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.
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.
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 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.
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Timing in the Balkans is everything, and current developments in Croatia suggest that it is ripe for more careful monitoring. Four years after gaining EU membership, Croatia’s ghosts of its fascist past are creeping out of the closet, and creating an ideological dispute that may put an end to its centre-right, moderate nationalist government. Feeding its wayward trajectory are the ongoing disputes with its neighbours.
Serbia’s President Vučić is asserting his influence throughout the country’s institutions, including the military. The impact of the President’s visit to Moscow in December 2016 to discuss defence cooperation was, retrospectively, a move that reinforced his position as Serbia’s main guarantor of political neutrality. Vučić continues to balance relations with East and West.
The use of state-sponsored criminal groups is not historically exclusive to Turkey’s ruling AKP, as evident in news that illicit organisations have publically pledged loyalty to President Erdoğan. As a result, elements within Turkey’s ruling political elite can utilise these groups to protect their political interests, further jeopardising political stability.