An essential weekly guide to the big stories of the next seven days provided by Foresight News

The week ahead: Israel elections, Julian Assange addresses the Oxford Union, latest unemployment figures

US President Barack Obama is inaugurated for a second term on Monday. A ceremonial swearing-in takes place at 11:30am ET, and other highlights of the day include a parade along Pennsylvania Avenue, official inaugural balls attended by the President and First Lady Michelle and performances from Beyoncé and James Taylor. Kelly Clarkson also performs.

In Brussels, Eurogroup finance ministers gather on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s ECOFIN meeting. The  meeting is expected to see the Presidency of the group pass from Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker to the Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

That meeting on Tuesday coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty, signed by then-French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1963. Also known as the Treaty of Friendship, it marked full reconciliation between the countries following the Second World War, and laid the foundations for future Franco-German relations. That anniversary also comes at a time when the very future of the Union is being questioned.

Israel goes to the polls on Tuesday as elections to the Knesset are held. Hot button-issues likely to influence voters include rising concerns over the cost of living (as highlighted by high-profile 2011 protests), Iran’s nuclear programme and, as ever, the security situation.

While incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely expected to retain power, there will be intense scrutiny of the post-election coalition negotiations likely to be required to provide stable government.

Controversial Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is set to address the Oxford Union on Tuesday. The activist, currently ensconced in the Ecuadorian Embassy, is expected to address the 189-year-old debating society’s Sam Adams Awards via video-link. The Oxford Students’ Union (a separate body to the Oxford Union) has planned protests to coincide.

The latest unemployment figures land on Wednesday, as part of the regular release of Labour Market Statistics. The figures, which have shown a fall in unemployment in recent months, also include so-called ‘workfare’ schemes supported by the Government. For this reason, some commentators have urged caution.

Two select committee sessions are worth looking out for on Thursday: first, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood faces MPs again after earlier this month giving a less-than-convincing account of his investigation into the circumstances surrounding ‘plebgate’ and the resignation of Andrew Mitchell ; meanwhile the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee hears evidence from Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable Matt Baggott on current issues facing the PSNI, with ongoing flag-related disorder likely to be at the top of the agenda.

The UK’s prized AAA rating appears to be entering its twilight years, with the Fitch agency last week warning that the UK’s status at the top table of credit was under significant pressure. The release on Friday of preliminary GDP data for the last quarter of 2012 therefore comes at a crucial time for Chancellor George Osborne, who, according to Fitch’s head of sovereign ratings David Riley, already faces the prospect of delivering a make-or-break Spring Budget in March. An update on the comparison of developments in GDP and the labour market in Q4 is also released today.

Community activists stage a protest on Saturday against the proposed closure of Lewisham Hospital’s Intensive Care wards ahead of an impending deadline for a decision on the matter by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. The wards’ closure was suggested by the Matthew Kershaw, the administrator of the nearby debt-laden South London Healthcare NHS Trust, as a way to solve the Trust’s financial problems by forcing patients to use its hospitals, such as the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich. Hunt must make a decision by February 1.

Heads of state and government from the African Union gather in Addis Ababa on Sunday for a summit at which there’ll be no shortage of pressing issues to address, with military action in northern Mali, the M23 rebellion in eastern DR Congo, ongoing tension between the Sudans and the fallout from last week’s hostage crisis HYPERLINK "http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/17/algeria-hostage-crisis-fears-escalation"in Algeria chief among them. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is expected to be nominated to assume the chairmanship of the AU at the meeting.

The sporting year could be off to a flying start if Brits Andy Murray, Laura Robson and Heather Watson keep up last week’s momentum and make it to this weekend’s Australian Open finals. While British number one Watson and Robson, who beat Grand Slam winner Petra Kvitova in a marathon three hour second round match, are unlikely to mount serious challenges for the title, their presence in the top 50 and Murray’s transformation from perennial losing finalist are encouraging for British tennis. The women’s final takes place on Saturday, with the men’s match on Sunday.

 

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