Transition or decision? After 2012, the year in which the euro was supposed to collapse, it is tempting to predict what 2013 has in store for Europe’s citizens, even if it means running the risk of being wrong. Here is a quick review of some of the main trends that will have a long-term impact on political and daily life in the European Union.

The event of the year will be the general election in Germany, which will most likely be held on September 22. Angela Merkel, who continues to enjoy record approval ratings, has a good chance of being re-elected for a third term as chancellor. She would therefore maintain the European austerity policy which is popular with her voters.

However, at the same time, she would also need stability, which could favour a policy of European Central Bank intervention in the debt crisis. Although unpopular with the Berlin government and the Bundesbank, previous interventions have shown that such a policy can calm the markets and grant a respite to Germany’s most important and vulnerable partners, ie: Italy, Spain and France.

And speaking of Italy, there will be a lot at stake in the elections due to be held there on February 24 and 25. Will “technocrat” Mario Monti be able to continue governing the country without being elected but with support from a coalition of centrist parties? Italy can be a testing ground for two questions that will be important for all Europe: Will an austerity policy that is in line with the expectations of financial markets and international partners be sufficient to put the country back on track? Can a technocratic government succeed in reconciling the economic and democratic needs of a society?

In the meantime, the British — and many other Europeans — will continue to question their place in the EU. In spite of the persistent demands from the eurosceptic wing of of his party, UK Prime Minister David Cameron will likely avoid taking on the historic responsibility of calling into question his country’s membership of the European Union. However, this issue will certainly weigh on negotiations for the 2014-2020 European budget, as it will on the management of the crisis, and in turn on the institutional future of the EU.

It will be even more awkward for Cameron to cut ties with the continent now that the United Kingdom is preparing for a referendum on the future of Scotland in 2014. And Britain is not alone in facing the spectre of secession that has also been awakened in Belgium, where Flemish nationalists will be preparing for federal elections in 2014, and in Spain, where Catalan politicians will be attempting to create the most favourable conditions for the organisation of a referendum on the independence of the region, also slated for 2014.

Catalan aspirations, which could challenge the manner in which the region participates in the financing of the federal state, will likely add to Spain’s vulnerability. With unemployment at almost 25 per cent and a much weakened banking sector, the country will continue to be the weak link in Europe and a focal point for the economic and social ills that have beset the continent, putting to one side the extreme situation in Greece.

Above and beyond the political trends, the social context and the living conditions of Europe’s 500 million citizens will have to be closely monitored throughout the year. Regardless of the decisions taken in Brussels and Frankfurt, and positive movement in stock market and macro-economic charts, the future of the EU will be shaped in the factories, offices, hospitals and streets of a continent that is increasingly populated by victims of the crisis.