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State of the Union: sunshine in Ankara, darkness in Tbilisi

A demonstrator with draped Georgian national and EU flags stands in front of police blocking the way to the Parliament building in Tbilisi, May 14, 2024
A demonstrator with draped Georgian national and EU flags stands in front of police blocking the way to the Parliament building in Tbilisi, May 14, 2024 Copyright Shakh Aivazov/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Shakh Aivazov/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Stefan Grobe
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This edition of State of the Union focuses on the continuing diplomatic détente between Turkey and Greece and the escalating domestic upheaval in Georgia.

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Just a year ago, a summit meeting of the leaders of Turkey and Greece would have created sensational news.

But when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosted Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Ankara this week, it was almost a routine talk between neighbours.

The meeting was their fourth in 10 months as the two leaders try to put an end to decades of mutual animosity by focusing on trade, tourism, energy and repairing cultural ties, among other areas.

“In the critical area of migration, the cooperation between our two countries and especially between the police and the coast guard is paying off against illegal flows and against the wretched traffickers, who take advantage of desperate people’s pain," said Mitsotakis in a common press conference.

"This cooperation must continue and be intensified.”

There are still areas where both sides have agreed to disagree, but it’s good to see one old trouble spot in Europe sort of fading, especially as another trouble spot reignited big time this week.

Thousands of protesters in Georgia rallied near the parliament building in Tbilisi – again – just hours after lawmakers gave the final approval to the controversial foreign influence law, modelled on a Russian version passed more than a decade earlier. 

Lawmakers passed the law despite EU warnings that it would undermine Georgia’s path to EU membership.

Yet, the official reaction in Brussels was muted.

Speaking in Denmark, EU Council President Charles Michel said: “I had a phone call a few days ago with the Prime Minister and I told him that I am disappointed and that I sincerely hope that Georgia will find a way to stick to the democratic principles and also meet the expectations of the population.”

Meanwhile, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development released its latest economic outlook. The numbers for Georgia, which is part of the area where the EBRD operates, were rather sobering.

In general, the forecast also contained some encouraging news.

To learn more, we spoke to Beata Javorcik, chief economist of the EBRD.

Euronews: So, your latest report is appropriately called “Taming Inflation” – and when I look at the numbers, inflation in the EBRD regions came down from a peak in October 2022 of 17.5 percent to an average of 6.3 percent last March. Explain that number for us, what is behind such a huge drop?

Javorcik: What has helped bring the inflation down was to a large extent, the developments in the international markets. We have seen a sharp drop in the prices of natural gas in Europe, declines in prices of agricultural commodities, and oil prices have remained moderate. But, of course, inflation in our regions of operations still remains above the level before the pandemic, as is the case in advanced economies.

Euronews: Can you breathe a sigh of relief now or are there still important inflation risks remaining?

Javorcik: Not all central bankers can consider their job done. If you look at cumulative inflation, that is inflation since February 2022 up until now, it has exceeded 30% in several countries. Notably in Egypt, in Turkey, in Hungary and Kazakhstan, Moldova and Ukraine. So, that means that in the absence of wage increases, people in those countries would have lost a third of their purchasing power.

Euronews: Let’s talk about the growth outlook in the EBRD’s EU regions – do you see positive signs going forward?

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Javorcik: This year is going to be much better than last year for the Eastern European EU member states, in particular Poland and Croatia, stand out with expected growth of 3%. Hungary will do well, too. We see real wages increasing. We see fiscal policy helping out and the EU funding, the New Generation EU, also stimulating economic activity.

Euronews: I can’t release you without a word on Ukraine. How is their economy doing in the third year of the war?

Javorcik: The heavy bombings in the last two months mean that the ability of Ukraine to generate electricity has been severely diminished. Electricity production is at 40% of what it used to be before the bombings. And this capacity cannot be easily repaired.

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Looking for something fun to do over the weekend? 

How about jumping from a helicopter at 3,000 feet high, diving down to 35 metres above the River Thames and then soaring through London’s Tower Bridge only to rise up again to 80 metres, the height required to open the parachute before landing safely?

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This is a complex James-Bond-like manoeuvre known among insiders as a “flare”.

Well, two professional skydivers from Austria did it this week and described the experience as “a dream come true”.

And this coming from veteran skydivers with more than 22,000 jumps under their belt…

From take-off to landing, the London wingsuit flight covered more than a kilometer and reached a top speed of almost 250 kilometers per hour – and it lasted 45 seconds.

That might not be enough fun for an entire weekend, but it’s a start!

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