First on the list for 2013 is Europe. It is already gnawing at David Cameron's vitals, as it has gnawed at all his predecessors for 30 years. Nor is he alone. Now Europe gnaws at German politics, French politics, the eurozone, every bank and every industry. As with America's economic growth, the world's federations are in a mess.
With Cameron poised to deliver his keynote speech on Britain in Europe within weeks, a statement being billed as the most important and fateful of his premiership, it is clear that his attempt to redefine the UK-EU relationship depends on a renegotiation of the Lisbon treaty.
Reopening the treaty, however, is a political minefield. Other EU capitals have, for the moment in any case, gone cold on the idea. Top EU officials have voiced strong doubts about reopening the EU treaties to retool Europe after years of debt crisis, further complicating Cameron's strategy, whcih hinges on renegotiating the Lison treaty in order to secure concessions for Britain. David Cameron's quest for a new deal for Britain in Europe by clawing back powers from Brussels could cause the EU to fall apart quickly and inflict immense damage on the single market.
Britain needs EU and the EU needs Britain. One the one hand, Britain's contribution in EU has been crucial in building the EU's centrepiece, the single European market, now the largest market in the world, and the common rules for the common market that are necessary for it to function, however any British attempt to disentangle itself from the EU through ''repatriating'' powers from Brussels would generate great rancour and recrimination. Few policy-makers in the EU would be willing to do Cameron any favours, resulting in an enfeebled, lonelier Britain, on the other hand. Therefore the disputes about recovering national sovereignty, currently raging on the right of UK politics, are completely misplaced.
Give or take percentage points, more Britons than ever before want to ''leave Europe'', 51% against 40% for staying. This compares with 19% for leaving and 68% for staying just 10 years ago. The polls, allied to some 15% support for the UK Independence party, have brought Europe back to centre stage. Britain will never leave Europe, any more that it did in the times of Marlborough, Pitt and Churchill.
The only question is the oldest in the history book: how best can Britain live in political and commercial harmony with other European states. As for the public opinion, it matters only in the sense of : Is it right or wrong? Europe is a subject like hanging or immigration, on which the public is dismissed as too ill-informed to matter.
The one wisdom lies in shining a lantern on history's wake. All federal unions tend sooner or later to wither and die, the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and British empires, the Soviet Union and more recently the American hegemony. The UK has looked ever shakier since Ireland left in 1922, The spotlight now turns on the ruling cores of Europe and America, crumpling under the weight of credit bubbles, over mighty lobbyists and degenerated accountability.
Calls for a referendum on ''Britain in or out'' are absurd. It will produce closure when openness is most welcome. A means must be found to sustain free and fair trade in Europe as a whole without infringing national sovereignty that electorates will not stand for it.
Since Britain is solely concerned about its economic interests, nothing else, there is no alternative to some renegotiation of Britain's relations with the rest of the EU. The leakage of billions of euros into European tax havens must be stopped. The Brussels thesis that corruption is not a single market issue must be punctured. Energy resources must be shared.
In his much-awaited speech, Cameron has nothing to lose by exploiting the new openness. He still has a credibility gap. He, once, promised a referendum on Lisbon and reneged on it. He now wants a referendum but only one he can win, which means after renegotiation. But his past vacillation has left his neo-scepticism limp in comparison with that of the longstanding naysayers.
Cameron should play some variants on the theme. There is no point in more platitudes. Every sensible person accepts that Britain needs a new deal with the other states of Europe, one that leaves the words "in and out" to fools.
By Guylain Gustave Moke