Opportunities for growth are increasingly being stymied in the Western Balkans because of the growth of informal political influence (ostensibly through the rise of illiberal regimes), and an evolving notion of corruption. No longer is the main concern focused on influencers that ‘buy’ access to privilege; but more so on concerns that ‘legitimately’ elected leaders are presiding over the capture of state institutions and a massive redistribution of wealth.
Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, Boyko Borissov, has spearheaded recent legal reforms aimed at fighting public and private sector corruption. These reforms include the creation of a new anti-corruption unit with the remit to wiretap senior state officials. Although these efforts appear positive in their aims; given the trajectory of Borisov’s own political influence, there are concerns that a new anti-corruption unit with significant powers could be utilised against opposition groups, whilst further placing the private sector and judiciary under his influence.
Driven by a religious ethos, government-linked foundations operate under low levels of accountability, a factor that has allegedly exposed some of them to questionable activities carried out by government officials. In addition to becoming embroiled in allegations of corruption, Turkey’s charities have also used been utilised as a resource distribution tool; more specifically, as a place where government loyalists are rewarded with employment.
Liviu Dragnea has started a public campaign of defamation against anti-corruption institutions that have accused him of leading a criminal organisation. To legitimise his position, Dragnea is using autocratic methods, whereas he is the protector of the national interests empowering him to manipulate the judiciary and security systems.
The formation of a 4-party coalition in Northern Cyprus aspires to limit Ankara’s influence over TRNC’s political affairs. Despite having the political will, there are major regional political dynamics that might undermine the autonomy of the 4-party coalition; particularly the reality that Ankara has already demonstrated its capacity to use informal mechanisms to alter political behaviour in Northern Cyprus.
China’s grandiose infrastructure project, the One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR), has begun to take root in the Balkans, with regional states increasingly looking to jockey for the position of China’s most reliable regional partner. As Chinese investment takes shape, there are indications that the region will continue to slip into an illiberal democracy more akin to today’s Turkey and Russia; with potentially larger repercussions for Western investment.
A complex network of influence has been developed since the early 2000s between the Turkish central government and AKP-controlled municipalities. These opaque power structures have allowed charities linked to the ruling elite to freely operate in these municipalities, essentially operating as informal social co-optation tools used by the government.
There are concerns that a series of reforms that reduce the independence of the Romanian judiciary will impact how international and non-politically exposed commercial players are able to compete in the market. If these reforms are passed, they have the ability to set the stage for the implementation of a de facto system of crony capitalism; a system that would ultimately serve the interests of the political and economic interests of Liviu Dragnea.
Last month, the Serbian Government and France’s Vinci finalised the agreement that will put Belgrade airport in the hands of one of the world’s largest construction and concessions companies. It is reported that Vinci will pay €500 million in concession fees, and invest another €732 million over the next 25 years.
Despite his repeated demonstrations of loyalty to the current Turkish ruling elite, businessman Galip Öztürk was recently handed down a judicial sentence that will ultimately expose his assets to the government’s agenda. The case of Öztürk is important because it highlights an emerging trend in Turkey’s business environment - where the assets of even loyal businessmen are being made vulnerable to Ankara’s economic priorities.
In this third part of our series on the effects of Climate Change in the Balkans, future political, economic and social scenarios are summarised from the Report, available through the Shadow Governance Intel Report Store. This summary presents the key scnearios likely to emerge in the region as a result of Climate Change and the impact it is already having. This analysis also highlights how this phenomenon can reinforce, or undermine, the current authoritarian trends amongst the ruling elite in the Balkans.
A recent arrest in Serbia of Romania’s former senior ruling party official has revealed an intricate mechanism of informal influence in which media and information technology companies are manipulated by politically connected individuals with the aim of spreading fake news. The driving motivation is for the ruling elite to gain leverage to influence election or judicial outcomes.