperation. In mid-September 2018, the results of the cross year of municipal and regional partnerships were summed up in Berlin. November should see the launch of the joint year of scientific and educational cooperation. The Russian Seasons festival will be held in Germany in 2019.

Germany was the key EU member nation with which the Kremlin reached the highest level of mutual understanding in 2018. This came as an important achievement against the background of Russia's dramatically worsened relations with the West in general since March 2018, when the previously existing red lines disappeared due to the stringent and unreasonable demands and accusations from the United States and the United Kingdom, and the level of mutual trust remained very low. While formally siding with its Western partners, Berlin managed to maintain a meaningful dialogue with Moscow. In many respects, this was made possible thanks to Merkel and her government.

If the Merkel-led coalition is preserved until 2021, this effective working dialogue will continue. Poland, the United States and the United Kingdom will continue to try and derail this dialogue or antagonize the two countries, but they will not succeed. The dialogue will expand to cover more international components: Berlin is interested in devising and implementing joint initiatives with Moscow. A certain cooling of relations is possible after September 2021, depending on the position of the future German government, which will include the Greens and the FDP. This period will not last for long, and constructive approaches will once again prevail in the dialogue, which will continue until 2024. As before, various discussion platforms will play an important role, with the active participation of the Russian International Affairs Council and the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

However the situation in Germany develops, it will remain Russia's key Western and European partner in terms of foreign policy, economics, culture, humanitarian cooperation and civil dialogue.
RIAC Forecast 2019–2024
France: Results and Prospects of Emmanuel Macron's Presidency
Yuri Rubinsky
Doctor of History, Head of the Center for French Studies at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences
In the medium-term, the development of the French economy and the evolution of its domestic and foreign policies largely depend on the results of the large-scale reform programme launched by the country's current President Emmanuel Macron.

The programme entails a break with the socioeconomic model that emerged in France after World War II, which was characterized by the active role of state in the redistribution of financial flows (54 per cent of the country's GDP goes through the treasury), strict administrative market regulation and labour relations and a very advanced, but loss-making redistributive social security system. [1]

In the first post-war decades, this neo-Keynesian model worked, although today most members of the French business community, Le patronat, believe it goes against the grain of the 21st century globalized world. This was evidenced by low growth rates (1.7 per cent in 2018), chronic deficit of the budget (EUR 81.3 billion, 2.8% of GDP) and the balance of trade, swelling sovereign debt (98.6 per cent of the GDP), capital and production flight due to high taxes and mass unemployment (9.1 per cent of the labour pool). [2]

In the 18 months that Macron has been in power, the Édouard Philippe government appointed by him has submitted 77 major bills to Parliament which have radically changed the labour code and the system of elementary, secondary and higher education, tightened the rules for granting asylum to immigrants and stiffened measures intended to fight corruption and terrorism. Waiting their turn are drastic reforms of civil service and pension programs, vocational education and unemployment insurance systems.

All these radical changes were made possible by a combination of two factors: further strengthening of the top-down governance in the Fifth Republic with the President on top, and changes to its erstwhile system of political parties.

Public officials, representatives of the business community and the technocratic elite have solidified their standing in the highest levels of power, and the head of state (a former finance inspector, investment banker and minister of the economy) and Philippe's cabinet are prime examples of that. The planned revision of the current 1958 Constitution further bolsters the role of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative branch, which was laid down in the regime of the Fifth Republic 60 ago by its founder General Charles de Gaulle. This entails cutting the number of deputies and senators by one third and restricting the scope of their law-making functions.

The presidential and parliamentary elections of 2017 brought a crushing defeat to the mainstream parties of moderates, right-wing republicans and left-wing socialists that had alternated in ruling the country over the last few decades, and a question mark was put over their very existence. Thus, three generations of traditional political elites discredited by economic stagnation and corruption scandals were swept off the political stage.

As a result, the previous bipolar party system was replaced with the absolute hegemony of the new centre party ("both left- and right-wing"), the Republic on the Move! (La République En Marche! or just En Marche!) founded by Macron during his electoral campaign of 2016–2017. The party gained an absolute majority of 313 seats in the lower house of parliament (the National Assembly) and, together with members of the centrist Democratic Movement party (MoDem) and defectors from the opposition on the right and the left, had 350–360 out of the 577 seats. With no political experience and no solid local standing, they obediently support the government and the president to whom they owe their election.

