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Monday, 26 May 2014

Reflections on Turkey between two elections

Melis Evcimik (St Antony's College, Oxford)

On 21st May, Gamon McLellan (SOAS Near and Middle East Department) presented a talk on Turkey, following the local government elections on 30th March and looking ahead to the first direct election of a president in August and the parliamentary general election due in June 2015. The session was chaired by Dr. Anastasakis. Since 13 May, McLellan said, Turkey had been in mourning for the 301 victims of the mining disaster at Soma, in Manisa province, raising questions about industrial safety and how the government had discharged its responsibilities. European headlines had illustrated how the disaster had given fresh ammunition to European opponents of Turkey’s EU membership. Safety and working conditions at the mine had been atrocious, and an opposition parliamentary motion in October 2013 demanding an investigation into the safety at the mine had been defeated by the ruling AK Party majority. The government’s position had not been helped by the Prime Minister’s press conference in Soma, or by the videos apparently showing assaults on and insults against members of the traumatized community during Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan’s walk-about there, with security forces using tear gas and water cannon and eventually closing the town to outsiders.

Friday, 16 May 2014

After the elections: Serbia on its European path

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

The Serbian Ambassador in London, Dr Ognjen Pribicevic, spoke on the above subject at SEESOX on 12 May. David Madden chaired. The Ambassador summarised the outcome of the March elections. The Serbian Progressive Party had won almost 50% of the vote, and 167/250 seats in Parliament. The party leader, Vucic, was now Prime Minister. There was no mathematical necessity for a coalition, but Vucic had chosen the former PM and leader of the Socialist Party, Dacic, to be Foreign Minister. Not one MP was anti-EU. This was probably unique in Europe. The other key event was the opening of EU accession talks on 21 January.

The number one issue was the economy. Unemployment was about 25%, the public sector was over-sized leading to budgetary problems, and although a firm – and popular - start had been made in fighting organised crime and corruption, this remained a problem. The strategy was to begin with austerity with a 10% cut in public salaries (with no action on pensions yet); and then to introduce new laws on labour relations, encouraging entrepreneurs and FDI. In June there would be laws to simplify licensing requirements, not least to reduce the scope for corruption. On cooperation with neighbours, he highlighted Vucic‘s visit to Sarajevo on 13 May, and continuing work on implementation and extension of the Brussels Agreements. On bilateral relations with the UK, he emphasised the new phase, with particular emphasis on trade, investment, culture and the history of friendship and personal contacts. Today’s Serbia was a country of pop and folk festivals, tourism, good food etc: a member of the European family, and a country in transition.