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.
Recent events in Macedonia, culminating in the Macedonia-Bulgaria Good Neighbourly Relations Agreement, are creating an environment conducive to informal networks quietly expanding their influence. Looking beyond mainstream politics, peripheral players are lining up to play a decisive role in influencing wider political and economic decisions. This analysis outlines the commercial players likely to benefit from this context.
Turkey and Qatar have come to the political rescue of each other twice in the space of 12 months; following the failed coup against Erdoğan in July 2016 and now as Tamim Al Thani faces a regional boycott. For investors, the bloated influence of the political sphere on commercial developments must be noted now more than ever.
Turkey’s President Erdoğan is building his “New Turkey” – a country more empowered and autonomous. Part of his strategy involves exerting influence over the defence industry; but this is also proving beneficial to patron-client relations and resource distribution; i.e. a new pool of assets that can be channelled to loyal businessmen.
Serbia’s overblown and unreformed public sector, almost completely under informal political control, produces a staggering amount of debt, and represents a key instrument of social and political manipulation. While the structure of debt is often complex, its background is relatively simple: clientelism and corruption - too much political influence and too little reform.
Greece is toying with expanding its ties to China, Turkey and Russia whilst its relations with the EU falter. In addition to intelligence of various ‘unofficial’ meetings being held between the leadership of these countries; growing ties are evident in the identity of those taking part in Greece’s ‘golden visa’ scheme.
Serbia’s undisputed leader Aleksandar Vučić, has relocated his power to the position of the republic’s President – a formally weak and largely ceremonial office in a parliamentarian system of government. Vučić has appointed a Prime Minister who holds no political power, allowing him to keep his influence in political decision-making. Monitoring the rise of Vucic has echoes of his southern neighbour in Turkey – is Vucic pulling an Erdogan?
In all probability, Serbia’s President Vučić is set to maintain his political influence by leveraging his ability to manipulate a variety of formal and informal mechanisms of power in the state. All things being equal, Vučić is well on the road to becoming the most powerful figure in the country.
Erdoğan’s ability to manipulate the Turkish system to his favour is building a system governed by loyalty to the President. In fact, ongoing reshuffles will see even more loyalists brought in to secure him; and are important to monitor to understand how they will impact the country’s short to medium term political and investment environment.