10 events to watch for in 2017

From a new chief diplomat at the UN to Britain’s invoking of Article 50, here are our top 10 events for globally minded Canadians to look out for in 2017.

By: /
December 21, 2016
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump exits his plane after landing at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Kentucky, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

1. Jan. 1: New UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres takes office.

On Jan. 1, the United Nations will have a new Secretary-General. Former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres, who spent a decade serving as the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, will take the reins from Ban Ki-moon, who is stepping down at the end of 2016 after serving two five-year terms. 

At a time when the UN appears increasingly ineffective in the face of the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, Guterres has said that ending the Syrian conflict would be his biggest challenge. "I believe it is the international community's first priority to be able to end this conflict and use this momentum created by it to try to address all the other conflicts that are interlinked," he told the BBC.

2. Jan. 20: Donald Trump is sworn in as U.S. president.

After a contentious transition period following the presidential election of Donald Trump, the official transfer of power from Barack Obama to the President-elect will occur at noon on Friday, Jan. 20, on the steps of the United States Capitol Building in Washington. The Trump team has announced it will be sticking with its campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” as the theme of the inauguration. But what is usually a celebratory moment is looking to be a more subdued event, as the country remains extremely polarized. Finding entertainment has proved something of a challenge, demand for hotel rooms has been lower than usual, and so far it has been announced that Trump will attend two inaugural balls (during their first inaugurations, Obama and George W. Bush attended 10 and eight balls respectively). Thousands of people are said to be planning to protest the inauguration, though it appears nearby space on which to do so could be limited. 

Of course, what everyone will really be anticipating is what President Trump does on Day One (and thereafter). Will he make good on his numerous promises, for example to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, repeal Obamacare, reform NAFTA and rip up the TPP? What of America’s climate commitments, or its relationship with Russia and China? The world will be watching.   

3. End of March: The British government triggers Article 50.

The complicated negotiations needed for Britain to leave the European Union can only begin once the UK government has formally triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, notifying the EU of its intent to withdraw. From that point, the UK will have two years to negotiate its Brexit with the other 27 members of the EU. British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she will trigger Article 50 no later than the end of March 2017, so theoretically the UK should leave by April 2019 — though May has hinted negotiations could take longer than two years. Further uncertainty was cast around Brexit after Britain’s High Court ruled in November that parliament must give its approval before negotiations can begin. The government is appealing. 

4. April 23: France elects a new president.

Following 2016’s Brexit vote, referendum in Italy and run-off presidential vote in Austria, France’s election will be the next big test for a European Union under stress, facing slow economic growth, the largest migration crisis since the Second World War and the rise of far-right, nationalist parties and politicians. In France, a founding member of the EU, support for the union is waning. Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who would like to see France leave the EU and the euro currency, has said she would hold a referendum on membership, and has emerged as a serious candidate in the election race (current President François Hollande, whose approval rating, according to one poll, was at four percent this past autumn, will not run for re-election).

France’s election is just one in 2017 that proponents of the European Union will be watching closely. In Holland, which will have a general election on March 15, Eurosceptic candidate Geert Wilders has been soaring in the polls. And in Germany, which must hold a federal election before Oct. 22, current Chancellor Angela Merkel will face off against the ultra-nationalist Alternative fur Deutschland (Afd) party, which opposes Germany’s EU membership and is campaigning against the “open door” policy Merkel has espoused in response to the refugee crisis. 

5. Spring: Canada's NATO mission to Latvia begins.

In November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to leading one of four NATO battle groups in eastern Europe, despite uncertainty over how Donald Trump plans to engage with the alliance. Starting some time in early 2017, Canada will deploy 450 troops to and lead a multinational force in Latvia, as part of NATO’s effort to deter Russian aggression. Germany, the U.S. and Britain will lead forces in Lithuania, Poland and Estonia, respectively. As the Toronto Star reports, the first Canadian troops are expected to deploy in the spring, but the majority won’t arrive until the fall. 

There has been much debate in the Canadian press over the effectiveness of the planned mission, with some arguing for Canada’s contribution to NATO’s deterrence efforts and others saying the battle groups will do nothing but provoke Russia, which holds an indisputable military advantage in the region. 