At first glance, it may seem that Macron's standing and the continuation of the reforms he launched will not be in any danger until the next presidential and parliamentary elections in 2022. According to surveys, opposition from the extreme wings of the political spectrum (Jean-Luc Mélenchon's La France Insoumise, or "Untamed France" and Marine Le Pen's extreme right-wing National Rally, formerly National Front) has the support of 10–11% and 25–30% of the population, respectively, but they are deeply split, which makes it virtually impossible for them to form a tactical coalition similar to the Italian one. At the same time, the remains of the former mainstream parties (the Republicans and, particularly, the Socialists) have not yet recovered from their defeat and are essentially out of the game.

Nonetheless, the stability of the current political system should not be exaggerated. The President's hopes for the improvement of the situation on the global market have not yet come true, and the results of the domestic reforms are late coming. The principal macroeconomic indicators (growth rates, deficits, sovereign debt and unemployment) have not yet exhibited noticeable improvements.

At the same time, the distribution of profits from the reforms and their costs is far from equal. The revision of fiscal policies (abolishing the tax on wealth, reducing profit tax by EUR 20 billion, etc.) and the labour code, which significantly curtailed the rights of trade unions, brought the greatest profits to entrepreneurs, top- and mid-level managers, self-employed professionals and big city intellectuals who fit in perfectly with globalization processes and European integration. This privileged category (the upper middle class), the core voters of En Marche! (24 per cent in the first round of the 2017 presidential elections), offers the greatest understanding and support to the president's postmodern, liberal and globalist discourse.

At the same time, given the low economic growth rate, the inevitable costs of breaking away from the former model are borne by the many socially vulnerable groups: retirees, workers, farmers, low-ranking civil servants and students, particularly those in small towns and the economically depressed rural regions of Northeast and Southeast France and the Massif Central, which are experiencing deep structural breakdowns of the traditional and soon-to-be obsolete industrial and agricultural sectors.

Until recently, the attempts of the dissatisfied groups to protest through the traditional French "direct action" (strikes and massive street rallies) failed to receive widespread support because of mass unemployment and the split of the trade union movement into radicals and reformists. The situation is changing, however: on November 17, 2018, a total of 382,000 activists wearing yellow vests and protesting against the rising prices of gas and diesel blocked the streets and roads of France. This spontaneous movement was not organized by a particular party or trade union and continued on the following days. Students, lyceum students, ambulance drivers, nurses and other healthcare professionals joined them. The authorities' claims that these measures were necessitated by environmental concerns had no effect.

Every Saturday since, the "yellow vests" movement became more and more widespread, transforming into a national socio-political crisis. Right-wing and left-wing extremists infiltrated the protesters' ranks, as did criminals from underprivileged suburbs, destroying urban infrastructure facilities, building barricades, burning cars and robbing shops and restaurants. The law enforcement agencies (the police and the gendarmerie) lost control over the situation. The numbers of detainees and wounded on both sides exceeded several hundred people. The government's attempt to establish a dialogue with the protesters failed to produce convincing results. On December 10, President Macron made a televised address to the nation promising to adjust the means for achieving his goals of modernizing the country so that its social problems would be taken into account.

This crisis was not incidental. The political stability of the "neo-Bonapartist" top-down governance is gnawed away by the marginalization of intermediary links between state and society. Municipal and regional departmental councils and mayors of 36,000 of small and large communes do not want to put up with emasculation of their powers and the cutting of funds by the centralized administrative bureaucracy. The upper house of parliament, the Senate, where En Marche! is a minority, gives voice to their dissatisfaction. [3]

The same applies to hundreds of thousands of non-partisan civic society organizations (professional, cultural, religious, environmental, human rights, etc.). Although the authorities try to absolve themselves of responsibility by setting up a dialogue between social partners, particularly between entrepreneurs and trade unions, the government still has the last word, relying on the "obedient" majority of the National Assembly members.

The dissatisfaction of the masses is reflected in Macron's steadily falling approval ratings: according to a poll taken immediately after his election in 2017, a total of 63 per cent of respondents supported him, while in October 2018, that number was only 29 per cent. This is noticeably below the approval ratings of both of his predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, in similar periods of their first terms. Neither Sarkozy nor Hollande won re-election for a second five-year term.

