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Bulgaria’s elections: change we disbelieve in

“If elections changed anything they would have them banned”. So read a well-known piece of Sofia graffiti some years ago (inspired by political activist/anarchist Emma Goldman). Bulgaria’s parliamentary polls on 12 May 2013 seem to confirm the bitter cynicism of this slogan as almost half of Bulgaria's electorate did not turn up at the voting booths. The low turnout is striking, given that as recently as February, economic hardship and widespread resentment of the political class propelled thousands onto the streets of Sofia, Varna and other big cities voicing demands for a complete overhaul of “the system”.

Three months on, it is apathy that prevails, not the will to install fresh faces in parliament. More than one grouping claimed to represent the protesters, but none made it past the 4% threshold. As I wrote in March, Bulgaria isn’t getting its own Beppe Grillo or Alexis

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The clock is ticking on Cyprus

 

An island on the edge of Europe with an outsize banking sector, lots of offshore investors flocking in, and an external economic shock leading to a financial crash of dramatic proportions: it’s not like we have never been there. But this time around it’s Cyprus, not Ireland or Iceland. This is yet more proof that no country is an island spared amidst the pan-European storm which is unlikely to go away. The restructuring of Greek debt and the ‘haircut” imposed on institutional investors has taken toll on the banks in next-door Cyprus (the Bank of Cyprus alone took losses worth €1.3 billion a year ago). The situation is pretty dire: the two largest banks – the Bank of Cyprus and Laiki (Popular) Bank are practically bankrupt. And Cyprus, with bank assets eight times its GDP and deposits four times, outdoes both Ireland in 2010 and Iceland in 2008. But nonetheless the déjà vu

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New hope for EU-Turkey relations?

France and Cyprus are invariably singled out as the spoilers in the tangled EU-Turkey affair. Well, you should think twice. 

The election of François Hollande back in May changed the atmospherics between Ankara and Paris as it removed "Turcosceptic" Nicolas Sarkozy from the equation. However, when I was drafting the Turkey section of  ECFR's 2013 Scorecard I thought it was too early to cheer as no chapter blocked by Sarko in the EU membership talks had been “unfrozen”. 

Now Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister, made the first step. At a conference dealing with security in Libya and North Africa, attended also by his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu, he disclosed that both had agreed to open Chapter 22 (regional policy). That’s significant on several counts. It will be the first chapter to be put on the table since June 2010 when the then Spanish Presidency of the Council

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Sofia view: Turkey & the Shanghai route to Europe

The latest rhetorical bombshell from Turkey’s PM Tayyip Erdoğan, a leader not known for mincing his words, is that Turkey might well join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), instead of persevering with its decades-long effort to accede to the EU. Speaking to Kanal 24, a TV channel,  Erdoğan fondly shared what he said to his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin: “Take us into the Shanghai Five; do it, and we will say farewell to the EU, leave it altogether. Why all this stalling?”

It's easy to dismiss this as pure posturing. After all, such grand statements are very much in sync with Turkey’s political mood at the moment. Swapping the perfidious EU for a forum would put Turkey in with the up-and-coming powers of Central Asia, and a growing hub in global geopolitics. It would be much more reassuring to be in the same club as China and even with Russia (admittedly on a post-BRIC

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ECFR this week: 11th January 2013

 

As many of you have read (and tweeted about), our year kicked off with our predictions for the future in“Ten Trends for 2013.” Will the British debate about Europe become less toxic? How much is the single market being threatened by the euro crisis? Are small states the key to European foreign policy? Have a read and make your own mind up. 

Mark Leonard also wrote his latest column on issues discussed in “Ten Trends” – “In 2013, the great global unravelling.”

This last week we took a look at one of the key questions of European foreign policy – do sanctions work? We published a policy memo from Konstanty Gebert – “Shooting in the dark? EU sanctions policies” – that argues that if we don’t develop a better way of tracking the effectiveness of sanctions, then this key tool of European foreign policy is no more effective than shooting a gun in the dark. 

Elsewhere:

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