6. May 19: Iran holds presidential elections.

Iranian state officials have announced that the country’s election will be held earlier than usual in order to avoid coinciding with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which will begin at the end of May. Current Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, whose election in 2013 buoyed hopes of a more moderate Iranian foreign policy, is eligible to seek a second term. Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been blocked from running by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and so far no obvious counter to Rouhani has emerged among Iran’s more hard-lined faction. Under Rouhani, Iran signed the 2015 nuclear deal with several Western powers, though the agreement’s future is uncertain, given current tensions over sanctions and the fact that Donald Trump has promised to scrap it. 

7. July 7-8: G20 summit is held in Hamburg, Germany.

The 12th meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) — the international forum where the world’s 20 largest economies come together — will convene in July. Over the last few years, global economic growth has lagged, so the question of how to increase this growth has been at the centre of the G20 agenda. This year, some experts foresee that with a Trump administration, we could see more economic investment in the United States, which could provide some impetus for other G20 countries to step up their investment. But while the G20 has worked to strengthen financial regulations in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, Trump has indicated that some of the efforts the U.S. has been leading the way on might actually be reversed. In addition, the German presidency of the G20 has been active on the digital economy and cyber security files, so the Germans will be watching closely for how a new American administration plans to proceed. 

While the G20 was considered successful at saving the world economy from meltdown a few years ago, to stay relevant it will have to expand the terms of its agenda. The challenge for the G20 in 2017 will be addressing not only issues related to economic growth but those related to social inclusion and trying to make globalization work for all, not just those at the top. 

8. TBD: Canada hosts UN peacekeeping conference.

In 2016, the Canadian government announced it will send a peacekeeping force of up to 600 troops and 150 police officers to a UN peace operation in Africa. The specific location has yet to be decided (though Mali is seen as a top contender). At the 2016 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial in London this past September, Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan stressed Canada’s commitment to international peace support operations, and announced Canada’s intention to host the peacekeeping conference in 2017 (date and location are still to-be-determined), in order ensure continued dialogue on issues related to security and defence in a world where threats are multi-faceted and peace is increasingly harder to keep. 

9. Nov 6-17: The UN climate change conference, COP23, runs in Bonn, Germany.

The 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) will be officially hosted and organized by Fiji but, due to logistical reasons, physically held at the headquarters of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn. This is the first time a Pacific Island nation will be hosting the conference. As 2016’s COP22 came to an end in Marrakech, Morocco, COP22 president Salaheddine Mezouar noted that the island states are the first to be threatened by climate change, and that Morocco is “ready to support Fiji to ensure that COP23 meets expectations and carries on the action initiated by the COP22 towards the concrete implementation of the Paris Agreement.”

COP23 will feature ongoing discussion in what is called the “ad-hoc” process under the Paris agreement, to develop the rules and procedures that need to be put in place so that full implementation of the agreement can happen. As with every COP, we can expect to see huge participation by civil society groups and different constituencies. Right now, the question over the United States’ commitment to the Paris agreement looms large, but by COP23 other nations will likely have some clarity on the direction of Trump’s environmental policies. 

10. TBD: CETA comes into force.

On Oct. 30, Justin Trudeau, together with President of the European Council Donald Tusk and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union. While hailed as a victory in many circles for Trudeau and his trade minister, Chrystia Freeland, much of the groundwork for the agreement was laid by former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government. Between CETA and the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada would have preferential access to more than half of the world’s economy — though this hasn’t stopped CETA’s anti-globalization critics from voicing their opposition.

For CETA to enter into force, the European Parliament must agree to it in a vote — the result of which is by no means pre-ordained — scheduled for February. Even with a stamp of approval from the European Parliament, CETA will still need approval from the EU’s 28 member states and Belgium’s regions. So while the Canadian government’s website states that “both Canada and the EU are committed to the timely ratification and implementation of CETA so that Canadians and Europeans alike can take advantage of its benefits as soon as possible,” it remains to be seen whether CETA’s coming into force will actually happen in 2017.