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A Rocky Road For The EU: Three Things To Look For In 2015

The iconic euro landmark outside the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt
The iconic euro landmark outside the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt

Two elections in member states and a divisive battle over Russia sanctions could spell trouble for the European Union this year. RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak has more:

Greek Elections Could Spark New Eurozone Crisis

Just when you thought that the eurozone crisis was over, Brussels might start the year with a rude awakening.

After three failed attempts in December to get his presidential candidate elected by the Greek parliament, the country’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was constitutionally obliged to call for snap elections. The January 25 vote opens the door for a possible new economic crisis in the country where the previous one erupted in 2009.

The reason for this is that Samaras's center-right New Democracy Party is trailing the populist left-wing Syriza Party by 3 percentage points. Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras has vowed to increase wages, expand the number of government jobs and persuade the euro area to write off some Greek debt. Each of those moves would violate the commitments Athens made as part of its international bailout following the 2009 crisis. They could also cause the country to default and force it to leave the eurozone altogether.

If that happens, other vulnerable countries might follow and the common currency might come under severe pressure -- or unravel completely.

Another Showdown Over Russia Sanctions

Few issues are likely to divide the EU so much this year as the question of whether the sanctions imposed on Russia last year for the annexation of Crimea and the intervention in eastern Ukraine should be renewed or not. And Moscow is widely expected to do everything possible to amplify divisions among EU member states.

The first sanctions up for renewal, in March, are the individual asset freezes and visa bans enacted a year earlier. As they mainly concern separatists and lower-ranked Duma members, these will probably be prolonged with little fuss.

The big decisions, however, will come in June and then July when economic sanctions affecting both Russia's banks and its energy industry come under review.

The decision to extend the sanctions must be unanimous, meaning that all 28 EU-member states must agree. And there are plenty of countries that might hesitate for various reasons.

Southern countries might suffer from abovementionedeurozone woes and argue that greater access to the Russian market is needed. Similarly, many eastern EU member states might say that Russia’s ban on imports of agricultural products is having too much of an adverse effect on their state coffers. Fears that Russia is teetering on the brink of economic collapse is another argument in favor for not renewing the sanctions that is likely to be heard a lot in Brussels this summer.

Exit Britain?

Great Britain has for some time drifted away from the core of the European Union. But the upcoming general election on May 7 might spell the beginning of the end for the country’s EU membership. At the very least, it could launch another painstaking and time consuming round of negotiation about EU treaties.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum on Britain’s EU membership if his Conservative Party wins the election. Currently the polls show that Cameron's chances of staying in power are good -- and the outcome of any referendum on EU membership would be a close call.

Cameron has said the referendum would take place before the end of 2017 but has since indicated that it could come sooner.

Moreover, there has been media speculation that the Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) might even become junior partner in a Conservative-led government.

Before the referendum, Cameron plans to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s EU membership which will include a push from London to restrict unemployment benefits for job-seeking EU nationals in Britain. This would in turn mean the laborious process of an EU treaty change.