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Friday, 25 November 2016

The economic challenges to Greece: What does the future hold?

David Madden (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

Jens Bastian spoke on 23 November about The economic challenges to Greece: What does the future hold? Yaprak Gursoy was the discussant, and Kalypso Nicolaidis chaired.

He said that the Greek economic crisis had not gone away. It had been a programme country since 2010, with the third programme due to expire in 2018. This deeply affected the country and how it viewed itself. By contrast, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus had each had one programme and then finished the process. Greek GDP had shrunk by 27%: this was unprecedented in peacetime. Unemployment was over 23%, with two thirds unemployed for over 12 months (benefits ceased after a year). Greece had become a high tax country, and tax arrears were rising. The elephant in the room was sovereign debt: Greece owed 323 billion euros, 85% of it to official credit institutions. Germany was owed 108 billion euros, and opposed debt relief, though the IMF favoured it. Migration added to Greece’s difficulties: with the closing of the Balkan route, over 63,000 refugees were trapped in Greece, which had changed from being a transit country to a hotspot. On the other hand, tourism was strong, Piraeus flourishing (the second largest European port after Rotterdam), there were potentially beneficial developments in the regional energy sector, and resilience in some business sectors e.g. start-ups.

Yaprak wondered about a Keynesian solution of pumping money into the economy. On the political side she detected signs of the deconsolidation of democracy in Greece (unlike eg in Spain and Portugal), with Golden Dawn the most extreme, fascist and violent party in Europe. Recent public opinion surveys had even picked up some evidence of nostalgia for the Junta. The sharp reduction in the granting of TV licences was a new issue.

In reply to questions, Jens added the following points: 
  • Pumping money was not an option. If Greece were to have access to capital markets, she would have to pay interest rates of 7% or more.
  • Greece needed more fiscal space. A primary budgetary surplus was unachievable. The Quartet (Troika plus European Stability Mechanism) should avoid micro-managing the Greek economy,
  • Debt relief was technically very complex because of the difference between IMF and ECB procedures
  • On relief, there seemed to some difference of approach between Merkel and Schauble. Public debate was unhelpful.
  • There were two aspects of the brain drain: university graduates acting as baristas; and people going abroad for jobs and not returning
  • Golden Dawn did not appear to be gaining in strength at present.

Friday, 18 November 2016

The democratic challenge of social reform in Greece under SYRIZA

Jonathan Scheele (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

On 15 November 2016, George Katrougalos (former Minister of Labour and Social Security, now Alternate Foreign Minister in the Greek Government) spoke, with a panel of discussants: Bernhardt Ebbinghaus (Mannheim University), Marek Naczyk (Kellogg College) and Pavlos Eleftheriadis (Mansfield College). Kalypso Nicolaidis chaired the session.

Katrougalos explained the context of Greek pension reforms and his perception that SYRIZA had taken what he described as a “neo-liberal” commitment, contained in the MoU signed with the EU and the IMF, and incorporated it into a “progressive” pension reform. 

His presentation of the context of the reforms took in aspects of Greek politics – characterised by a clientilistic culture and general popular distrust of the traditional political parties – and what he described as the EU’s apparent lack of democracy – Syriza perceived the EU as determined to make an example of Greece to prove that only one economic policy was possible and that any deviation from this would lead to failure. The SYRIZA government’s painful dilemma was a choice between no agreement, leading banks to close and pensions not to be paid, and the painful compromise of signing an MoU containing policies it was hostile to. The MoU contained two types of policy – reforms of clientilistic [practices, which they supported wholeheartedly, and neo-liberal reforms that they considered dangerous to Europe itself; SYRIZA’s rejection of the MoU only related to the latter.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Bosnia’s Paralysed Peace

Adis Merdzanovic (Junior Research Fellow, St Antony's College, Oxford)

Two decades after the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the country once again finds itself in a precarious situation. While the war has certainly stopped, BiH faces deep political, social, and economic crises that threaten the stability of the state and its structures. But why has BiH, which received enormous institutional and financial aid from the international community, not become a self-sustaining democracy? 

