Our monthly coverage of the Americas includes a new report on Chile, where President Michelle Bachelet continues to make progress on fulfilling her ambitious campaign promises, but an economic slump has contributed to the steady erosion of her popular support. With her net approval rating now negative, the window securing approval of key elements of the reform program may be closing, as the president can expect to face pressure from her legislative allies to focus on policies that hold the potential to give the economic a lift in the near term. The report will examine the political challenges that lie in store for Bachelet and her Cabinet, and offer a fresh assessment of the prospects for successful implementation of reforms now that time has taken a bit of the shine off the second-term president.
Looking at the Middle East and North Africa, PRS will issue a fully revised report on Egypt, where the post-revolutionary order is increasingly becoming indistinguishable from what came before, with a former general seated at the center of power, the Islamist opposition outlawed and repressed, and the government’s ability to intimidate its enemies greatly enhanced by the implementation of security measures that grant broad powers to silence unacceptable (as defined by authorities) forms of dissent. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has indicated that overdue legislative elections might be held by March 2015, but with the Muslim Brotherhood once again pushed to the political margins and the secular opposition divided and dispirited, with several of its most prominent leaders behind bars, there is little reason to doubt that Sisi’s allies will dominate the legislature.
On the economic front, the government has been sounding all the right notes. The interim regime secured approval of its economic reform program from the IMF in November, and government leaders have promised a thorough overhaul of investment rules and the regulatory framework, with the aim of attracting at least $15 billion of FDI per year and generating annual real GDP growth of 6%. But it is clear that any chance of coming close to those targets will require not only the establishment of a more predictable legal climate for investment and trade, but also a stable political climate within which to conduct business operations. The report will discuss the necessary conditions for success on both of those fronts, and assess the likelihood that the numerous potential sources of instability, including a radicalized Islamist community, the democratic aspirations of political activists who have helped to topple two governments in the space of less than three years, and a population that is eagerly anticipating a rapid economic recovery.
Ghana’s presidential election in 2016 looks set to be a rematch of the 2012 showdown between President John Mahama and opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo, after both men recently fended off challenges for the nominations of their respective parties. The incumbent National Democratic Congress has been rattled by a combination of slowing economic growth, currency depreciation, and corruption scandals, which have dealt a severe blow to Mahama’s re-election chances. A ballooning fiscal deficit has pushed the public debt burden above 60% of GDP, and officials are expected to implement tax increases and public-sector spending cuts in a bid to secure a three-year loan facility with the IMF. The report will assess the likely impact of austerity measures on economic performance, and discuss the implications of disappointing growth for political stability over the medium term.
Our Western European coverage kicks off 2015 with an in-depth assessment of the challenges facing France, as the political problems continue to mount for President Francois Hollande’s reshuffled Socialist Party government, which is still trying to balance the competing aims of fiscal correction against the urgent need to produce sustainable growth and tackle high unemployment. The government faces the prospect of more labor strikes and politically motivated protests, and regional elections fall due in March. PRS will assess how public pressure and electoral considerations might affect the Socialist government’s policy strategy in the coming months. In that regard, the potential for a fresh surge of support for the far-right National Front in the wake of the early January terrorist attack in Paris merits close attention, as do the implications of the deadly assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo for broader security risks inside France. The report will also examine the economic outlook for the most fragile of Europe’s “core” economies, and what it means for the broader stability of the euro zone.
For our report on Norway, we assess in detail how the sharp slide in global oil prices since last summer is likely to affect the political and economic situation in what is usually considered to be one of the world’s least risky countries. A substantial decline in offshore oil and gas investment spending over the next few years will have a knock-on impact along the supplier chain, contributing to increased unemployment in a tight labor market and other adverse effects that policy makers had been prone to ignore under more favorable oil-price scenarios. As a massive sovereign wealth fund will ensure that the government has adequate resources to ride out the storm, our report will focus instead on possible upside risks from the oil price slump, including the possibility that it could create the impetus for a diversification push that leads to fresh opportunities for foreign investors.
Shifting to Eastern Europe, our coverage is highlighted by a new report on Bulgaria, where Boyko Borisov has been returned as prime minister after less than two years in opposition, but once again heads a minority government whose survival depends in part on the backing of a far-right party. The center-right administration has outlined a reform-focused program aimed at shoring up the economic foundation, improving relations with the EU, and addressing the sources of chronic instability that have tarnished the country’s reputation among investors. The reports will assess whether or not the new government stands a better chance than its predecessor of surviving for a full four-year term, and discuss the implications for the climate for investment and trade in either case.