Ιωάννης Μιχαλέτος

2007 is a year where the Balkans are brought in the limelight on a European and Global scale. The impeding final negotiations for the status of Kosovo, the recent entrance of Bulgaria and Rumania to the EU and the Turkish accession process are the main event to look into. Moreover the ongoing modernization process in South Eastern Europe, coupled with increasing investment opportunities is steadily bringing the fruits of prosperity and stability in most parts of the Balkans. It has to be noted though, that South Eastern European states are still lacking the social, political and economic advancements in comparison with the rest of Europe and it will take at least 1-2 generations to become on par with their Western colleagues; if such parity is ever reached.


Finally, the Balkans still remain the only European region where the threat of conflict is still viable, amid a variety of ethnic, cultural and religious tensions. In a nutshell the area still can be described as Winston Churchill once noted, as the “Soft underbelly of Europe”. It seems that geopolitics rarely change in the space of a few centuries and that surely holds as an argument for the Balkans; the gateway of Europe to Asia, Africa and the Black Sea.

Greece: The country is performing well in its economic indicators and investments are lifting up, especially in the construction, new technology and tourism sectors.
The internal political scene is moving towards premature elections that according to the Greek media are going to be held on October 2007 the latest, instead of March 2008 when the current administration expires its full 4 year term.
On the foreign affairs issues, Greece still maintains a lukewarm sentiment towards the accession of Turkey to the EU. It supports in principle the Turkish path to Europe, but firmly demands the resolution of the various Turkish claims that infringe Greek sovereignty and the good neighbor relations between the two states.
2007 will be a year of military procurement for the country so expect a fierce commercial brinkmanship between interested firms mostly American, German, French, British and Russian.
Lastly Greek companies continue to heavily invest in the Balkans, with a current amassed investment capital in excess of 13 billion USD. This trend will continue well into 2007 with Serbia, Rumania and Bulgaria as the main investment destinations.

Bulgaria: The country has been accepted to the EU, and this will provide the basis for further modernization in the archaic institutions that in many respects operate likewise in the Soviet era. The economy is steadily progressing in the real estate, tourism and light industry sector by Austrian, German, Greek and British investments. Already the biggest problem that Bulgaria is facing nowadays is the low birth rate, therefore one should expect rising public debate on that issue over the coming year. Moreover the activities of organized crime have been a national issue, and the admittance of Bulgaria to the European Union will certainly create a framework for the elimination of that type of criminal activities.
Lastly Bulgaria maintains good relationships with its neighbors, even though it continues providing passports and citizenship to individuals from FYROM, a move that can be considered as a precautionary approach in case of disintegration of that state. In such a case Bulgaria may become subject to domestic political forces that will call for the absorption of a large part of FYROM that according to Bulgarian historians is mainly populated by people of Bulgarian descent.

FYROM: The country is still viewed as the epicenter of Balkan geopolitics and any alteration to its territorial status will have a dramatic impact in the balance of powers in the region. Its economic growth has slowed down recently and the largest investors are Greek companies. The name issue with Greece is still unresolved and the latter have vowed to veto its entrance in the EU & NATO in case a compromised is not viable. The main issue to be in the public agenda in 2007, is the continuous expansion of the Albania-Muslim population in comparison with the Slavic one, that surely create demographic imbalance, especially in the Western parts of the country bordering Albania. Also in the case of a declaration of Kosovo independence, the Albanian minority in FYROM would be tempted in pursuing a similar aim in Tetovo and in general assisting into a destabilization process in the state.

Albania: On an economic scale Albania is receiving an upward number of investments in the construction and light industry level. The main issue facing the country is “systemic corruption” that seems unattainable of being defeated within the coming years. Moreover the existence of well formed organized crime groups is one of the main problems on the way to the Euro-Atlantic framework, namely the European Union and NATO. 2007 will be a year dominated by the Kosovo issue and the negotiations behind the scenes for a future accession to international organizations –mainly the ones mentioned before- and the connection of members of the state apparatus with extremist Islamic groups, in relation to the worldwide “war on terror”.

