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A look ahead at 2017

Friday, December 30, 2016  | 

As we near the end of 2016 and prepare for the New Year, Greece, Cyprus, and the region continue to face a number of challenges. Below is a brief look at the key developments to watch out for as we head into 2017:

GREECE

The debt crisis is far from resolved. The issue of short-term debt relief measures, which were initially frozen after the government in Athens decided to give low income pensioners a Christmas bonus, is back on the table, while Greece’s progress in its bailout program will also be examined. Creditors, in the meantime, remain in a deadlock over austerity and the need for debt relief. The refugee and migrant crisis will also feature prominently in the new year as Greece struggles to accommodate for over 60,000 refugees and migrants within its borders while help from Europe is not forthcoming. Meanwhile, Turkish violations of Greek airspace over the past year along with aggressive and revisionist statements from Ankara disputing Greece’s sovereignty are likely to continue, keeping the Aegean on the forefront of issues to look out for. In the midst of these developments polls show a decline in support for the current government that may indicate a call for early elections in Greece in 2017.

CYPRUS

Cyprus reunification talks are entering a crucial phase next month in Geneva, Switzerland. While negotiations between President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have resulted in progress on certain issues, there are still a number of outstanding matters, such as the important issues of territory, security, and guarantees. Anastasiades and Akinci are scheduled to meet on January 9th in Geneva for face-to-face negotiations on all outstanding issues. They will be joined by the three guarantor powers – Greece, Turkey, and the UK – as well as other relevant parties on January 12th for a multilateral conference on security and guarantees. In the meantime, negotiations are moving forward with energy giants Exxon-Mobil, Qatar Petroleum, ENI, and Total on hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and licenses will be issued following successful negotiations.

TURKEY

This past year was perhaps one of the most difficult years in Turkish history. Attacks rocked a number of cities, and Turkey faced a failed coup attempt in July. Since the failed coup, more than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended in a widespread crackdown targeting the military, police, civil service, private sector, and the press. The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders both reported that Turkey was the worst country for press freedom in 2016, and the Turkish Journalists’ Association put the number of journalists in prison at nearly 150. It does not look like the domestic situation within Turkey will improve in 2017. Ankara is set to continue its slide toward authoritarianism. Turkish parliament is currently debating a constitutional amendment that could grant President Erdogan near absolute power.  Should he win the referendum on the amendment in late spring he could stay in power until 2029, with virtually all checks and balances on his authority removed.

EUROPE

Europe is looking at a difficult 2017 following a year of political upheaval including Brexit, extremist attacks, lackluster economic growth, and the ongoing migration crisis. The electoral focal points in the coming year are Germany, France, and the Netherlands, where far right parties stand to make gains. Some experts believe a triumph of the far right National Front in the French presidential election could spell the end of the EU. The increasing appeal of the far right has been fueled by unhappiness with the ongoing migrant crisis and recent extremist attacks. EU policies on migration, asylum, border control, and security over the past year and a half have exposed deep political rifts among member states. Also, the deal to stem the flow of refugees and migrants with Turkey remains shaky at best, as Ankara continues to threaten Brussels that it will walk away from the deal if its citizens are not granted visa-free travel despite its refusal to meet basic European benchmarks and conditions.

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