“If elections changed anything they would have them banned”. So read a well-known piece of Sofia graffiti some years ago (inspired by political activist/anarchist Emma Goldman). Bulgaria’s parliamentary polls on 12 May 2013 seem to confirm the bitter cynicism of this slogan as almost half of Bulgaria's electorate did not turn up at the voting booths. The low turnout is striking, given that as recently as February, economic hardship and widespread resentment of the political class propelled thousands onto the streets of Sofia, Varna and other big cities voicing demands for a complete overhaul of “the system”.
Three months on, it is apathy that prevails, not the will to install fresh faces in parliament. More than one grouping claimed to represent the protesters, but none made it past the 4% threshold. As I wrote in March, Bulgaria isn’t getting its own Beppe Grillo or Alexis
Kiruna - a calm town in North Sweden - is currenty hosting the annual Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting. The Arctic Council is a regional organisation which usually does not receive a lot of geopolitical attention as it mainly focuses on environment, shipping and joint research. However, this time the meeting of foreign ministers will also debate whether to grant China and other Asian nations such as India, Japan, and Singapore an observer status. The application of the EU will also be on the agenda. Everyon is suddenly eager to get a seat at the table.
China’s bid for a seat among the Arctic member states has made most of a media splash because of China’s growing power and increasingly global reach. As the ice is melting, the Arctic has also become an interesting region in terms of new shipping routes, but it also offers potential for resource extractio. The U.S. Geological
In Greenland the snows usually lie until May; this year I landed at the Cold War era airstrip at Kangerlussuaq in April and the bare hillsides were already visible. Under those slopes sit a wealth of minerals and the coveted rare earths, and many Greenlanders believe this bounty is their ticket to prosperity and independence from Denmark.
This has opened up the possibility of large-scale Chinese involvement in getting hold of those minerals. Beijing’s thirst for such resources is well known, and it has become very interested in what lies beneath the melting icecaps of the Arctic region.
That headline has been so compelling that a top level EU negotiator even told the French AFP news agency that 2000 Chinese workers were on the ground in Greenland. A former top American diplomat, Thomas Pickering, wrote in the New York Times about Chinese ambitions of reaching up into the Arctic
Qatar’s gung-ho foreign policy (discussed in greater depth in ECFR’s latest Gulf Analysis) is so often depicted by big moves and big money. Before the Syrian uprising in 2011, Gulf powers, including Qatar, had sought a rapprochement of sorts with Damascus, hoping to move Syria out of Iran’s regional orbit and closer to itself. Since then, Qatar, more so than its heavyweight neighbour Saudi Arabia, has pursued a policy for Bashar al-Assad’s head at seemingly whatever cost. This has meant that, rather than actually delivering on humanitarian commitments and seeking a de-escalation of violence against Syria's people, Qatar’s insistence to continue arming opposition groups looks increasingly like dangerously amateurish brinksmanship.
Qatar may be vying for an endgame that outstrips the ambitions of any of its Gulf neighbours and allies, but they are not likely to defeat Assad
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Rome from Moscow, where he convened with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to call for an international conference, possibly by the end of the month, to discuss a political solution for Syria to “end the bloodshed, the killing, and the massacres.” The diplomatic breakthrough aimed to recuperate the Geneva communiqué and to create a transitional government. (The implementation of the agreement, discussed back in June 2012, was blocked, however, because the question of the future of President Bashar al-Assad was left unsolved.)
This is Kerry's second visit to Italy since his appointment as secretary of state. The impression is that he has grasped the value of its historic role as a bridge between East and West, and between North and South. Italy's geographic and cultural proximity to the Mediterranean may now turn into a great diplomatic
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