YEARENDER: A look at what 2011 may bring
By Nick Rigillo Dec 27, 2010, 12:15 GMT
Berlin - For doomsayers, 2011 offers the last chance to party before the world comes to an end.
For those who don't subscribe to such fatalistic beliefs, the year that is about to start will merely offer the usual mix of political crises, economic conundrums and concerns about global warming ... but also wonderful new gadgets, with a glittering royal wedding as the cherry on the cake.
The world economy is still recovering from the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, and economists predict more anaemic growth rates in the West. Big emerging powers such as China, India and Brazil will probably come to the rescue, but there could also be interesting new markets to tap in Africa, Turkey and the Middle East.
Europe, in particular, will continue to struggle with slow growth and belt-tightening. According to the European Commission in Brussels, gross domestic product in the eurozone will likely post a meagre 1.5 per cent in 2011.
More worrying, the financial crisis that has hit Greece, Portugal and Ireland could easily spread to bigger eurozone members such as Spain and Italy, undermining the euro's long-term bid to replace the dollar as the world's favourite currency.
As head of the Group of 20 industrialized nations, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will push for a new international monetary system in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the currency wars witnessed in 2010. But France's hyperactive president has already warned that progress may be slow.
Having negotiated a humiliating bailout with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen will fight for his political survival in a general election due to take place in the first half of the year.
And Europe's biggest political survivor of all, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, will likely call for a snap election in a bid to regain a comfortable majority in parliament following a string of scandals and defections.
With such a poll likely to fall bang in the middle of March celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Italian unification, it is not difficult to imagine an election campaign focused on an alleged lack of patriotism by the left and the federalist Northern League.
One politician who has plenty of time to prepare for the polls is US President Barack Obama. But with his current approval ratings down to around 40 per cent, and an increasingly confident Republican Party now in control of Congress, life for the once global superstar could prove difficult as he prepares to fight for re-election in 2012.
As early as January, Republican challengers could start declaring interest in the centre-right nomination, with much speculation centred on maverick Tea Party leader Sarah Palin.
On the diplomatic front, the US will have to work hard to contain the damages caused by the Wikileaks saga. More worrying still, it may have to take some tough decisions on Iran's nuclear ambitions and North Korean belligerence.
The year could also mark a new era in the Middle East, where Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad may attempt to break the peace talks deadlock by declaring a de facto Palestinian state.
Afghans will have to come to terms with the gradual withdrawal of NATO troops, starting in June, while Cubans can look forward to a new wave of reforms and even a possible change of of its ageing leadership.
Expect more rows on the climate change front, since UN talks held in Cancun in December effectively deferred difficult decision on how, and by how much, countries should cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
What goes up must come down, and the gig will be over for NASA's ageing shuttle programme in 2011 with two, possibly three, final launches. With no replacement spacecraft in the wings, the transport of astronauts and material to the International Space Station will depend on Russian Soyuz capsules.
For gadget lovers, 2011 will be the year of the tablets, with HP, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, Motorola and other rivals of Apple's highly successful iPad ready to launch new products.
Solid state drives (SSDs) will finally come in convenient 600- gigabyte (GB) sizes, while Google Android and Microsoft's Windows 7 phones will provide real competition for the iPhone and the Blackberry in the increasingly critical smartphone market.
The social event of the year will take place on April 29, when Britain's Prince William is set to marry his fiancee Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey in London.