He paces back and forth on stage, listing his achievements for Turkey: New roads, better hospitals, more public transportation, more airports. At every rally, he hammers home the same message — he has transformed Turkey into a new modern nation. In almost every speech, 64-year-old Erdogan disparages what he calls "old Turkey," a place where garbage piled up on the streets, public hospitals were overrun, and roads were dimly-lit, single-lane death traps.That message of transformation has delivered Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) 12 electoral victories over the last 16 years, making Erdogan the Turkish Republic's longest-serving leader since it was founded in 1923.But the President faces his toughest political challenge yet, in snap elections Sunday that Erdogan himself called. Turkish voters go to the polls to elect both a president and a new parliament, and for the first time in more than a decade, they have an array of strong candidates to choose from.Erdogan's grandiose rallies have become an expected part of any Turkish election, but they appear to have been eclipsed Wednesday, as main opposition candidate Muharrem Ince drew what looked like the largest crowd in the elections period yet. In the town of Izmir, hundreds of thousands of Ince supporters in a sea of red Turkish flags stretched for kilometers down a promenade on the Aegean coast, as the charismatic former high school physics teacher promised to end the nepotism of the Erdogan government."Erdogan is tired, he has no joy and he is arrogant," he said. "On the one hand you have a tired man, and on the other you have fresh blood."Erdogan has consolidated power at every step of his career. He has crushed anti-government protests, and in 2013 he evaded a corruption investigation into his inner circle. After a failed military coup to remove his government from power in 2016, he eliminated his opponents by firing tens of thousands of government workers, gutting public institutions, jailing critical voices, and clamping down on the media. He narrowly won a referendum last year that will change Turkey's parliamentary system to an executive presidency, giving whoever wins Sunday's vote sweeping new powers. But Erdogan's mantra of development and growth has lost some of its luster recently as Turkish people feel the pinch of a faltering economy.MORE: Turkey's currency crash puts economy at heart of election The lira has lost some 20% of its value since the year began, inflation is at 12% and interest rates are around a painful 18%. Some voters are tiring of what they see as Erdogan's power-grabbing."It's a situation where Erdogan can't blame anyone else. It's not like the government is run by someone else so he can turn around and say 'elect me so I can improve the economy.' That's his weak spot and he knows it," said Asli Aydintasbas, a Senior Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. But at the Istanbul rally, diehard Erdogan supporter Gulbahar Turan is sure Erdogan's AKP can continue to deliver. She says foreign intervention — not government mismanagement — is what's driving the economic woes. "These are games by foreign powers, but they should know even a dead Erdogan would get votes," Turan said.
Erdogan's biggest threat
Polls in Turkey are typically partisan and unreliable, but Erdogan appears to be in front. Some polls suggest he will fail to win 50% of the vote, and that will mean a run-off round on July 8. This could be a particularly dangerous position for Erdogan to find himself in, as most opposition parties have vowed to galvanize their supporters to whoever challenges the incumbent leader.Opposition candidates and parties are trying to steal support from Erdogan on all fronts. Conservative nationalist Meral Aksener threatens him from the center right, while Temel Karamollaoglu from the Islamist Felicity Party could also drive pious conservatives away from the AKP.But Erdogan's biggest threat is the formidable Ince, who has galvanized the center-left around the CHP. In the past, the CHP fielded fairly drab candidates. This election is the first in which the party has chosen someone charismatic, Aydintasbas said."We are already seeing the results in the sense that this is a race between Muharrem Ince and Erdogan. And that's never happened before. Erdogan had it too easy and he basically ran against himself," Aydintasbas said.Ince is a not an obscure name in Turkey; the 54-year-old has served as a member of parliament for the last 16 years. He has managed to broaden his party's appeal beyond its usual base of secular upper-middle-class voters to include pious Muslims and Kurds."Former leaders of the party were bureaucrats or statesmen," said Behlul Ozkan, a political scientist from Marmara University. "Ince, with his rural family roots, his truck driver father and headscarf-wearing mother and sister is different from his predecessors." During the holy month of Ramadan, when Ince made appearances with his sister who wears a headscarf, he made clear he would continue to guarantee women's right to wear the Islamic headdress in public spaces, including universities. The Islamic headscarf was prohibited in public life in the aftermath of a soft coup in 1997. Women who wore it were barred from going to university, practicing medicine and law, and serving as members of parliament, until Erdogan started lifting those restrictions in 2013.Ince has been reaching out to the Kurds, Turkey's largest ethnic minority, whose vote is usually split between Erdogan's AKP and the pro-Kurdish leftist Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP).At the start of the campaign, Ince won favor with Kurdish voters by visiting HDP candidate Selahattin Demirtas, who is in jail pending the outcome of a court case in which the government accuses him of terrorism, allegations that his party says are politically motivated. He has been running his campaign from inside prison mainly over a Twitter account run by his advisers. In a rare occurrence for a CHP politician, the turnout at an Ince rally in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir was high. The Kurdish vote is pivotal in the outcome of the parliamentary election. If the HDP crosses a 10% threshold, it will win seats and could deprive the AKP of its parliamentary majority. If it fails to get into parliament, the AKP will sweep up those seats.
