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.
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Bosnia is witnessing steady political disintegration. A lack of political legitimacy of its borders, an unclear EU policy, and re-emergent nationalist ideologies are aggravating ethnic and religious divisions. On top of all of this sits a murky nexus of rent-seeking political leaders, dependent oligarchs and a commercial environment threatened by corruption and undue political influence.
The Romanian maritime sector is characterised by its lack of an efficient and transparent legal framework, and the absence of public bodies to oversee and regulate who benefits from the sector. These legal gaps have been used by a group of Romanian Members of Parliament, ostensibly with the view to secure decision-making powers over the future development (and associated privatisation) of this sector.
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Meral Akşener has recently founded a new political platform that aims to challenge the monopoly of President Erdoğan and his AKP. Akşener’s political limits, however, are tied to her political constituency and her past work as an Interior Minister. Of equal importance is that her political legitimacy emanates from Erdoğan’s unpopularity.
The energy sector in the TRNC is in need of investment, particularly to modernise its infrastructure. While the current government is losing political legitimacy, new political actors with strong ties to Ankara are likely to take control. If this happens, there is a high probability that they will increase their dealing with Turkey, potentially to the detriment of the TRNC’s own needs.
The future of the Mayor of Belgrade, Sinisa Mali, is tied to the political fate of President Vučić, a close political ally and friend. Although several investigations have demonstrated Mali’s questionable practices with public money and FDI projects, his alleged wrongdoings have never been tested in Serbia’s courts.
The privatisation of Bulgaria’s maritime sector was conducted in such a way that it enabled the country’s political elite to exert significant influence over what private actors were allowed to participate in privatisation tenders. A relatively opaque / ambiguous legal framework allegedly opened the doors to questionable dealings between the political and commercial elite, in exchange for state assets.
Elements of Romania’s media sector are actively being leveraged in the hands of an opaque network of state officials, businessmen, and secret services as an informal political and economic tool. Media outlets, for example, have been used to fulfil political agendas in exchange for state contracts; to the benefit of the most powerful family holdings in the country.