The countries in Southeast Europe will undergo effervescent political, economical and social events in the year ahead.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 31/12/12
Several countries in the region hope to open EU accession talks in 2013. [AFP]
The geopolitical landscape of the region will change in 2013 with Croatia's EU accession, and talks with Brussels will dominate the foreign agenda of many governments.
The economy will also top many capitals' priorities with many countries facing a deficit and trying to increase growth despite the prolonged recession. In some countries, bilateral issues will make or break further diplomatic efforts.
Croatian accession to the EU is by far the most important political event in 2013 for the country. Croatia ended negotiations with the EU in 2012 and is expected to officially join the Union on July 1st 2013.
Zdravko Petek, a professor at the Faculty of Political Science of Zagreb, said that with the ability to access EU funds, Croatia will gain major potential, but it's up to its leaders to use that leverage.
"Utilisation of EU funds will surely be one of the key challenges for Croatia," Petek told SETimes.
In June 2012, Croatian citizens officially opted to join the Union in a referendum, with 66.2 percent of the votes.
"I voted for the Croatia's entry, but I don't think that a lot will change overnight," Darko Brdalj, 34, an account manager from Zagreb, told SETimes.
Kosovo is expecting a number of important developments in 2013, starting with the talks with Serbia.
Kosovo and Serbia prime ministers Hashim Thaci and Ivica Dacic are expected to meet again in January to discuss a number of pending issues, including customs duties, energy, telecommunications and the situation in northern Kosovo.
Belul Beqaj, a professor at Pristina University, told SETimes that the talks with Serbia will have an impact on the ruling coalition, which will face "a different kind of mood after the problem in the north is solved."
For Serbia, the most important issue in 2013 will be the beginning of the negotiations with the EU. Talks are expected to start by July if all the requirements are met, but that will hinge on the Belgrade-Pristina discussions.
"The way Serbia deals with Kosovo will determine the start of negotiation. The new platform for Kosovo will be in the centre of Serbian, Kosovo and international interests," Zoran Stojiljkovic, a professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences, told SETimes.
With the impact of the global economic crisis still reverberating, the economy will also factor in to most countries' 2013 plans.
Economists predict that Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) will have the slowest economic progress of all the countries in the region in 2013.
The economy will play a large part of many plans in the region in 2013. [AFP]
"Bosnia can't survive without the revival of the economy, but new openings for jobs are only in the state administration. On the other hand, frequent political crises are the reasons for withdrawal of the investments of many investors," Zlatko Hurtic, an economic analyst, told SETimes.
With the expected census in 2013, BiH can expect a tottering economy, small export commodities, lack of foreign investment and undoubtedly large loans from international financial institutions.
In Greece, the recession will continue into a sixth year in 2013 as the coalition government tries to hold itself together, impose yet another wave of austerity measures and hope that more international aid will stave off the specter of default and economic collapse.
Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras has warned the prospect of bankruptcy still lingers if the financial reforms are undercut by more protests, strikes and riots.
"We can make it next year if we can stick to the programme agreed with the EU and IMF," Stournaras said in an interview with Financial Times, referring to the Troika, that also includes the European Central Bank, and which is putting up a first series of 52.5 billion euros in rescue loans as part of a second bailout of 130 billion euros.
Alex Sakellariou, a researcher at Panteion University in Athens, told SETimes that 2013 "will definitely be a year of critical importance for Greece. After three years of unprecedented economic crisis, there are signs that the situation will become stable and by the end of 2013."
Politics will dominate headlines in the region as well.
General and presidential elections in Kosovo come after a period of internal elections within the parties for their leading bodies. "Big events will happen within the parties, between the parties, in the economic and social issues," Beqaj said.
"The most important issue in this aspect is related to the electoral reforms," Beqaj said, adding that this issue, together with deepened social problems, will influence the stability of the institutions and the consolidation of power.
In Macedonia, local elections are expected to be held in March 2013. The latest poll of Republican Institute IRI indicates that the ruling VMRO-DPMNE has a stable support of 27 percent.
Nikola Gruevski of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE remains the most popular politician with 20 percent support, versus main opposition SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski, with about 5 percent.
Political tension is expected to continue to grow in Bulgaria in the months ahead of its next parliamentary elections in summer 2013, when voters in the Balkan nation will pick the new members of the country's 240-seat legislature.
Montenegro and Macedonia are two of the countries that will hold elections in 2013. [AFP]
With no party expected to win a clear majority to rule alone, the election is expected to be followed by weeks of coalition talks.
That implies a slowdown in the reform process, said Yavor Alexiev, an economist with the Sofia-based Institute for Market Economics think-tank. "Stalled reforms usually have a long-term [rather than short-term] negative effect that will be felt during [the mandate of] the next government," he told SETimes.
In Romania, all eyes will also be on the relationship between President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta, whose coalition easily won the elections early December. The archrivals will have to work together until late 2014 when Basescu's second term expires.
The parliamentary elections on June 23rd 2013 in Albania are expected to lighten the situation in the country after the country struggled through several years of vicious fighting between the ruling democrats and the opposition socialists. Ruling democrats are entering the eighth year in power and hope to gain EU candidate status in 2013.
Several individual country issues will could also peak in 2013.
A controversial referendum will top the agenda in Bulgaria in 2013. The first national plebiscite in the Balkan country since 1989 was prompted by Sofia's decision to quit the project for the construction of a nuclear power plant in Belene on the Danube River. The vote will be held on January 27th.
The question Bulgarian voters will have to answer will be: "Should nuclear energy be developed further in Bulgaria by building a new nuclear power plant?" More than 62 percent support construction and 37 percent are opposed, according to a poll conducted by the National Centre for the Study of Public Opinion in November.
Romania enters 2013 with the hope of a new Schengen accession schedule after the political turmoil last summer threw the country off the track of joining the borderless area.
A new schedule is expected this spring, after a new report by the European Commission on the state of justice reform to be released in January, but the EU warned that any other attacks on the fundamental democratic institutions risk sparking a similar vivid reaction on the part of the EU countries.
Macedonia expects new proposals to resolve the name dispute, scheduled for January 2013 when UN mediator Matthew Nimetz will visit Skopje and Athens.
"We hope that there will be new initiatives and new ideas that we need to talk. After visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in Macedonia, the situation changed," Macedonian President Gjorgje Ivanov told SETimes.
In January, Albanian Prime Minister Berisha's initiative to give citizenship and passports to all Albanians who live abroad is expected to be implemented. This initiative will allow Kosovo Albanians to become citizens of Albania, which is expected to prompt reactions from the neighbouring countries.
SETimes correspondents Drazen Remikovic in Zagreb, Linda Karadaku in Pristina, Bedrana Kaletovic in Sarajevo, Katica Djurovic in Belgrade, Svetla Dimitrova in Sofia, Klaudija Lutovska in Skopje, Erl Murati in Tirana and Andy Dabilis in Athens contributed to this report.