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Sofia view: Kosovo closer to visa-free travel

We are not used to good news coming from Kosovo but here is some.

As of Monday, the government in Pristina started issuing biometric passports to citizens. This is a crucial step towards the EU lifting the visa requirement to Kosovars travelling to the Schengen space. Hashim Thaci, the PM, was brimming with joy: "This is a day of success for the Republic of Kosovo, a day for a European Kosovo." Kosovo is hopeful if will get a liberalisation roadmap by the end of the year. Along with the upgrade of Serbia to candidate status and the start of membership talks with Montenegro, the roadmap might well be one of the success stories that EU enlargement terribly needs (hint: stay tuned for ECFR’s Scorecard 2011). Don’t forget: after December 2010, Kosovo has been the last bit of the Western Balkans still behind the visa wall. In July 2009, a group of ECFR members urged EU’s interior

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Turkey and Europe’s far right: a vicious circle

The hideous massacre of 76 young Norwegians seems to confirm the average Turk’s worst stereotypes about Europe. It is xenophobic, racist, steeped in a feeling of cultural superiority, prone to Christian fundamentalism, and prone to violence against Muslims and immigrants. The 237 references to the Ottoman Empire and republican Turkey in Anders Breivik’s 1,500-page “manifesto”, 2083: An European Declaration of Independence, do not help either. 

According to Today’s Zaman (thanks to journalist and analyst Firdevs Robinson for alerting me!), the mass murderer was “obsessed with Turkey”, discussing at length its 19th and 20th century history, (not least the modernisation reforms of the Tanzimat period!).  His ranting prose portrays Turks as genocidal invaders of the Old Continent that threatened to re-Islamise it once again, as they undo the doomed experiment in secularisation

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Turkey’s dilemmas linger on

It was an inauspicious start.  The inaugural session of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) was boycotted by two of the parties – the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the People’s Republican Party (CHP), the principal opposition force. The state objective of Tayyip Erdoğan and the AK Party - for an inclusive process of constitutional change - will be hard to attain.  Nationalist Kurds distrust the AKP because of the nationalist rhetoric it embraced in the election campaign. Their suspicions grew even stronger with the last week’s decision of the Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) to strip Hatip Dicle, one of the 36 independent MPs linked to the BDP, of his mandate.  BDP parliamentarians chose to hold a session in Diyarbakir, the informal capital of Turkey’s Kurds. CHP,  for its part, boycotted the oath-taking ceremony as two of their MPs, Mehmet Haberal  and Mustafa

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Sofia view: back to growth in the Balkans

As ECFR’s scorecard showed, the Balkans have been a qualified success for the EU. Not least because the area has managed – thus far –to weather the economic crisis. That was the message of a one-day conference (Current Economic Challenges and Regional Cooperation in SE Europe) I pleasure to attend in Tirana, hosted by Ardian Fullani, Governor of the Bank of Albania, in partnership with South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX).  That despite Jean-Claude Juncker’s doom-and-gloom assessment that the likes Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia (Albania could be added to the list) are exposed to the ongoing Greek crisis, with Athens capital prominent across in the Balkan banking sector. But the participants, coming chiefly from the region’s central banks, agreed that the worst might be over. As Fullani himself put it: “firefighting is over but it is time to look at the architecture”.

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Wider horizons for Poland’s foreign policy

A couple of days ago Donald Tusk, the prime minister of Poland, was in London. It was a superb opportunity for journalists to question him about where his country is heading as general elections draw near .You can read an interesting report of a session that he had at The Economist HQ here: As you might expect it gives a healthy dose of level-headed analysis on relations with Russia - ECFR’s Scorecard 2010, published a week or two agao, has noted the rapprochement between Poland and Germany post-2007 has conditioned much more pragmatic ties with Moscow. Even if atmospherics between the two governments are not as positive in the wake of the Smolensk crash a year ago, the turn is still visible. Tusk was also upbeat on Belarus and Ukraine, though in all fairness it’s hard to see the EU agenda getting much mileage in either country.

What’s really interesting is Poland’s effort to

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