This question is central to Christopher Bennett’s new book Bosnia’s Paralysed Peace, which the author presented at a SEESOX seminar on 3rd November 2016. The event was chaired by Adis Merdzanovic (St Antony’s College) and Richard Caplan (Linacre College) acted as discussant. 

As Bennett explained, the book presents an analysis of the breakdown of Yugoslavia, the war in BiH, and all the political developments since the Dayton Peace Agreement. It was written with the deep conviction that there exists a solution for what Bennett has termed the ‘Bosnian Question’, namely a way for Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats to peacefully live together within a political framework that actually works. In order for this to happen, however, one needs to understand the structural preconditions for the current challenges. 

On the outset, the current problems include the functioning of the state, as exhibited by the 25th September referendum in Republika Srpska (RS), the problems surrounding the local elections in Stolac and Srebrenica, the threats of a secession referendum in RS, or the Croat demand for a third entity. At the same time, the Gulf States have increased their investments and Turkey is exercising more influence, while the international community, especially the Office of the High Representative (OHR), is losing influence due to international developments and self-imposed restrictions. According to Bennett, the deeper structural problem lies with the DPA, which in its annex 4 included BiH’s post-war constitution. Similar to the first democratic elections in 1990, the post-Dayton electoral system created a division between the ethnos and the demos, while giving the ethnos precedence. This meant that BiH effectively became an ethnocracy characterised by zero-sum politics and political deadlocks and patronage. 

Friday, 4 November 2016

Turkey before and after July 15: The story of a failed coup

Yaprak Gürsoy (Academic Visitor, St Antony’s College, Oxford and Associate Professor, Istanbul Bilgi University)

On 2 November, four senior members of SEESOX at St Antony’s College, Ezgi Başaran, Mehmet Karlı, Deniz Ülke Arıboğan and Yaprak Gürsoy, spoke on the 15 July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. The director of SEESOX, Othon Anastasakis, chaired the seminar, which mostly focused on the events of the coup, but also touched upon the political, economic and social aspects of Turkey before and after the botched putsch. 

The seminar started with Ezgi Başaran, a prominent Turkish journalist, describing in detail the events of the night of the coup. The presentation was particularly rich in providing facts and in explaining the surprise and disbelief of many Turkish citizens in the first few hours of the coup. Başaran summarized the main differences between the July 15 putsch and the previous coups in Turkey, pointing out that people going out to the streets to protect the elected government, as well as the unanimous resistance against the coup among the political parties, were unique to the recent attempt. Although opposition to the coup was common, there is still no consensus over political issues, which results in the continuation of political conflict. In her talk, Başaran referred to some of the groups that are part of the conflict, namely the AK Party government, the Gülenists, and those who were charged in the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials based on fabricated evidence. The relationship between these groups has taken several twists and turns over the last decade. The government and the Gülen network are in a power struggle today and the coup attempt was the latter’s last effort to unseat the former.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Sarajevo’s Holiday Inn: On the Frontline of Politics and War

Adis Merdzanovic (Junior Research Fellow, St Antony's College, Oxford)

The Holiday Inn hotel in Sarajevo has a particular place in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s history. Designed by the Bosnian architect Ivan Štraus, and built before the 1984 Winter Olympics to house foreign dignitaries such as the former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, it gained particular notoriety in the lead up to, and during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. It was a regular meeting place for political elites – it was, for example, where Alija Izetbegović formally launched the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) in 1990 and, later, the informal headquarters of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) under the leadership of Radovan Karadžić. The SDS used the hotel as a meeting place and by February 1992 it had become home to their ‘crisis headquarters’, from where party leaders organised barricades on ‘referendum weekend’ of 29 February/1 March 1992. And on 6 April 1992 the fateful sniper shots fired into the protesting crowds heralding the beginning of the conflict, are alleged to have come from somewhere in the building. Finally, during the war, the hotel was omnipresent in international media, for it hosted hundreds of international journalists reporting on a regular basis from the besieged city of Sarajevo. 

