2014, key election time in South East Europe

Posted by Radu Magdin on 14/01/14

If you’re interested in news from Europe, your periodical menu should be full with Summits trying to solve the Eurozone crisis or with hot stuff happening at the EU borders, as is the case now with Ukraine and Turkey. Nonetheless, this article argues, 2014 might prove critical in terms of political developments, particularly in South East Europe, with elections of geopolitical importance happening in Hungary and Moldova (parliamentary elections) as well as Romania (presidential ones). This will also have important consequences in terms of money, particularly foreign investments and trade partnerships.

Hungary will decide if it stays under Viktor Orban and risks keeping tense relations with Brussels institutions, European partners and international investors, Moldovans will either embrace fully the EU path or will move back into pro-Russian communist hands, and Romania will elect its new President, the most important political figure of a country who hosts NATO bases and a future crucial component of NATO’s ballistic missile defense system.

First, Hungary. After gaining a Constitutional majority in 2010, Viktor Orban managed to make foes rapidly both internally (by efforts against media freedom and the opposition as well as the promotion of a much criticized new Constitution) and externally, in terms of spicy declarations against “Brussels” and measures taken against the interests of foreign investors, particularly energy companies and banks. 2014 will be the year when we will see if his nationalist vision still has appeal among Hungarians or if the Socialist opposition can regroup via an alliance policy with like minded parties. If Orban loses, the foreign investments outlook will brighten.

Second, Moldova. After optaining a major strategic victory at the Vilnius summit, managing to get closer to the European Union via the initiation of an association agreement, the current Western-friendly governmental alliance needs to find the ressources to capitalize foreign ouverture into votes in this autumn‘s parliamentary elections. The election results will decide, after the Parliament‘s vote, the next President of the Republic, but also, most importantly, the strategic direction of the country: if the communist party of Moldova gets a strong majority, light might come again from the Kremlin. While managing people’s expectations on the economy and living costs is very important, two more issues are likely to affect the outcome of the election: Russian involvement (if the Ukrainian crisis prolongs, Russia might be more focused on Kiev and loosen attempted grips on Moldova) and EU-visa policy: Moldovans would love to travel and work without visas so if Brussels relaxes the visa regime, it would be a boost for the pro-European government. If Moldova stays, after November, on its EU path, there will be a stronger green light for foreign investments.

As regards Romania, the Presidential election is the ultimate game in local politics. That is not the case because the President is constitutionally stronger than the Prime Minister (if we were to simplify, the President has the foreign representation and nomination power in terms of rule of law and intelligence services), but because under democrat-liberal President Traian Basescu, on his way to finish his second mandate, the position has become more prominent than ever by managing to influence strongly the public agenda. That is the reason why, even if the Union of Socialists and Liberals, lead by social-democrat Prime Minister Victor Ponta and liberal Crin Antonescu (President of the Senate), holds a constitutional majority in Parliament, the USL still wants the Presidential seat, with Antonescu as lead contender, while surprises may very well appear, as always in Romanian politics (more details here). After Basescu -widely seen as pro-atlantic- leaves office, there might be, depending on the succesor, a higher tendency for a more pragmatic relationship with China and Russia. That might translate particularly in more Chinese investments, based on memorandums signed in the context of the China-Eastern Europe Summit that took place last November, in Bucharest.

These three elections might also influence each other, even though they have a different timeline, Hungarians voting this spring, Romanian and Moldovans this autumn. If Orban‘s Fidesz or other extreme parties restart the rhetoric on Hungarians abroad (Romania has a Hungarian minority, mostly concentrated in two counties, in the centre of the country), there might be “interesting” bilateral declarations, to be used for political capital in Hungary but also in Romania‘s EU elections in May 2014. Also, as concerns Romania and Moldova, the bond is very stong; the current Republic of Moldova was once part of a larger Romania and is speaking the same language (the Moldovan Constitutional Court ruled in December that the official language of the country is Romanian). In this context, getting the two countries much closer can become an issue on the election agenda.

Separately from the above, in 2014, we’ll see if populist parties in countries across the European Union -South East Europe included- capitalize on citizen‘s austerity related frustrations in May‘s European Parliament elections. Also to watch, at SE Europe‘s borders, is Turkey‘s Presidential election, where the embattled Prime minister, Erdogan, will be a candidate.

 

This article was published in the EBR: http://www.europeanbusinessreview.eu/page.asp?pid=1150

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