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.
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.
Serbia’s telecommunications sector is ripe for change, with new opportunities emerging. Navigating the competitive market, however, remains imperative for any new venture. Although most of the sector can be treated as competitive, there remains the problem of state-owned MTS: an entity whose development has been curtailed as a result of undue and opaque political influence.
The fight against corruption in Romania has been applauded by the West as a model worth emulating throughout the region. Both the country’s main anti-corruption body, the DNA, and its head, Laura Kövesi, have attained notable influence as power players. Recent allegations about questionable practices, and the personalisation of anti-corruption, however, threaten to unravel the progress made.
Bulgaria’s energy sector is currently in the midst of a power struggle, with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov seeking to diminish the influence of independent businessmen with energy interests. One of the main consequences of this is that the sector is becoming increasingly politicised. Despite the involvement of international actors (Russia-EU), trends suggest that the sector will ultimately be shaped by internal power dynamics.