2024: The year we embrace predictable surprise

Ten predictions for the foreign policy trends of 2024, and a little bonus

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Image by picture alliance / Westend61 | Andrew Brookes
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2023 was the year that we accepted that we can predict everything except the future. We managed to call both the Turkish and Polish elections and our highly objective and scientific self-judgment system awarded us a stellar 7 out of 10 points. Once again, we failed to anticipate the most talked about geopolitical development of the year: the war between Israel and Hamas that erupted in October. This followed our previous failures to anticipate Russia’s war on Ukraine and the covid-19 pandemic, and showed the complex relationship between trends and crises.

For 2024, we have decided to embrace surprise and meta-predict that we will once again miss the big story. We feel confident in this because the secret to successful prediction is not linear extrapolation but paradox. So, with the caveat that we predict that the most important story of 2024 is not on the following list, we see these ten predictions (and two bonuses) as the key foreign policy trends of 2024:

1.     The Chinese economy resumes a growth level that, while lower than its average over the last 30 years, still exceeds that of the United States and the European Union.

China’s growth slowed significantly in 2023, prompting claims that the Chinese economic miracle had ended and that China would never become the world’s largest economy. We half-agree. China will not resume its previous rocket-like growth path, but its economy will pick up in 2024 and it will grow more quickly than the more mature economies of the US and the EU.

2.     Joe Biden wins the 2024 US presidential election. Donald Trump refuses to concede, but there is no major outbreak of violence.

There is widespread fear that Trump will retake the presidency in 2024 and destroy the very concepts of transatlanticism, democracy, and civil discourse. These fears are justified, but we predict that the dynamics in the key battleground states mean that he will not emerge as the victor. Biden will once again win the popular vote and secure a majority in the electoral college. Trump will appeal to his shock troops to steal back the election, but the election result will hold. 

3.     The Gaza war ends, in the sense that most of the violence stops, but no settlement or peace process is put in place. Gaza remains isolated.

The daily horrors of the Gaza war will mostly come to an end in 2024. But the complex political situation in Tel Aviv, Ramallah, and Washington makes it unlikely that there will be a long-term settlement or peace process. Gaza will remain isolated, even from the West Bank.

4.     Under the new Polish government, Poland emerges as the leading EU state on policy towards Russia and defence issues.

The new Polish government will mostly settle its disputes with the EU and with Germany. With Donald Tusk at the helm, it will start to take a leading role on various EU issues, particularly regarding policies towards Russia and European defence issues. It will be the key member of various internal EU groupings through its ability to lead a northern and eastern caucus within the EU and its role in bridging the gaps between France and Germany.

5.     The UK Labour party sweeps to power on the back of a landslide election victory. The new prime minister begins an effort to bring the United Kingdom closer to the EU, although he stops short of rejoining the EU or single market.

The period of ideological self-marginalisation begun by David Cameron in 2010 and continued by his multiple Tory successors will, in 2024, finally reach its logical conclusion of electoral defeat. The new Labour government will not seek to retrace that painful journey in reverse, but it will begin to carve out a path to better and more productive relations with the EU, particularly on defence and foreign policy issues.

6.     The European Parliament elections will see the centrist parties (EPP, S&D, and RE) maintain a slender majority in spite of a sharp shift to the right with populist anti-immigrant parties gaining and centre-left and green parties losing seats across the EU.

The next European Parliament elections will not be a referendum on the European project because insurgent parties have rowed away from their policies of leaving the EU and supporting Vladimir Putin. And although they will use anti-immigration and anti-green policies to mobilise voters, they will not gain enough votes to spoil the majority of the current centrist coalition. It will continue for another five years, albeit slightly wounded, and the EU’s top jobs will be allocated in the usual horse-trading between the centrist parties.

7.     The next wave of electric vehicle (EV) disputes with China will be about security, not subsidies.

Europeans will realise next year that Chinese EVs present a security as well as an economic threat. The cars are so full of sensors, AI, and data collection algorithms that they have the potential to serve as millions of Chinese spies across Europe. The US, which will not import any Chinese EVs, will not have this problem. But the Americans will point out that their Europeans allies need to do something about it, perhaps including buying more Teslas.

In 2024, no matter who the American president is, the US will no longer take the lead in supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia

8.     The Ukraine conflict becomes a European rather than a global war.

It will become apparent in 2024 that, no matter who the American president is, the US will no longer take the lead in supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia. Much of the rest of the world will similarly be focused on crises closer to home. Various European countries, with encouragement from Poland in particular, will step up and take responsibility for most of the money and weapons sent to Ukraine. They will also launch Ukraine’s EU accession process, in part because the US will block an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO at the alliance summit in July.

The US Congress will give the president the authority to seize Russian sovereign assets and redistribute them to Ukraine. The Biden administration will seek to use this leverage to convince the UK and the EU member states to do the same, noting that almost all those Russian assets are held in Europe. As 2024 comes to a close, however, the EU will still be debating whether it should assert that authority.

Across the multiple European national elections in 2024, a ‘greenlash’ against various specific efforts to restrict carbon emissions will become a force in European politics and contribute to the shift to the right in those elections. Europeans will still support combatting climate change as a general proposition, but they will increasingly oppose specific efforts to do so.

Bonus: Ozempic and similar drugs emerge in 2024 as a more important technological development in terms of its potential near-term impact on economic growth than AI.

It is good to be smart, but cheap to be thin. AI has enormous potential but Goldman Sachs believes it won’t contribute to economic growth until 2027 and will contribute fairly modestly for a few years after that. Meanwhile, obesity-related diseases already cost the US alone over $1.7 trillion per year. In 2024, people will begin to realise what these numbers mean as Ozempic takes hold of the human imagination.

Bonus: The share of global trade denominated in renminbi continues to rise, highlighting a slow and steady trend towards dedollarisation.

The end of the dollar’s long reign will finally loom in 2024. Fear of US sanctions and various financial innovations mean that the share of global trade denominated in renminbi will continue to increase and begin to be felt, especially in the energy market. 

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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