'People are sick and tired': Ince
Erodgan and the AKP now dominate the airwaves in Turkey, so Ince, locked out from the mainstream media, has been trying to reach his base and beyond through a breakneck campaign schedule. And he has been hitting Erdogan where he's most vulnerable — the economy. "Erdogan, people are cooking stones instead of food. People are cooking their worries instead of food. Look at the prices of potatoes, of onions. There is no bread!" Ince shouted out over the crowd at a recent campaign rally in the southern city of Antalya. "Come, let's have a debate. Let's talk about the struggle of getting by, of paying the rent, of sending the kids to school."In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Ince said it was time for change."I believe in the power of the street. I believe in our people's wish for change. People are sick and tired. Turkey is sick and tired. Institutions have been taken over. Turkey's democracy has been destroyed. A single man rules over Turkey. Turkey has to find a way out of this," he said.He is reaching out to Turkey's youth as well. A group of students hanging out at an Istanbul cafe say they don't know much about the old Turkey Erdogan talks about — to them the old Turkey was the one of several years ago, when there were greater civil liberties. They refuse to give their names, lamenting the loss of freedom of speech. "I don't want to give you my name because I need to think about my future," said a 22-year-old physiology student. "That is a worry I just don't want to have anymore."Another student said that providing services and development should be expected from a government, not something for Erdogan to brag about. "Roads, roads, roads. I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about more," he said. But development is a message that has worked for Erdogan for 16 years. Back at his rally in Istanbul, as his opera house presentation draws to a close, he asks, "How do you like that?" to the crowd, which roars back with approval.He calls out to the control room again for his next presentation, new building plans for an island development and then another for a park.
CNN's Isil Sariyuce contributed to this report.
Post-Brexit trade: Is red tape chaos just ‘teething trouble’ as the UK government argues?
January has seen Brexit set in motion for real — but for many businesses, operations have ground to a standstill as they struggle to shift goods across new borders.
With the UK now outside the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, importers and exporters on both sides of the English Channel say the new rules have brought a nightmare of red tape and extra costs.
Paperwork and border checks have led to seafood being left stranded in ports, and empty shelves in some supermarkets as deliveries failed to materialise.
Supplies from Great Britain to Northern Ireland have also been hit as the need to keep an open land border on the island of Ireland means the North is largely following EU rules.
The UK government has attributed much of the chaos to “teething problems”, arguing the longer term will bring great opportunities. But some trade experts say some of the new burdens on business are here to stay.
The nature and scale of the problem is illustrated by this selection of some of the hassles reported by traders:
- “My regular logistics partner has suspended their service completely from the EU to the UK until February. These guys operate in 31 countries & know how to move stock quickly, but the paperwork nightmare is just too much for them” — Daniel Lambert (Wines), wine import company, Bridgend, Wales. He wrote a 22-point Twitter thread detailing problems encountered.
- “It’s not good. This situation, for me it’s too much paperwork, too much wait, wait, all the time is wait. This is not good.” — UK-based Polish lorry driver Petar Loba, stuck in a queue near Dover.
- “A shipment that used to cost £95 (€107) and take five minutes to organise will now take an afternoon and cost £400 (€452)” — Richard Townsend of Bailey Paints, a small business which exports paint from Stroud in England to Ireland.
- “We can’t get deliveries you know. Companies are taking orders and then they’re ringing us back going, ‘we can’t deliver that until further notice’.” — Kieran Sloan of Sawers delicatessen in Belfast, on supply problems from Britain.