Macron's excessively arrogant and overbearing manner has earned him the unflattering nickname of the "President of the Rich," which has done significant damage to his image. He is forced to acknowledge that he failed to overcome the mistrust citizens have for the powers that be.

Following the pointed resignation two key ministers, Minister for the Ecological and Solidary Transition, Nicolas Hulot, and Minister of the Interior, Gérard Collomb, the President had to forcibly re-organize Philippe's cabinet, and that reshuffling was another symptom of the narrowing popular support for the regime and the conflicts in the upper echelons of power. [4]

Collomb held a special place in Macron's circle: he was the first leader of the then ruling Socialist Party to offer active support to the then unknown candidate during the 2017 presidential campaign, thus contributing to his victory. The immediate reason for his resignation was the high-profile scandal surrounding the illegal actions of Alexandre Benalla, the President's personal bodyguard, which forced the minister to make excuses to the parliamentary investigative commission.

The resignation of both deputy prime ministers reflects a crisis in the President's relations with local authorities and NGOs: Collomb was Mayor of Lyon and decided to go back to his native city, while Hulot was a sort of an icon for environmentalists.

The reshuffling of the cabinet was minimal: the majority of ministers (including the Prime Minister) kept their offices, while six were moved to different posts and eight were first-time appointees. Addressing the nation, the President said he would not revise the political course. At the same time, he was forced to promise to pay more heed to the local authorities, to "soften" the "Jacobin" centralization of power in favour of the provinces and draft, among other things, amendments to the Constitution that would include expanding the powers of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (ESEC), which represents chief civic society organizations.

However, the ability to carry out these promises depends on the results they should bring: specific economic shifts, primarily the growth of the population's purchasing power and increasing employment. Macron's presidential term and the powers of the deputies forming his parliamentary majority expire in May–June 2022, and if appreciable economic changes for the better have not taken place by that time, a question mark will emerge over the prospects of their re-election for the next five years. [5]

A specific feature of Macron's strategy and style is his ardent desire to fit his reform programme into a broad international context in order to justify, in the public mind, the need for difficult and sometimes painful reforms by citing the harsh demands of the outside world. At the same time, he insists on the universal dimension of democracy and human rights, the values of the French Revolution of 1789. The active part France plays in protecting these values is presented as a foundation for its role as one of a handful of countries with global interests and responsibilities, particularly in the face of the current global challenges (climate, migration, etc.).

During his first year in office alone, Macron made 46 foreign visits to 29 countries, not counting participation in international conferences. Comparable numbers of foreign guests visited Paris. The crown jewel of his activities was the celebration of the centennial of the World War I Armistice and the Paris Peace Forum, which was attended by heads of state and government from approximately 60 countries, including Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

Such frenetic activities produced mixed results. The social crisis of November–December 2018 had a serious effect on President Macron's international image, making the achievements of his stated goals more difficult.

Macron proclaims a significant revamping of the European Union as his principal international objective. This entails boosting its core – the Eurozone concentrated around the France–Germany tandem; establishing a special parliamentary assembly; adopting a major common budget for investment into technologies of the future; unifying budgetary, taxation and social policies controlled by a single finance minister; and, finally, bolstering the EU's defence identity considerating Brexit and the evolution of the transatlantic partnership with the United States.

Nonetheless, the implementation of this programme has not thus far moved beyond the negotiating stage. Given the serious domestic political difficulties currently facing Macron's chief partner, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, Berlin is in no rush to spend money on cushioning the financial difficulties of Mediterranean debtor countries, which to some extent applies to France, too – whatever the makeup of the new ruling coalition may be.

In the meantime, the states of the Visegrad Group, primarily Hungary and Poland, are staunchly opposed to solving the problem of refugees and migrants jointly with the EU member states. The coming to power of national populist Eurosceptics in these countries, as well as in Austria and Italy and the growth of their influence in Germany, is seriously hurting the chances of Macron's party at the European parliamentary elections in May 2019.

