Voters set the pace in 2012
When in May, our European partners holding their breath, Irish voters passed the EU fiscal treaty, France’s vote for Hollande certainly played its part in reassuring voters. As it did in June when Greeks handed a narrow victory in their elections to mainstream conservative New Democracy to forge a pro-euro and pro-bailout coalition. The vote had become a referendum on Greece in the euro with many fearful of apocalyptic consequences for the currency.
That both Greek and Irish voters should willingly back such pain was a remarkable testament to the ability of democracies and their peoples to take tough decisions – the absence of civil strife on Irish streets has bewildered many commentators. Italy’s looming election, it is to be hoped, will tell the same story, with voters looking likely to reject the easy blandishments of that old rogue Silvio Berlusconi.
Elections in the Middle East also drove much of the dynamic of its politics, except in Syria where the Assad regime seems increasingly beleaguered but the newly united opposition remains unable to deliver the coup de grace.
The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in Egypt’s presidential election marked an uneasy step in the country’s transition and an important shift in the regional balance of power – not least a new interlocutor between Israel and Hamas over Gaza. But his assumption of special powers and determination to push through a constitution largely drafted by the brotherhood and Salafist allies has opened up dangerous rifts with secular Egypt. In Israel the prospect of an election in January has served to raise political temperatures, feeding prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s irredentism and determination to make Palestinians pay for their impertinence in seeking recognition as a state at the UN.
The year must also be remembered for a triumphant London Olympics and in July in Geneva, for arguably the most important scientific discovery of our age, the bizarrely named Higgs boson, the “God particle”, a crucial building block in our understanding of the fundamental laws of nature. Humanity at its best.