Germany moves into election campaign mode as national polls are scheduled for late 2013. The euro crisis, the crisis on the financial markets, unrest in the Arab world - these issues are bound to remain.
In 2013, the eurozone crisis is bound to put Berlin politicians' nerves, travel budgets and timetables to the test once again. Five of 17 eurozone countries depend on aid and Germany is the biggest donor and guarantor. "We're all in this eurozone together, and that shapes my job. Work for Europe always means work for Germany, too," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her December video message.
That will certainly be true for 2013, when the crisis will directly affect the federal budget for the first time while new calls for help might already be on the horizon Red alert for Merkel: should Germans lose their faith in her skills as "savior of the euro," a third term in office might be put in seriously jeopardy.
But nine months ahead of election day, things are looking good for the chancellor. Opinion polls may say her coalition government no longer has a majority - but the collapse of its junior partner, the pro-market Free Democrats (FDP) could yet be stopped; and of course, Merkel has other options. There is no doubt that her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is Germany's strongest political force. The public seems to be in no mood for a potential opposition coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and environmentalist Greens, and since they say they would not enter into a coalition government with the Left Party, the successors to the East German communists, it appears there will be no government without Merkel's CDU.
A CDU-SPD grand coalition is a distinct possibility, but political observers are also considering a once-unthinkable CDU-Green government coalition, even though the first-ever CDU-Green government, on the state level in Hamburg, failed two years ago. The other unknown in the equation - exempting possible Fukushima-type disasters - is the new Pirate Party. Currently, however, it does not appear likely that the Pirates, who are present in several state assemblies, will win enough votes to enter the national parliament.
State elections in January in Lower Saxony are expected to be a first test. The FDP is in danger of being voted out of parliament completely. Should that happen, it would be a bad omen for the Berlin coalition and bad news for party chief Philipp Rösler.
The election campaign is not set to stop at the fight against the euro crisis. The government plans to postpone any threat to the German budget, such as direct ECB financing for banks or yet another debt cut for Greece, until after the election in the autumn.
The energy turnaround
Pushing ahead financial market regulation is at the top of Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble's to-do list. That includes regulating the liquidation of crippled banks and safeguarding banks' financial transactions with more equity capital in order to prevent the taxpayer from having to pitch in.
Germany's new energy policy - that is, abandoning nuclear power in the near future - is about to become an expensive project for Germans: energy costs are on the rise and could cost a household of four an additional 125 euros ($ 166) per year. The extra costs are aimed at boosting, among other projects, offshore wind parks and new power lines. Germany, with its highly developed economy, has taken on a pioneering role in deciding to forgo nuclear energy. But the question remains whether the experiment will succeed, according to an opinion poll among top managers by Capital business magazine.
Foreign policy challenges
Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi is scheduled to visit Berlin in 2013, in the wake of bitter fighting between Islamist and secular groups in his country. Europeans clearly expected the Arab Spring uprisings they observed with so much goodwill to have a different outcome. All the same, the German government is intent on continuing its dialog with the most populous Arab country.
The same is true for Tunisia, where Islamists and liberals are battling for power ahead of parliamentary elections in June. Syria is also set to remain a challenge. In 2013, two Patriot missiles and 400 German soldiers are to be stationed on Turkey's border with Syria to protect the NATO ally from Syrian attacks. A total of more than 7,000 German troops will be on missions abroad in 2013 before their number is reduced following a pullout from Afghanistan.
Right-wing extremism is bound to make national headlines again in 2013.
While it is unlikely the constitutional court in Karlsruhe, the country's highest court, will rule on a bid to ban the extreme-right National Democratic Party (NPD), the case against Beate Zschäpe, the alleged sole surviving member of a far-right trio of militants that called itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU), and who is charged of complicity in ten murder cases, opens at a Munich court in a few months time.
Should the 37-year-old break her silence, investigators - including a parliamentary inquiry - might have their work cut out for them.
And that's not to mention the eurozone crisis and the "permanent threat of Islamist terrorism" - they are sure to persist. So is German government debt: the German Taxpayers' Federation says the national debt increases by 1300 euros every second.
Finally, the billion-dollar question for the German capital in 2013 could be the following: Will the opening of the new Berlin airport, already delayed three times, take place as expected on October 27, 2013 - or will it be postponed once more?
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Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb has reportedly conceded defeat after preliminary results showed the opposition Centre Party well in the lead. Political newcomer Juha Sipila (pictured) is his likely successor.
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