Turmoil in Turkey, progress in Slovenia and urgent recalibration in the EU.
Britain’s decision to leave the EU has delivered the greatest blow to the bloc since it began life as the European Coal and Steel Community in the 1950s. But as the shock of Brexit recedes and the UK’s new prime minister, Theresa May, prepares to tackle exit negotiations, the remaining 27 heads of government must face up to a number of challenges when they meet in Bratislava on 16 September if the EU is to prevent further splintering.
On the agenda:
- Reform the asylum system
Refugees and migrants are still in dire conditions in Greece.
- Resolve economic policy
Disunity is holding up reform of the eurozone.
- Reassert international role
A strong foreign-policy initiative is needed.
Of all the mythology surrounding Turkey’s War of Independence – which led to the foundation of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923 – there is one image enshrined in monuments: a woman selflessly carrying cannonballs to the frontline. “Since Turkey’s failed coup in July we’re seeing similar images being projected, such as an obviously conservative woman who stood up to the tanks,” says Burak Kadercan, assistant professor of strategy and policy at the United States Naval College. “President Erdogan is using the coup attempt – which saw people take to the streets to resist the plotters – to reconstruct Turkey’s national identity. He’s called this a new War of Independence.”
Much has changed in the weeks since July’s failed coup, from the renaming of bridges to shifting foreign policy. But it has also shattered a foundational myth. For much of the 20th century the military was seen as a safeguard of the country’s secular constitution but this recent coup attempt has seen it recast. State media now portrays it as a hive for rogue soldiers ready to shoot at civilians, a fifth column with allegiances to the exiled religious movement of Fethullah Gulen.
The army’s influence has ebbed for decades. Turks are no strangers to the bloody and repressive reality of military rule, which was fresh in the minds of many of those who resisted the recent failed coup. Meanwhile, a decade of Erdogan’s ruling party pruning dissenters has left the armed forces much altered.
The shift is telling of how Turkey’s state narrative is also changing. During Istanbul’s nightly demonstrations after the coup, the face of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the military hero who led the War of Independence, was absent. Ataturk is usually splashed across flags at nationalistic pageants yet songs and scarves of the Islamist ruling party dominated instead.
Ataturk flags did flutter at an opposition rally however, which brought together Turks from across the political spectrum. Perhaps the foundational story of Ataturk’s secular army can no longer unite this divided nation. The new narrative – of civilians facing down tanks rather than bringing them shells for artillery – is the fulfilment of Erdogan’s long-touted “New Turkey” project, which is moving away from the interferences of the military and towards a one man show.
A direct train service between Bialystok in eastern Poland and Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, has been relaunched after it stopped running with the outbreak of the Second World War. “The connection is important in building good neighbourly relations,” says Krzysztof Maminski, head of Polish rail carrier Przewozy Regionalne.
The new trains, made by Polish company Pesa, run on weekends, are bike-friendly and have big windows and air-conditioning. The route – which takes five hours to complete one way – will be part of the Rail Baltica line, which is set to link the three Baltic states to Poland from 2030.
Slovenia marks 25 years of independence this year and of all the seven former Yugoslav republics the country stands out as an economic and social success. Former law professor Miro Cerar has been prime minister since 2014, after forming his own party: the SMC.
Why has your country been more successful than the other former Yugoslav states?
We have always been very innovative, dedicated to work and willing to work together. We were quite successful within the former Yugoslavia and just continued with those processes in a new democratic environment. Our orientation towards the welfare state is essential for society to be successful within the European context.
How will you make sure that Slovenia continues to be successful over the next 25 years?
We must prove that the government is dedicated to the rule of law: no corruption, no bad practices. We need to raise optimism and trust in institutions and the government because when people trust their leaders they are much more committed to the country and the state – and to work.
Slovenia was the first of the former Yugoslav republics to join the EU. How does the UK’s referendum result affect you?
I really don’t want the EU to disintegrate now; that would endanger peace in Europe. If we look back into European history we can see the alternative – and this alternative is very bad, frightening even.
Italy’s home office is asking towns to open their doors to refugees in exchange for cash. But only 10 per cent have done so despite a promise of 50 cents of each migrant’s daily €2.50 allowance.