Challenges for Turkey, a new lease of life for Rotterdam and a rising star of Italian politics.
Russia is the latest country dazzled by the idea of a “Smart City”. Some €7.3bn will be invested in the Kazan Smart City, in Tatarstan, which officials hope will be transformed into a hi-tech business district.
After a year that saw protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park spawn into nationwide unrest against prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party – together with some testing fiscal trends and a civil war in Syria – Turkey is facing challenging times.
This year will see both local and presidential elections and the roll-out of a much-touted democratisation package. “From the opposition perspective the challenge will be to win Turkey’s big cities, Istanbul and Ankara,” says Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies chairman Sinan Ulgen. “The local elections will be a test of whether the dynamism we saw at Gezi can be translated into something more. In which direction will the ongoing polarisation move? This is not only political, it is also along sectarian lines, lifestyle and values. Elections may well accentuate this.”
It’s easy to forget that not long ago Ankara’s foreign policy mantra was “zero problems with neighbours”. In 2014, Syria is likely to be its most pressing concern. There are more than 500,000 Syrian refugees registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey and tens of thousands more waiting on the border; the conflict has put huge pressure on public services and ignited tensions between Sunnis and the Alevi minority. Ankara has been steadfast in its condemnation of Assad’s regime and is a firm Nato ally, yet Turkey’s proximity to Syria leaves its border regions vulnerable to instability.
In 2010 and 2011, Turkey’s economy roared at about 9 per cent growth but slowed considerably to 2.2 per cent in 2012 and is expected to notch up to 3.7 in 2013. Investors are watching Turkey’s political situation closely. “The negative effect of the protests on the retail sector and consumer confidence in Turkey was temporary but they have changed the political stability perception of foreign investors,” says Gedik Investment chief economist Ibrahim Aksoy.
While some cities clamber to become the newest tech capital, others are happy to expand on their traditional bread and butter. Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port and an astounding diversity of goods, people and ideas stream through the city daily.
Flattened in the Second World War, it was rebuilt as an example of cutting-edge urbanism. Maasvlakte 2, a 2,000-hectare port expansion and land reclamation project, was opened in 2013 and will soon be joined by a revamped Rotterdam Centraal rail station (pictured) and the largest mixed-use market hall in Europe. Popular Dutch-Moroccan mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, continues to help unite this multicultural city and will be considering a second term in 2014/2015.
Monocle readers will know all about Matteo Renzi – the mayor of Florence was on our radar back in 2010 (issue 39). Since then the centre-left’s rising star has become its leading light. He has narrowly missed out on the leadership twice in the past year but is now indisputably the next in line should current prime minister Enrico Letta be forced to step down.
Young and engaging, a uniter rather than a divider, Renzi also has a record to back him up: his performance in Florence has earned him respect. Whether he gets the top job in the next 12 months or not, he will be an influential and sensible player in Italy’s irrational political circus.
Europe’s most important upcoming poll is a vote on independence, not an election. Scotland will decide whether it wants to break away from the rest of the UK. It will be a choice made on the basis of a jumbled mix of economic, political and cultural issues – as much about heart as head.
In theory, this election should be a great event for European democrats – on a single day, the whole continent votes for its representatives. In reality, turnout is depressingly low and the issues on which voters decide tend to be parochial rather than European. Watch out for the rise of the protectionists and nationalists.
Belgium spent 541 days without a government after the last administration resigned; why they would want to put themselves through all of that again by holding a national election is anyone’s guess. Bowtie-rocking prime minister Elio Di Rupo will attempt to fend off Flemish nationalists who would rather the country did not exist.