France's standing in its traditional sphere of interests – the Greater East, the Mediterranean and Africa – also looks contradictory. Despite the relative success of its military operation against Islamists in Mali, France fails to play an independent role in looking for a way out of the protracted civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

As for Syria, Macron perseveres in his attempts to find a compromise between the Astana Group (Russia, Iran and Turkey) and the so-called "smaller group" (the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Saudi Arabia, etc.) in looking for a political solution through a constitutional compromise in Geneva under the auspices of the UN. However, his chances for success are confined to Paris acting as merely a member of the U.S.–Saudi coalition. In the meantime, unilateral alignment with Riyadh sealed by exchanging oil for arms significantly limits the room for manoeuvre for French diplomacy in the deeply split Muslim world (conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims, between Israel and Palestine), particularly regarding relations with Iran. This became especially apparent following the scandal surrounding the murder of the opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi secret service agents.

Finally, Macron's claim to represent the common interests of the EU in a dialogue with the leading powers of the multipolar world (the United States, Russia and China) and, moreover, to act as a sort of an intermediary between them, has produced mixed results. Despite his personal contact with Donald Trump, the President of France failed to obtain from Washington an acceptable compromise on any of the issues discussed (the withdrawal of the United States from the climate accord, the Iran dossier, trade protectionism, etc.).


The social crisis of late 2018 will undoubtedly have an impact on France's chances of advancing its initiatives on the international stage. Nonetheless, in the near future (2019), some positive shifts in France's search for compromise solutions may occur. Against the background of Brexit, the political crisis in Germany, and unclear prospects of the Trump Administration following the elections of November 6, 2018, Macron theoretically could step up his initiatives.

Before 2024, the Russia–France dialogue will be tested and challenged, primarily in connection with the European parliamentary elections (May 2019), as Paris accuses Russia of supporting Eurosceptics. Accusing Russia of cyber-meddling in European elections, Macron attempted to undermine the chances of his Eurosceptic opponents in Eastern Europe, Italy, Austria and, most importantly, in France itself. In the meantime, the chances of finding a compromise with Paris on the Ukrainian issue and sanctions policies are minimized by Berlin, which always plays the first fiddle in the "Normandy format." Paris's apprehensive stance in the face of Russia's increased activity in Africa (Egypt, Libya and the Central African Republic) could become yet another irritant.

