(by Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti)
2016 marked a very tragic year for Turkey: an attempted military coup, escalating attacks by the so-called Islamic State (or ISIS) increasingly targeting civilians, a de facto civil war in the East of the country against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other Kurdish groups are the gloomy lowlights of the past year. And 2017 did not kick off promisingly, either. Almost as a grim reminder that the dark times facing Turkey won’t become brighter any time soon, this year started with the tragic shooting in the Istanbul night club Reina at the hands of ISIS, resulting in 39 deaths.
The security situation appears to be the most pressing issue for Turks in 2017. And the situation is not likely to improve, due to international and domestic factors. On the one hand, international developments, chiefly in Syria, are likely to spur more terrorist attacks in Turkey by Islamist terrorist groups. This is in part because Ankara switched from a radical anti-Assad stance to one where Assad sits at the negotiation table and is part of the peace solution. This change of stance was set forth by Turkey’s involvement in the Astana peace talks in January, together with Russia and Iran. On the other hand, the domestic situation in the East is also likely to spur more attacks by Kurdish groups. The conflict, which caused at least 2,552 casualties resulting from clashes between security forces and the PKK since 20 July 2015, seems to have quelled now. However, there are reasons to anticipate a fresh outbreak of violence, given the appalling economic situation in the Kurdish territories hit by the conflict – which may foment extremism among the youngsters – and fierce political repression by the Turkish government, which jailed many members of the HDP (People’s Democratic Party), and is seeking 43 to 142 years of jail time for party co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş.
Another crucial domestic factor to look out for in 2017 is the referendum on changes to the Constitution championed by the ruling AK party. According to these changes, the President would be the sole executive authority in the country, with enhanced powers (including the ability to fire ministers), and without an effective system of check and balances — so critics of the proposal claim. The authorities have just confirmed that the referendum will be held on April 9.
Finally, economic concerns are also likely to give Turks a hard time in 2017. The Turkish lira has been plummeting due to the prospect of political instability. Since the start of the PRIMO project in September 2014, the lira has lost over 55% of its value vis-a-vis the Euro.
(by Miklós Lázár)
Uncertainty remains the main feature of politics in Britain, but the UK is slowly moving towards increased clarity. As Parliament prepares to vote on authorising the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 and formally begin exit negotiations with the EU, Theresa May is increasingly likely to secure victory in the House of Commons. With opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s explicit support for the bill, the majority of Labour MPs will likely join their Conservative peers on this critical issue. Although such a landmark decision is expected to thoroughly reshape the political landscape, it appears Labour will seek other means to differentiate their politics from those of the Government. However, the House of Lords may prove to be a more significant obstacle in the long run as Her Majesty’s Government will have no majority and control of process there and the decision may be stalled.
Theresa May’s January visit to the United States – while promising in terms of both momentum and mutual commitment – marks merely the beginning of what is still likely to be a protracted trade bargaining process. The more comprehensive the potential deal, the more likely it will challenge the existing trade patterns that link the UK to the EU and the single market. Whilst the UK can gain from not having to co-ordinate its positions with the continental partners anymore (cf. TTIP), London is also less likely to be treated as a completely equal partner by Washington. Indeed, the substantial difference of norms and standards in the two markets suggests that the UK – now the junior partner – will need to align its own expectations more closely with those of the US, should it seek a comprehensive free trade agreement.
In the meantime, the British public appears to have reacted strongly to President Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants (including countries and citizens in the Commonwealth). This also concerns the rights of a number of British citizens and therewith the Queen as the formal guarantor of religious freedom in her realms. Hence Downing Street is being urged and petitioned to cancel or postpone the President’s visit until his decision on the ban is changed, but the Prime Minister is unlikely to yield to these calls for the time being. Finally, Trump’s scheduled visit is likely to generate further controversy around the on-going debates on global warming and climate change, with long-time environmentalist Prince Charles being pitched as a “potential challenger” to Trump’s views during the visit.
The World Trade Organization
(by Martin Pioch)
2016 has been a frustrating year for international trade. World trade has expanded by only 1.7%, the lowest growth since the financial crisis in 2009, and way behind expected growth of 2.8%. For 2017, an increase of growth in world trade is expected of between 1.8% and 3.1%, however, these forecasts have been revised down from previous estimations of 3.6%. At the same time, fears over increasing protectionism are growing in the international trade community, not only, but most prominently, in relation to the new US administration. A trade wars scenario, especially between the USA and China, is back on the global agenda.
In the light of these developments, 2017 could become a critical year for the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO dispute settlement body could become an even more important tool if major trade disputes emerge between the US and its trading partners. In addition, as a result of Brexit, Britain’s WTO membership will be an issue in the coming years, as all member states will need to agree on the new terms of British membership. Also noteworthy is the resumption of membership negotiations with Belarus after a hiatus of 12 years. Questions on China’s ‘market economy status’ remain an open issue, with the EU and the USA pushing back against the automation of this after China’s 15th anniversary in the WTO.
The highlight in 2017 for the WTO will be December’s 11th Ministerial in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After the failure of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), the WTO still needs to find a clear way forward. The Bali Package in 2013 and the Nairobi Ministerial in 2015 have produced some outcomes, the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in particular. With Nepal ratifying the TFA as the 108th WTO member, only two more ratifications are needed to bring this into force. However, by moving away from the general idea of producing one final agreement of the DDA in favour of more issue based negotiations, the WTO has the chance to gain traction in specific areas whilst sidestepping currently unresolvable topics — for example agriculture. Therefore the Ministerial in Buenos Aires might determine the future of world trade. Much will depend, however, on the member states’ willingness to support the WTO’s multilateral trading system, or conversely, their backsliding toward protectionism.