European Council on Foreign Relations

London view: let the sunshine in

www.freevectorfinder.comHere in ECFR’s Westminster office our Policy Coordination Team meeting had to compete with the sound of helicopters hovering just outside the window. They were news helicopters, and the reason why they were buzzing the skies above our office was not because of any dramatic decision the PCT was making, but rather because the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, was delivering his budget to the House of Commons.

Any budget during these tough times is an opportunity for discussion, and this was no exception. But amongst all the chatter about changing the highest rate of income tax and keeping the focus on dealing with Britain’s national debt, there was one little amendment that caught my eye.

As The Economist’s Bagehot blog explains in this post, the government is going to introduce a personal tax statement to explain exactly where each taxpayer’s money is being spent. This

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Sofia view: post-election Russia event

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.”  That was the Margaret Thatcher quote Russian journalist Konstantin von Eggert, a dear friend of ECFR, pitched in to describe Vladimir Putin’s predicament as he re-enters the Kremlin (has he ever left, one wonders). Sofia is not an easy place to hold a debate on Russia – local views are polarised. You either adore “Grandpa Ivan” or, in the case of a small but vocal minority, hate him with almost Baltic intensity. Yet the ECFR team which descended upon the Bulgarian capital did a great job to offer the crowd a nuanced, informed and intellectually stimulating overview of Russia where the once omnipotent Putin consensus is slowly eroding. We were truly fortunate to have the support of the Polish Institute in Sofia, a cozy venue for policy events bursting with fervor and energy.

Ben Judah spoke of

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Sofia view: blackbirds and hawks

Kosovo (“the land of blackbirds”) is known for its hawkish mores. As proven by both the bullet and the ballot: the Serbs in North Kosovo are currently having a referendum on the question of "Do you accept the institutions of the so-called Republic of Kosovo?" (that’s about the best worded referendum question since Macedonia’s famous “Would you support independent Macedonia with the right to enter future union of sovereign states of Yugoslavia?” on 8 September 1991). The outcome of the vote is almost as uncertain as that of Russia’s presidential elections scheduled for 4 March. The resounding “no” in the four Serb municipalities north of the river Ibar will be yet another setback along the way to finding a negotiated settlement between Pristina and Belgrade under EU auspices. And the one to bear the brunt will be Serbia’s president Boris Tadic. Having publicly opposed the referendum,

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London view: Scotland, Kosovo and a flag redrawn

Where Kosovo goes, does Scotland follow? The last fortnight has seen the re-emergence of the debate over Scottish independence as a very real political issue, north and south of the border.

The debate has been enlivened by some noisy arm wrestling between the prime minister and the leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond. In short, the SNP wants a referendum by 2014, and in an apparent outflanking move Mr Cameron agreed, adding that it should be even sooner and ask the simple ‘Independence: yes or no?’ question. This matters: although the SNP is all in favour of straightforward independence, they also know that this has a strong chance of being defeated in a ‘yes or no’ referendum (a third option involving enhanced devolved powers for Scotland while it stays within the Union seems to be the most popular option – and the SNP would surely prefer this to defeat).

But

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From Warsaw to Rangoon to Minsk?

All dictatorships start in the same way: with promises of a radiant future that make up for the sinister present of misery, fear, gags and blood. And they usually all end alike: the dictator is eventually killed, like Gaddafi, is judged like Mubarak, or flees like Ben Ali. There is, however, a rare type of dictatorship that is harder to predict - the ones that dismantle themselves: Spain after Franco, Chile after Pinochet, Poland under Jaruzelski. Will Burma after Than Shwe be added to that list?

Until recently the very question was absurd: just five years ago the generals, in power for half a century, again drowned protests in blood. It seemed they are unable to stop spilling it for, if they were to stop, they would then hang for it. And yet they then set free first Aung San Suu Kyi, and then hundreds of other key political prisoners. They signed, after 63 years of war, a

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