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Sofia View: Bridges between France and Turkey

Is Turkey likely to mend ties with France, now that Francois Hollande has been installed in the Elysee? This is the question that has been keeping many a Turkey watcher busy for the past few months. Yesterday on a visit to Paris Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s heavy-duty foreign minister, commended his hosts for having abandoned a law criminalising the denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide (or mass killing, depending on which side of the dispute you sit).  The law was struck down last February by the country’s Constitutional Council as infringing the freedom of speech. Now Laurent Fabius seems to be saying that the Socialists who voted in favour of the law are not going to bring it back to life.

Hollande came to office trying to play down the Turkey issue by pointing out, rightly, that membership would not be on the cards in the coming five years of his term. Fabius, for his part, said

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Sofia view: Montenegro on the EU doorstep

Believe it or not there are countries still wishing to join the EU, at a time international financiers are certainly not betting on its health. Croatia is set to enter on 1 July 2013; Iceland is currently negotiating its accession; and the countries of the Western Balkans are still queuing up to join. If you have to put your money which ex-Yugoslav country will follow Croatia then Montenegro is surely the safest bet. Yesterday, during a meeting in Luxembourg, the EU’s foreign ministers decided to open accession talks with the Balkan republic (a decision likely to be rubber-stamped at the forthcoming summit on 28-9 June). Reflecting the spirit of jubilation, Prime Minister Igor Lukšić said this coming Friday, when talks will be officially launched, would be “Montenegro’s greatest day”.His country could well make it in by the end of the decade if talks move according to the timetable.

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Sofia view: Where is enlargement heading?

Where is EU enlargement heading?  How is the Balkans faring in the current crisis and what role does as ambitious a power as Turkey, a country that is part of the region, impact on the politics of this corner of Europe. On 18 June ECFR Sofia co-hosted a one-day conference together with the Centre for Strategic Research, the in-house think tank of Turkey’s MFA.  We also had the pleasure to have the Balkan Studies Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Diplomatic Institute at the Bulgarian MFA amongst the organisers.

The crisis is a welcome moment to take stock of the achievements and prospects of regional cooperation in the Balkans. Not least because greater integration is often cast as the path for boosting growth and development. One key point raised was the need to adopt a more inclusive definition of South East Europe, beyond the Western Balkans which comes in

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Turkey’s “zero-problem” foreign policy is working…

2012 is the year some might remember as the 100th anniversary of the Balkan Wars. No, not the wars of Yugoslav succession in the 1990s, but the real Balkan Wars which did away with much of what had been known as “Turkey-in-Europe”.  Walk around any big town in Bulgaria and you might bump into streets named “Chataldja” –after Istanbul’s suburb of Çatalca where Bulgarian troops arrived in November 1912.

A century later, Turkey’s mercurial foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is calling for joint commemoration of the armed conflict together with erstwhile adversaries of the Balkan League (Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and, not to forget, valiant Montenegro which was then an independent state). Serbia’s Vuk Jeremić is fully onboard (but let’s hope he keeps his job after the forthcoming elections). There will be a flurry of events in the coming months – do expect lots of wise words on the

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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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