Another year has ended and, as always, this occasion is not only used to reflect on the past 365 days, but also to rearrange expectations, set goals and gather new motivation and inspirations. Such a moment of reflexion is very useful from an individual perspective and the year change offers us a representative moment to do that. Hence, it is also a suitable moment to reflect on what to expect from politics in 2021. More often than not, we find ourselves twisted up in the incremental muddling-through of “everyday politics”, which leads to distractions from the bigger picture. It is, therefore, important to put many matters into perspective and try to rearrange our thoughts about them. Here, we can draw parallels to our personal lives: how often do you find yourself entangled in a situation that made you think about how you even got there? The same holds also true for politics, though on a much larger scale. Next to unforeseeable events and developments, there are many aspects on the global political agenda that need to be addressed and taken care of efficiently. In this article, some of the most pressing issues of the upcoming year are outlined and come with a tentative approach to those issues.

COVID-19 & Co.

Obviously, the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic was the single most important development in the year 2020 and has challenged countless political, societal and economic boundaries. However, with many different vaccines against this virus being found, it is safe to say that the end of the pandemic is near. From this point on, a return to normal conduct is a matter of technicalities – a case for public administration. In the following months, politicians should make an effort to remove this topic from mainstream media and depolarise it, as it has become a very heated topic for many. In the article Corona v Panama, it is discussed how people are eager to engage with this topic, due to its tangible proximity to everyone. Many politicians across the globe used the momentum of this heated topic by exploiting the emotions of the citizens to gain political support or to attack their political opposition. Now, it is time to move away from these games and leave the field to public administration professionals, who will be burdened with the task to shape meaningful action plans for transitioning to normality. What is important, however, is that societies do not merely go back to how everything was before. The major task in 2021 will be to identify positive aspects of the pandemic and try to integrate them into a future without the pandemic. For example, the crisis has shown how flexible economies can be by implementing home office structures and rearranging business models in virtually no time. From a state’s perspective, there need to be meaningful frameworks to enable uphold this flexibility. This holds also true for public institutions, which had to face the same difficulties and managed to cope with them effectively, depending on the country. Another aspect that needs to be elaborated on this year is how to make states and economies less vulnerable to such deep-cutting shocks. Crisis management and resilience will also become increasingly central topics to statesmanship in the future.

Climate change

Every year, the question on climate change is getting more urgent. Actually, we have long past the stage of questioning this change; at this point, meaningful action is required. Globally, the temperatures have risen dramatically and increasingly cause natural disasters, such as floods and fires. Although there is a common sense about the necessity to counteract these developments, the urgency is often overlook – we are lagging far behind the game plan. Hence, this year is crucial to catch up with all the measures that needed to be implemented a decade ago – the era of talking is over. In order to truly achieve lasting change, states need to sharply intervene, using drastic regulations. First and foremost, states need to significantly decrease their domestic meat consumption by all means necessary. Accounting for more than 50% of global warming, the meat industry needs to be tackled first. Secondly, states need to start sanctioning one another for not proactively working on the reduction of greenhouse gas levels. Finally, states need to punish consumers, as well. In times of global warming, the right response is not to double spending on air conditioning systems, but to alter general thinking and behaviour. Since people will not be doing this on their own, states need to do what is best for the citizens, even if they would be discontent with the decisions taken. However, all this is highly unlikely to happen, as such drastic measures would come unprecedented for many people. Populations react slowly to developments and need adjustment times, which we do not have anymore. 2021 will show whether important steps will be taken or not.

Global Power and Conflict

The election of Joe Biden as president of the United States of America has paved the way for great uncertainties in the international arena. His interventionist approach is viewed with great concern in many states that were able to catch a breath under the presidency of Donald Trump. Especially, the situations in Syria and Iraq seemed to improve over the last three years. It can be expected that the new president will try to reestablish international presence both on the battle ground and at the diplomatic table. For example, shortly after his election, Biden explained that he wants to monitor Turkey more closely and be open to extended sanctioning, because he does not approve her regional diplomacy. As such, peace-keeping efforts, such as the operations in Syria or in Azerbaycan, will be less likely possible in the future. Also, Russia will see its movement in the region limited with the North Americans returning to the region – another aspect that will potentially increase tensions. 2021 will be crucial to assess how well this North American state reintegrates itself in the global community and whether it will be able to depart from its bloody past. One factor that might make a peaceful agenda more difficult is the normative backing of European states. As a celebrated person, Biden will have support of most European states from the outset, because they expect closer cooperation with him, due to the normative proximity to European statesmanship. That being so, Biden could have little interest to back down. Hopefully, he will start his presidency with a reluctant stance and a less interventionist approach.

Digitalisation and Data Management

The internet has been around quite some time now, but politics has been slow to adapt to this new world. Accordingly, a major topic for this year (and more so in the future) will be how we can better integrate the internet into our lives, while reducing the harmful effects. Many states already push for extensive e-governance agendas, which enable public institutions to better deliver goods and services to the public. However, comparing them to the way private enterprises have embraced the use of the internet, they are still lagging behind. With the rise of artificial intelligence, public institutions might see themselves soon thinking about how this can improve their performance. Here, a crucial aspect will be the collection, storage and use of data. The number of people using the internet increases, as well as the time people use the internet, and with those numbers the amount of available information. Today, we can derive so much information on the general habits of the public, which can be used to enhance public services. For example, many cars, nowadays, have integrated GPS systems or the driver uses her phone to navigate. That being so, proper data management could enable better city planning and traffic management. However, such data can also misused and must be subject to comprehensive legal frameworks, protecting the citizens. In 2021, we can expect this topic to move up on the priority lists of governments. Last year, already, the European Union has formed a meaningful data protection law and is globally one of the leading entities to protect users in such a comprehensive way. Other governments need to follow suit, especially those that govern highly collectivist societies, as these are using social networks intensively. Another aspect that might pop up on agendas, but has been disregarded so far, are the long-term effects of social media use and youth addition to those platforms. It is not likely that this part is going to be picked up this year, but it will become a great concern when the first generations, that were fully exposed to social media from their early childhood on, enter the labour market.

Final Thoughts

Every year is in its way unique. No matter how much planning is done, there will be surprises – positive and negative. In this article, we explored some major topics that are on the global agenda and will need to be addressed this year in one way or another. Which state will produce the most effective approaches remains to be seen.