There are indications that Turkey’s AKP is utilising the private security sector to reinforce their influence over state security institutions. The desire to exert influence throughout Turkey’s security apparatus is ostensibly driven by the emerging paranoia that the AKP is being faced with internal challengers. Manipulating private security to monitor and/or control state security structures will erode democratic accountability.
Several international factors could plausibly directly impact the security and political stability of Emerging Europe in 2018. International interference of new state actors, and the possibility of a “return effect” of ISIS militants to the Balkans, can further destabilise a region already seen to have the seeds of instability.
2018 will see Russia and China further consolidate their presence and influence in the government offices and markets of Emerging Europe. Beijing and Moscow have marked clear goals for the next year – filling the void left by a retreating EU. As a result, we will continue to see the erosion of democratic institutions and accountability, and a further rise in quasi-autocratic leadership not afraid to use informal tools of influence to consolidate their power.
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Authoritarianism, corruption, human rights violations, and political repression are elements that characterise political trends in Emerging Europe over the next year. Indeed, countries in the region will continue to move away from democratic reforms, while their ruling elite continue to secure their political power by leveraging informal mechanisms of influence.
Although the current economic standing of Belgrade’s Airport is good, the Vučić government is - yet again - close to endangering one of the most important state assets. Previous regional examples reveal how governments, for political purposes, have privatised state assets to the detriment of public coffers, and the case of Belgrade Airport could easily follow this path.
The negative demographic trends witnessed in the Balkan countries is an underreported topic with harmful effects on regional economic dynamics. The demographic factor is central to understand and predict economic development in the region, as structural problems such as labour shortages, pension funds, and higher pressure on public services, are already appearing, and will have an impact on the type of foreign investment the region can attract.
The Romanian secret services hold significant political influence; in theory, a remnant of the Communist era. Information possessed by the various intelligence agencies – a de facto equivalent of Russia’s infamous ‘compromat’ - has been utilised to exert influence over the elite. Their rather unaccountable role has an impact on the country’s democratic institutions, including the judiciary, which is believed to be under the control of the secret services through the infiltrations of its agents.
The Bulgarian media sector appears to be controlled by individuals with strong links to political parties and the ruling elite, as is the case with Delyan Peevski. Central to influencing political and public opinion, the media sector has become an important tool through which elements of the status quo have sought to hide corruption, and other questionable practices that continue to undermine Bulgaria.
Russia and Turkey have found partners in the Balkans who are accepting of their illiberal democracies, and money from their business elite. While both countries use this leverage to gain increased influence in the Balkans; in all reality, their real economic impact is minimum. In fact, despite indications that Russian and Turkish influence is expanding in the Balkans, the EU remains the most dominant economic actor.
The ruling political elite in the TRNC can be directly linked to Turkey’s position on the “Cyprus Issue”. Ankara’s current state of affairs is re-empowering pro-Turkey ruling families, many of whom were involved in establishing the TRNC. These families, dependent on Turkey, also have a legacy of manipulating the TNRC’s early state structures to their benefit. Back in the political driver’s seat, their return has opened the doors to energy resources for Ankara’s elite.
The Balkan region is witnessing changes within state structures. These changes are empowering the ruling elite; and, ultimately, affecting the informal mechanisms used by the government to suppress oppositional voices. As evidenced in Serbia as an illustrative case, violence is steadily being substituted by subtle intimidation methods, previously legalised under the hope of EU accession, and utilised so as not to negatively impact their international image.
Ties between Turkey and Israel have been frayed by recent history but are simply too important for both states to ignore. As the East Mediterranean’s vast energy reserves begin to reap rewards for Ankara and Tel Aviv, staunch ideological differences held by their respective political elites will battle against lucrative financial returns. Investors must brace for volatility in the face of profitability.