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Thursday 27 June 2013

Energy meets politics in the Eastern Mediterranean

David Madden

On 12 June, Androulla Kaminara (EU Fellow at the European Studies Centre) gave the latest of her SEESOX seminars on the subject of Cyprus natural gas. Confirmed deposits were in the region of 5 trillion cubic feet; the full potential was likely to be considerably higher than this. More than one pipeline would be required; and also Greek Cypriot political leaders had decided there should be a LNG facility at Vassilikos. Cyprus currently has very expensive electricity, so much of the gas would be retained for domestic consumption rather than exported.

Elsewhere in the region, the first gas from Israeli off-shore fields was already flowing, and 52 international companies were interested in Lebanese off-shore gas. Turkey was heavily gas-dependent. World-wide, the energy market was volatile, with the financial crisis encouraging the search for cheaper energy, the shale gas bonanza in the US, Germany moving away from nuclear power, and 33% more energy needed by the world over the next 15 years. The conclusions of the EU Energy Council in June referred to “indigenous energy sources”, which was new wording.

Androulla floated some ideas: the EU itself to play a greater role in EEZ negotiations, Cyprus to apply the “Alaskan model” to gas profits to benefit citizens, more Mediterranean cooperation on environmental protection. She then answered questions on these and other points. LNG from Cyprus might be in production by 2020; financial crises had tended to push environmental aspects own the agenda; and a European Parliament report on shale gas had recommended leaving decisions to member states.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Domestic and foreign policy dimensions of the challenges facing Turkey

Kerem Oktem

On May 28 and 31, we had the pleasure of hosting a longstanding friend of SEESOX, Ziya Öniş, Professor of International Political Economy at Koç University Istanbul, for two well-attended seminars.

In the first, Prof. Öniş examined the challenges to Turkey's economic growth and the democratic reform process during the three terms in government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). He registered that the country’s economy had developed impressively in the last decade thanks to a policy of ‘regulatory neo-liberalism’ and a significant restructuring of the budget away from military spending towards health and education expenditures. He also reminded the audience that important liberalising reforms had been enacted particularly during the first AKP government, and that the influence on politics of the military has been massively curtailed. Yet, Turkey now seems to have become caught in a double trap: The middle-income trap suggests that Turkey has reached a threshold which it can only surpass by shifting its industrial base and export output from low and medium technology to high-tech. Such a leap, however, requires significant and concerted investment into education, research and development, and the current level thereof seems unlikely to be sufficient to help Turkey out of its middle-income position. The second is the procedural democracy trap. While the country has reached a certain maturity in terms of multi-party elections, it still has relatively weak political institutions, and remains mostly illiberal and majoritarian in spirit. Again, to move from the current majoritarian system to a liberal democracy, with the rule of law and extensive human rights, looks like a major challenge. ‘Conservative Globalism’, which Prof. Öniş likens to Asian style developmentalism, may be the AKP’s best bet at the moment, but it will not enable to take Turkey beyond either threshold.

Monday 17 June 2013

The limits of neoliberal conservatism: Taksim Square and a new deal in Turkey?

Dimitrios Gkintidis

The Seminar “The limits of neoliberal conservatism: Taksim Square and a new deal in Turkey?” was held on Monday 10 June 2013 at the ESC. The speaker was Kerem Oktem, Open Society Research Fellow at the ESC, and Associate Faculty Member at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford. Whit Mason, analyst and Research Associate at the Centre for International Studies, Oxford, took part as a discussant, while the event was chaired by Dimitrios Gkintidis, Leventis Visiting Fellow at SEESOX, ESC.

Kerem Oktem’s captivating presentation was based on a detailed chronological and ethnographic account of the events and protests that followed the violent intervention of police forces against environmentalist protesters in Gezi park, Taksim square, Istanbul. What started as a localized environmental protest against the planned construction of a commercial complex on the site of the Gezi park led to massive protests, in which citizens, social movements, and political forces of various backgrounds took part. The opposition and protest politics soon spread beyond the issue of the Gezi park itself. The slogans and aims of these social protests, that engulf urban youth, artists, left-wing and anti-authoritarian groups, kemalist activists, human rights and LGBT activists, as well as minority political organizations (e.g. Kurdish organizations), raised the issue of a generalized discontent; regarding both the authoritarian shift of the state, under the leadership of the Turkish PM, as well as the introduction of conservative policies, in terms of public practices of sociability (sexuality, alcohol consumption, imposition of religious normative precepts). To a great extent, the discourses enacted within Taksim Square also raised the issue of the limits of the economic liberal project of the last years and the fragile balance between capitalist growth, social consensus, and environmental sustainability, what Kerem Oktem termed as a “neoliberal overstretch”. At the same time, the dynamics of this social mobilization also exceeded the boundaries of Istanbul, since many urban centres in Turkey (Ankara and Izmir being the most prominent ones) witnessed equally important social mobilization and political confrontation, with local variations in terms of police violence, protesters’ reactions, and competing discourses.