27 February 2014
A shock … and a policy?
It was the shock of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s that pushed the EU to take enlargement seriously. After dithering, waiting and soul-searching, the EU decided in 1997 to open accession talks, initially with (just) five Central European nations.
Then came the shock of the war in Kosovo – the third Balkan war in less than a decade. A few months later, the EU decided, at its Helsinki summit in December 1999, to open accession talks with another seven countries.
Will the shock of seeing snipers killing civilians in the centre of Kiev produce a similar process of rethinking EU enlargement policy towards Eastern Europe? Have the images of people dying while demonstrating in the middle of winter and waving the blue European flag, moved not only the hearts, but also changed the minds of this generation of European leaders?
(See new Rumeli Observer: Kiev and the cost of EU enlargement on hold)
Accession will take a long time. In the future, no country will be admitted to the EU without dramatic reforms that can reassure current members. Instead of calling for short-cuts that bypass reform, it is essential to strengthen conditionality.
Today, policy makers in European capitals face a double predicament. On the one hand, there is the prospect of Ukraine, a geographically huge and politically important country that borders several EU member states, tumbling into chaos. On the other hand, publics – and governments – in the European Union are worried that the EU is not in a position to enlarge further, as it struggles to cope with its current problems. There is also a concern that once accession is promised, the process becomes inevitable, even if countries do not meet the EU's conditions.
A recent survey showed a majority of Germans polled accepting the notion of Ukraine joining the EU one day: 64 percent expect this to happen within the next two decades. And yet, this decision to actually admit Ukraine need not be made today, but rather many years in the future, by yet to be elected parliaments in every EU member state, and by the people of Ukraine. The policy decision before European leaders today is whether to extend a credible promise.
A clear European perspective makes the consensus for deep reforms much more likely. The ultimate goal remains to complete the transformation of the European bloodlands of the 20th century into an integrated democratic continent for the 21st.
Trust, conditions, enlargement
The paradox is that the EU has never needed a credible enlargement policy more than it does today: not just for Eastern Europe, but for the Balkans and Turkey as well.
At the same time, the EU – and the European Commission – struggle to keep enlargement credible even for countries where the promise was made years ago.
EU enlargement policy is only credible to accession countries – from Albania to Turkey – if it is seen to be fair. It is acceptable to publics in EU member states – from the Netherlands to Germany – only if it is seen to be strict.
In recent months ESI has presented concrete proposals, following a research project funded by the Dutch Foreign Ministry on Macedonia – in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Rome, Ankara, Zagreb and elsewhere – on how the European Commission could restore the credibility of EU accession policy. We proposed a new generation of progress reports. For more on this proposal see: enlargement reloaded – a new generation of progress reports.
Rumeli Observer clip – presentation on: "Enlargement and the benefit of competition"
This proposal is informed by the ongoing success of strict, yet fair visa liberalisation processes, the OECD's Pisa assessments for education, and other experiences of credible assessments and rankings. This would involve the European Commission doing for each policy area (chapter) – and for each accession country - what it has done in the recent visa liberalisation process: produce one document that clearly sums up what the core requirements – the core acquis – are under each chapter that every accession candidate should meet. They could look like visa liberalisation roadmaps (see here for examples).
These requirements should focus on outcomes: not just to pass a law, but also to "pass a law, have a credible institution and implement it." They should be assessed annually in the progress reports for all seven countries. Some of this the Commission is already doing (see the table on the "state of alignment" based on the 2013 progress reports):
This is based on the EU Commission's own 2013 progress reports. For more on this see Rumeli Observer.
There is enormous power in credible, objective assessments to mobilise reformers and civil society in accession countries. This would also show when countries move backwards. It could help set the reform agenda and restore the trust of EU member states in European Commission evaluations. Building the institutions needed in many of these policy areas is also the best way to strengthen the rule of law – from public procurement policy to inspection services in the fields of industrial standards, environment or food safety. For countries whose primary source of FDI lies in the EU and whose hope of catching up economically lies in exporting much more to the EU, the largest market in the world, making credible progress here is also a strong signal to investors. Finally, it would allow fair implementation of the "more for more" principle, as donors (and pre-accession funding) can be targetted on rewarding objectively assessed reform efforts in specific policy fields.
What the Schengen visa code allows
Up until the 1980s Turkish citizens could travel without a visa to all Western European countries except Greece. Following the 1980 military coup, these countries introduced a visa requirement for Turkish citizens. In the 1990s, with the establishment of the Schengen zone, the visa requirement became common EU policy.
In December 2013 the European Commission handed over a roadmap towards visa-free travel. Now Turkey has to meet a series of requirements that the roadmap sets out. If it does, the EU has promised to abolish the Schengen short-stay visa requirement for Turkish citizens.
EU member states also committed themselves to:
"fully exploiting all possibilities provided by the EU Visa Code and other legal instruments to further facilitating the access of Turkish citizens to the EU."
Turkey now has to meet the requirements that the roadmap sets out. They concern passport security, border management, asylum policy and respect for human rights and the fight against illegal migration. In recent weeks ESI, supported by Stiftung Mercator, has presented this roadmap – in Berlin, in Warsaw, and in Istanbul at the Swedish Consulate, as well as this reform scorecard summing up its conditions:
However, there are widespread concerns in Turkey that EU member states might still vote against lifting the visa requirement even if Turkey meets all roadmap conditions. This is why it is important that EU member states take measures now to demonstrate that they are serious about the goal of the visa liberalisation dialogue.
The most effective way to do this is to keep the promise and ease the visa burden for Turkish citizens right away. In a new paper we recommend ways for member states to launch this process with a clear signal to the Turkish public:
ESI recommends that EU member states commit to five goals. These goals can be achieved by each member state through steps fully in compliance with existing EU visa rules: reduce rejection rates to less than 2 percent; give more than 90 percent long-term multiple entry visa; reduce costs in line; solve the Erasmus student visa problem; and increase transparency.
Incidentally, if some EU member states are looking for concrete steps to signal to Ukrainian citizens that their future lies looking west all these steps are also all available.
Human rights in a larger Europe
The ESI advocacy campaign "A Europe without political prisoners" continues. More here:
In recent weeks we presented a proposal to policy makers across Europe on possible measures to be adopted in the face of systematic human rights violations in the European neighbourhood.
There will also be a presentation of this work and our recommendations on Thursday, 27 February 2014 in New York at the headquarters of OSF:
With best regards,