- “The first days were difficult, there were a great deal of delays. Some of our drivers had to wait a week on the British side to make export declarations… (There were) customers who’d declared nothing, those who’d made admin mistakes… queues to obtain documents in England.” — Benoît Lefebvre of French firm Sonotri, on transporting chemical products to England.
- “All the EU (countries) that used to buy a lot of our fish, they’ve kind of stopped because the fish that were getting transferred were going off, going bad. So we’ve lost our entire export market.” — Ben Vass, fisherman, Devon, England.
- “80% of our sales get shipped to the EU, so obviously now it’s all stopped. Our prices have dropped. All our fish is getting frozen.” — Nathan Daley, fisherman, Devon, England.
- “We have had to completely suspend the sending of all our consumer parcels to the EU. We had a bounce-back of every single parcel that we sent from 4th January onwards… It’s because you now need a health certificate even for a consumer parcel. The cost of a health certificate is £180 (€203) per consignment.” — Simon Spurrell, Cheshire Cheese Company.
- “A customer… had to pay over 50% of what his overall parcel was worth to get it out of customs and we had to send him a VAT invoice… It’s been horrible and it’s almost gotten to the point where we’ll have to probably stop trading with the EU, which is going to cost us thousands of pounds over the next three months.” — Joycelyn Mate of Afrocenchix, exporting afro hair products from the UK.
Why are traders suffering like this?
The Brexit trade deal struck on Christmas Eve was celebrated as a great success. It certainly brought huge relief, avoiding an even more chaotic no-deal scenario with just days to spare.
The agreement means trade can continue between the UK and the EU, free of tariffs (import taxes) and quotas.
Boris Johnson has claimed, wrongly, that there are no non-tariff barriers. The reality is — as seen by the above examples — is that the new trading regime has brought a mountain of extra bureaucracy and costs.
Firms now need to fill out customs declarations. The process involving codes and new IT systems can lead to significant delays. Slower procedures mean higher costs. There are also new regulatory checks for food, with meat, dairy and fish products needing health certificates.
There is a risk that supplies get stuck. Under the “groupage” system, multiple consignments often travel in one trailer. But all may need to be checked, and problems or mistakes can hold up the whole shipment.
There are also complications over “rules of origin” regulations, and VAT (Value Added Tax), as the UK is no longer part of the EU’s VAT area. EU exporters sending goods to the UK have to register with UK authorities and may have to pay UK import VAT. VAT and excise duties are also due on goods entering the EU from the UK.
Some changes have been unexpected. Ireland, for instance, has discovered that it has been sometimes hit by EU import duties. Despite the no-tariff Brexit deal, there is no exemption if goods pass through Britain on their way to or from the continent, as they are no longer considered to be of EU origin.
The European Commission warned last July of significant border disruption from the end of the transition period, regardless of whether a trade deal was agreed.
What have industry bodies been saying?
The UK’s Road Haulage Association says so worried are exporters over customs demands or the danger of getting stuck in port — not to mention the additional burden of COVID-19 tests for drivers — that many are not sending at all.
The RHA has reported that at least 40% of lorries bringing goods from the EU to Britain are returning to the continent empty, which has a “huge impact on the supply chain”.
The British Meat Processors Association has said the post-Brexit problems “are now causing a serious and sustained loss of trade with our biggest export partner”.
“If continental supermarkets are unable to have products delivered the way they need them to be, this trade will simply be lost as EU customers abandon UK suppliers and source product from European processors,” said Nick Allen, BMPA’s Chief Executive.
“Members are already being told by their EU customers that they’ll be looking to Spain and Ireland to buy products from now on.”
The fishing industry, whose produce is equally highly perishable, has echoed such complaints. The Scottish seafood industry in particular has been sounding the alarm.
EU vaccine delays dog effort to speed up COVID inoculations
AstraZeneca’s EU vaccine shipments will be delayed, the EU’s health commissioner said, in yet another obstacle to the bloc’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
“The EU Commission and Member States expressed deep dissatisfaction with this,” Stella Kyriakides tweeted on Friday after member states heard from AstraZeneca representatives.
The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is expected to receive approval from the European Medicines Agency this week, and any delay or shortage of doses could be a significant speed bump as member states race to vaccinate their populations amid a worsening COVID-19 crisis.
The emergence of more transmissible variants of coronavirus has caused significant concern in Europe with the UK reporting record daily hospitalisations and deaths due to the virus mutations.
Johnson warned on Friday that early evidence showed the new variant could be more deadly as well.