Despite the hotel’s importance, only isolated stories about it have made it into the public sphere, and a comprehensive history was lacking. This is precisely what Kenneth Morrison, professor in Modern South East European History at De Montfort University, provides in his new book Sarajevo’s Holiday Inn: On the Frontline of War and Politics. On 19th October, he presented it at a SEESOX seminar chaired by Elizabeth Roberts (Trinity College, Oxford).

EU, Turkey and Refugee Policy

Altuğ Günal (Academic Visitor, St Antony’s College, Oxford)

Gerald Knaus, founding chairman of the European Stability Initiative and father of the EU-Turkey Deal, gave a well-attended lunchtime seminar on October 19th, 2016, with Ezgi Başaran in the chair. The main focus of discussion was whether the deal could be properly implemented by the parties.Knaus began by criticising the tale Hungarian PM Viktor Orban had been telling throughout Europe. Orban’s main target on the refugee issue was Germany, whose citizens he labelled as emotional, incompatible, sentimental and confused; he had criticised Germany’s refugee policy as insincere, believing that Europeans should have fought against accepting refugees from Germany or anywhere else. The EU had also been a target of Orban’s attacks, as he claimed that “the people in Brussels” were trying to destroy nation states by settling large number of foreigners against the will of their voters.


Knaus also regretted Orban’s and his allies’ limited understanding of the refugee issue, with their belief that it could be solved by strict control of the borders; indeed, Orban had argued that a new border should, if necessary, have been established to the north of Greece. In his view, European Civilization could melt away if large numbers of refugees were not prevented from entering.

A further concern of Knaus was Orban’s attitude to the Refugee Convention. In 2015, the Hungarian PM had maintained that the right to live prevailed over all other rights; therefore, protecting his citizens was more important for him than either the Refugee Convention or any other convention. Knaus saw Marine le Pen’s Front National, the Swedish Democrats, and the other European far-right parties, as among Orban’s natural allies, while Angela Merkel and Dutch-EU Presidency constituted the two biggest obstacles to Orban’s refugee “solutions”. But Knaus warned that it was the mainstream political parties that Europe needed to watch.

Friday, 21 October 2016

The Geopolitics of Fear: South East Europe in a Triangle of Uncertainty- Russia, Middle East, North Africa

David Madden (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

A team from SEESOX presented on this theme to the Global Strategy Forum at the National Liberal Club on 18 October. This followed on from a seminar in Athens on 27 September on a similar theme, funded by the Public Diplomacy Division of NATO. This was the fourth in a series of SEESOX presentations with the GSF.

David Madden set the scene. Traditionally South East Europe had its own long-running internal geopolitical challenges: in Cyprus, in former Yugoslavia, or between Turkey and Greece. But the region was now an importer of crises. To the East there was Russia, with a more assertive and unpredictable policy. To the South East, there was violent conflict, in particular the cataclysmic civil war in Syria, foreign intervention, extremism, inter-Muslim cultural wars and failed hopes: and with a resulting flood of refugees, affecting most directly the countries least able to cope. To the South, there was North Africa, with Libya as its foremost failed state, and another route of Mediterranean refugees. Even to the North and West, the soft power of the EU was hampered by economic and political weaknesses. From both inside the region and from outside, there were the perverse influences of populism and demagoguery. The post-truth era was pervasive in public and political discourse. The Middle East was in turmoil. There were cold wars (Iran/Saudi Arabia, Israel/Palestine), hot wars (Syria, Libya, Yemen) and legacy wars (Afghanistan, Iraq). Russia had clear interests and strategy, because of Syria’s unique position as a Russian client. Syria and the war in the Ukraine had effectively brought to an end the post- Cold War settlement. Russia believed in a system of great powers, with zones of influence.