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Sofia view: a Turkish progress report


Turkey enters 2013 with a 270-page report listing its progress towards the EU. Europe Minister and Chief Negotiatior Egemen Bağış used the occasion to lambast, once more, the regular monitoring document issued by the European Commission back in October as “overshadowed by more subjective, biased, unwarranted and bigoted attitudes.” This is the same cabinet member who is fond of clamoring that Turkey was coming to the rescue of the crisis-hit EU.  Among the successes the new report lists is the increase of the number of women in parliament to 14.4 percent (though this happened in June 2011, not in 2012), the higher number of disabled people employed by the state and others. I much prefer the sketch of 2012 my friend Suat Kınıklıoğlu has prepared. It gives you a frank, unadulterated picture.

Unfortunately, the government-prepared report is available in Turkish only which

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North Africa Power Audit launched in Sofia


Bulgaria counts as an Eastern European country, but let’s not forget that it is closer to southern countries such as Greece, Turkey or Italy than it is to, say, the Baltics. Data from the 2011 census shows that 10% of the population is Muslim. Which is in all likelihood the highest share amongst current EU members (France comes second with roughly 9%).  Add to this the MFA-sponsored Sofia Platform, a forum to channel lessons from the post-communist transitions to the countries of the Arab Awakening, and you understand why ECFR’s acclaimed Power Audit of EU-North Africa relations should find a welcome reception in Bulgaria’s capital. 
Yesterday, ECFR Sofia hosted one of the authors, Nick Witney, at the local branch of the Instituto Cervantes (muchisimas gracias to our friends at the Spanish Embassy and personally to Luis Canovas del Castillo Munoz for their amazing

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Turkey, Syria and vicious circles


Hardly a day passes without a new development in the Turkey-Syrian saga. Last evening, as I was flying from Istanbul to Sofia, Turkish airforce intercepted a Syrian Air passenger plane over suspicions it was carrying weapons from Moscow to Damascus. This comes after a tense week which saw Turkey’s military shelling Syrian army’s positions across the common border several times in retaliation for mortar fire killing Turkish civilians.

Turkey is in a really tough spot of late. Full-blown military action against Assad’s regime is unthinkable. The German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends Survey suggests that up to 57% of Turks are opposed to any military action, even if sanctioned by a UN Security Council Resolution. The government’s critics sense a danger that Syria could become Turkey’s Afghanistan should an intervention take place. Turkey would be bogged down, caught in the

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Sofia view: the Burgas attack

A bus full of Israeli tourists was blown up yesterday at the airport of Burgas, a Bulgarian town on the Black Sea coast. From what we know, the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber carrying a backpack laden with explosives. The shock here is profound – the news from Burgas overshadowed the European Commission’s regular report monitoring judicial reforms and anti-corruption released a few hours earlier.  There have been eight fatalities so far, with tens of injured taken to hospitals. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, was quick to blame it on Iran and Hezbollah. He warned that Israel’s reaction would be “powerful”.  It is too early to speculate whether such claims are substantiated or the tragedy at Burgas only ratchets up the hawkish talk in Israel.  But there are two points worth noting, from the viewpoint of Bulgaria.

Firstly, one of the casualties is in fact

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Sofia View: Democracy questioned in Romania

A fierce political war is raging in Romania after Prime Minister Victor Ponta, leader of the left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD), used his parliamentary majority to force the suspension of President Traian Basescu, who is close to the centre-right opposition Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), over alleged abuse of power. 

Basescu now faces a referendum on 29 July to decide whether his suspension should be permanent, which, say observers, he is likely to lose. That would consolidate the hold on power of the ruling Social Liberal Union (USL), which is dominated by Ponta's Socialists and already controls the two houses of parliament as well as most of the municipalities.

Ironically, it was Basescu who appointed Ponta as prime minister, pending elections in November, after the centre-right lost its majority in parliament. Since then relations have deteriorated to outright enmity.

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