Countries are racing against the clock to vaccinate as many people as possible before the variants spread further.
But Pfizer said just last week that fewer doses would be available in the EU in late January and early February due to quality tests at the manufacturing plant in Belgium.
Some EU countries have since had to cut vaccinations amid the delays, prompting criticism of the pharmaceutical companies behind the vaccines.
Domenico Arcuri, Italy’s coronavirus commissioner, said that vaccinations had been cut from 80,000 a day to 28,000 a day, Italian media reported. He said Italian authorities were considering taking legal action against Pfizer, AP reported.
Authorities in Germany’s most populous state said that due to delays in delivery of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine they would halt first vaccinations. North Rhine Westphalia had received 100,000 vaccine doses less than originally planned, the state said.
Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said that “we are currently in a phase in which the worldwide demand for corona vaccines is very high.”
Member states agreed on Thursday that vaccine deliveries should be coordinated and distributed at the same time after the bloc’s most recent Steering Committee meeting, where vaccinations are discussed.
“We are determined to provide more predictability and stability to the delivery process, and we look forward to more vaccines and more doses coming on stream soon,” Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said on Thursday.
She also called for more testing and increases in sequencing amid the more transmissible mutations of the virus.
It comes as the bloc urged member states to speed up vaccinations, setting an ambitious goal to vaccinate 70% of the EU population by summer 2021. By March, the EU commission says they hope that 80% of vulnerable individuals and healthcare workers can be vaccinated.
In order to speed things along, countries have in some cases delayed second doses as much as possible and begun pulling sixth doses from a vaccine dial instead of five, in accordance with the EU regulator’s recommendation.
Some EU member states secure vaccines outside of bloc
However, some EU states appeared to also go rogue recently in terms of vaccine procurement, a move EU officials said was unnecessary as the bloc had secured enough vaccines for the entire EU population.
Hungary’s foreign minister said the country had procured two million doses of the Russian coronavirus vaccine.
They are the only EU country to approve the vaccine, Sputnik V, which has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency.
Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said the vaccines will arrive in three stages, with the first doses delivered within a month.
A Commission spokesperson told Euronews prior to Hungary’s announcement that “member states may have a separate negotiation if it’s about a vaccine that’s not covered by the portfolio if it’s with a company that we are not having negotiations with.”
Germany’s government, meanwhile, said in a statement to Euronews that it had bilateral negotiations with some pharmaceutical companies that would not impact the EU vaccine agreement.
It remains unclear, however, if vaccine doses secured bilaterally by the country would arrive before or after doses as part of EU contracts and whether those negotiations were outside the joint member state negotiations.
Economists revise eurozone growth for 2021 downwards amid second COVID wave
Positive growth forecasts for the eurozone economy have been cut by economists as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic look set to slow down its post-COVID-19 recovery, according to a European Central Bank (ECB) survey.
Economists polled in the ECB’s annual Survey of Professional Forecasters (SPF) published on Friday predicted real GDP growth would fall to 4.4 per cent this year amid further lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions, down from 5.3 per cent in the previous quarter’s predictions.
Speaking to journalists on Thursday, the president of the ECB Christine Lagarde said the pandemic posed “downside risks” to the prospects for a rapid return to growth in the eurozone.
“The intensification of the pandemic poses risks to short-term economic prospects,” said Lagarde after the institution’s governing council left its monetary support programme for the coronavirus-hit economy unaltered.
Forecasts for 2020 fared better than previously predicted, rising to 3.7 per cent compared to forecasts of 2.6 per cent in the last survey published in October.
The long-term forecast showed the eurozone economy expanding by just 1.4 per cent in 2025.
Mentioning “serious risks” and “risks of deterioration” for the eurozone economy, the ECB chief nevertheless considered the latest forecasts by the Frankfurt institution to remain “largely valid”.
“The start of vaccination campaigns in the euro area is an important step in the resolution of the current health crisis. But the pandemic continues to pose serious risks to public health and to the economies of the eurozone and the world,” she said.
Lagarde had previously warned in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde in October last year that Europe’s economic recovery risked “running out of steam” as a second wave of coronavirus gripped the continent.
“The second wave of the epidemic in Europe, particularly in France, and the new restrictive measures that accompany it add to uncertainty and weigh on the recovery,” she said.
Of particular concern, she said, was job losses due to the pandemic. The EU unemployment rate in October hovered around 7.6 per cent, one per cent higher than at the same time the previous year.
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