Nonetheless, there is potential for Russia and France to develop their relations, regardless of whether Macron is re-elected for another five-year term in 2022 and regardless of the inevitable fluctuations and oscillations both in bilateral relations and in relations with other countries.
1. Data from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the European Union. UK GDP Growth Forecast 2018–2010 and up to 2060. Data and Charts // Knoema. URL: https://knoema.ru/pcggtre/uk-gdp-growth-forecast-2018-2020-and-up-to-2060-data-and-charts; Low J. OECD forecasts 2018 global growth of 3.9% // Live Analytics, 13.03.2018. URL: https://www.forexlive.com/news/!/oecd-forecasts-2018-global-growth-of-39-20180313; UK GDP Forecast // Focus Economics, 09.10.2018. URL: https://www.focus-economics.com/country-indicator/united-kingdom/gdp-usd-bn; UK GDP Forecast // Focus Economics, 09.10.2018. URL: https://www.focus-economics.com/country-indicator/united-kingdom/gdp-usd-bn; Fitch Confirms AA Credit Rating for United Kingdom, with a Negative Outlook // Vesti Finance (vestifinance.ru), 26.10.2018. URL: https://www.vestifinance.ru/articles/109312; Office for National Statistics, Office for Budget Responsibility.
2. Less Even Expansion, Rising Trade Tensions // World Economic Outlook Update, 16.07.2018. URL: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2018/07/02/world-economic-outlook-update-july-2018
3. Brexit deal 'will cost UK £100bn' a year by 2030. BBC, 26.11.2018. URL: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-46338585
4. BREXIT LIVE: Theresa May rules out General Election - 'it's NOT in UK's interests // Daily Express, 30.10.2018. URL: https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/1038198/brexit-news-live-updates-Hammond-budget-2018-brexit-theresa-may-eu-uk
5. Summary of Budget 2018: Key points at-a-glance // BBC, 29.10.2018. URL: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-46017125; Shankleman J. Hammond Promises End to Austerity - With a Brexit Caveat // Bloomberg, 29.10.2018. URL: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-29/hammond-calls-end-to-austerity-with-budget-aimed-at-strivers?srnd=economics-vp
6. Theresa May's minority government relies on the support of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which represents the interests of protestants, in parliament. Accordingly, London cannot concede to Brussels, leaving Northern Ireland in the Customs Union and the European Single Market (with a customs border on the Irish Sea), as the DUP insists that all of the country's regions should have the same status. A "hard" Brexit could provoke a return of civil unrest and terrorist activity in the United Kingdom as it would violate the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which established an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and thus paved the way for a fragile peace between Catholics and Protestants in the region. Approximately 200,000 UK nationals have applied for and received Irish passports since the referendum, and the Republic of Ireland is ready to set up a "hard" border in the event if "hard" Brexit. Irish Passport Applications Skyrocket // BBC, 30.10.2018. URL: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46030552
7. Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration // Government of the United Kingdom, 25.11.2018. URL: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/withdrawal-agreement-and-political-declaration
8. Brexit news: Whitehall starts SECRET contingency planning for SECOND EU referendum // Express Newspapers, 21.10.2018. URL: https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/1034425/brexit-news-second-referendum-eu-peoples-march-whitehall-plans-theresa-may-latest
9. 3 things we've learnt about attitudes to Conservative leadership // YouGov, 02.10.2018. URL: https://yougov.co.uk/news/2018/10/02/3-things-weve-learned-about-attitudes-conservative/; UK Polling Report, 14.10.2018. URL: http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/
10. On October 24, 2018, around 20 WTO members objected to London's proposals on a post-Brexit trade regime. In order to become a true independent member, the United Kingdom must have a "list of tariffs and quotas" that it intends to apply to products from other countries. Russia objects to the proposal put forward by the United Kingdom to separate its import quotes from those of the European Union. The activities of the United Kingdom in the WTO in its new role as an independent nation will come up against obstacles, since it will no longer offer access to the European market. This demonstrates the difficulties that the United Kingdom will face in forming an economy that is independent of the European Union. Russia just taught the UK an important lesson: trade is not simple // Telegraph, 25.10.2018. URL: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2018/10/25/russia-just-taught-uk-important-lesson-trade-not-simple/
11. Trump Says Brexit Deal Could Hurt Plans for U.S Trade Pact // Bloomberg, 26.11.2018. URL: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-26/trump-says-brexit-deal-could-mean-u-k-can-t-trade-with-u-s
12. After Brexit, the United Kingdom will not be able to get Brussels to impose economic sanctions on Russia, but it will be able to impose its own.
13. If Jeremy Corbin, who has a more moderate attitude towards Russia (and who adopted a balanced position on the Skripal case), remains the leader of the party. However, the right wingers within his own party intends to take measures to prevent him from becoming Prime Minister.
1. Davydov V. Latinoamerica: rutas de desarroll y lazos con Rusia. Moscu: ILA ACR, 2016.
1. Germany ranked third, behind the United States and Singapore, in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report in mid-October 2018. See: Schwab K. The Global Competitiveness Report 2018 // World Economic Forum. URL: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GCR2018/05FullReport/TheGlobalCompetitivenessReport2018.pdf
2. See, for example: Digital Single Market: Germany // European Comission. URL: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/scoreboard/germany
3. Wirtschaftliche Entwicklung und Konjunktur // BMWi. URL: https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/DE/Dossier/wirtschaftliche-entwicklung.html
4. The country's GDP will exceed 4 trillion euros in 2021.
1. Macron's programme was expounded prior to his election in his autobiography Revolution. See: Emmanuel Macron. Révolution. C'est notre combat pour la France. Paris: XO éditions, 2016.
2. Economic Indicators, France // CEIC. URL: https://www.ceicdata.com/en/country/france
3. Rubinsky Y. I. A Farewell to Bipolarity? Europe 2017: Parties, Elections, Power. Reports of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, No. 353, Moscow, 2018, pp. 12–21.
4. Both had the high rank of state ministers – deputy prime ministers; according to the protocol, they held the second and third places in the government.
5. Bigorgne L., Baudry A., Duhance O. Macron, et en même Temps… Plon: Paris, 2017. P. 293–299.