Serbia: The country is experiencing a fast paced increase of its GDP and an extrovert diplomatic outlook. The New Year will be dominated by the general elections on 21/01 and the consequent negotiations for the Kosovo status. The prediction is that Serbia will not recognize any further disintegration of its territory, regardless of the resolution by the international community.
In case of a Kosovo independence move, expect the creation of closer ties between Serbia and Russia, as well as, termination of any realistic accession negotiations between the state and the EU. Lastly moves by the Bosnian-Serbs towards unification with Serbia should not be excluded.

Rumania: The country is a member of the EU since 01/01 and is gradually increasing its presence in the fiercely antagonistic international arena. Perennial problems such as poverty, corruption and a backward public sector will be much into the mainstream public critique over the year.
The economy is performing well in the real estate, commercial and heavy industry sectors. Relations with the Hungarian minority are unruffled for the time being and the country has made considerable progresses in the treatment of its significant Roma minorities. Over the year a notable development to watch is the process of judicial investigation on the alleged corruption incidents that took place during privatizations of the previous years.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: The state still remains divided along ethnic lines despite the numerous efforts by the international community of easing the differences between the three composite nationalities. Over 2007, Kosovo negotiations will be an influencing factor for the behavior of the Bosnian Serbian side. In case of Kosovo independence it is more than certain that the public discussion will be heavily oriented towards unification with Serbia.
Furthermore there are alarming signs of an ever increasing Wahhabi presence as well as a well rooted Islamic extremist network. In case of a coordinated disbandment of the existing cells by international or USA forces, there is always the possibility of terrorist attacks and frequent violent clashes.

Predictions

Greece

1) Elections in Greece on spring 2007.
2) Very good tourist season for Greece
3) Brinkmanship with Turkey

Bulgaria

1) Sweeping reforms in the public sector and against corruption
2) Dramatic expansion of the tourism and real estate sector

FYROM

1) Policies against Islamic extremists
2) Financial reforms for investment attraction

Albania

1) Political conflict between the government and Socialists
2) Disbandment of the existing Islamic extremist networks

Serbia

1) Implementation of a wide autonomy for Kosovo under constant international control. Independence to be postponed up until 2014
2) Closer relations between Serbia and Montenegro
3) Increase of the popular influence of nationalists

Rumania

1) Very good investment prospects on energy related activities
2) Hot political debate on corruption
3) Immigration exodus towards Central Europe by Hungarian descent Rumanians.

Bosnia-Herzegovina
1) Tensions between the Orthodox & Catholic Christians against Wahhabi oriented Muslims
2) Rise of nationalism in mainstream society
3) European Union initiatives in the area of basic infrastructure and social exclusion for the citizens.

On overall predictions are hard to make in a region that has constantly upturned most predictions made the past 15 years. What is significant is the attention that Europe must pay to its main entrance to Asia and the Black Sea and from where important energy roots such as the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline, the AMBO one and the Constanja –Trieste are going to be constructed over the coming years. Actually if one adds the Turkish –Greek-Italian gas pipeline, then a considerable part of the future European energy needs is going to be met by the Balkan routes and that is quite significant for the energy security aspect of modern societies.
Moreover the Balkans unfortunately are the trespassing point of the infamous “Balkan narcotics route” that is the main path for drugs between Asia and Europe. Thus there is the need for a Pan European attention in a geographical area such as the Balkans that directly or indirectly affects the life of the rest of the continent. 2007 will be another testing year for the EU and the international community in general on how they cope with the complexities of the region and how able they are to act as honest brokers and stabilization forces.

Research Institute on European & American Studies –RIEAS-
http://www.rieas.gr

Επικοινωνία με το συγγραφέα: ianos24@gmail.com

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