After a year when Europe was hit by a raft of existential crises – from July’s Greek euro crisis to September’s uncontrolled migrant surge and November’s Paris terror attacks – all the signs are that 2016 promises to be another year of tumult in Europe.
But for Britons, uncertainty over the future of the European project will be viewed overwhelmingly through the single lens of David Cameron’s referendum on whether to remain part of the European Union.
With June 2016 now Downing Street’s clear preference for the leave-remain vote, we can expect a furious debate on the merits of membership as soon as the details emerge from Mr Cameron’s EU renegotiation, which is due to be completed in mid-February.
That debate will play out against the backdrop of continuing uncertainty over the future of the euro as Greece meets – or does not – the required reforms for receiving continued bailout funds, the on-going threat of terror and, if Syria deteriorates, quite likely a fresh migrant crisis.
The result of the referendum will play into the future of Europe itself, at a time when Europe’s elites – including even the continent’s strongest leaders, like Germany’s Angela Merkel – find themselves in an ever-more precarious position.
A ‘no’ vote would reverberate around the world, re-ordering London’s historic “special relationship” with Washington, triggering long-term questions about the City and foreign investment in the UK and, quite possibly, unravelling the Union itself if, as promised, Scotland demands a second independence following a UK vote to leave.
For Britain in Europe in 2016, all roads lead back to the referendum. The stakes are undoubtedly high.