26 October 2015


Another refugee summit in Brussels, and another dishearteningly confused set of conclusions. Which most likely leave everything more or less as it is.


“Refugees need to be treated in a humane manner along the length of the Western Balkans route to avoid a humanitarian tragedy in Europe.”

That was the promise made by Juncker before the conference. If this would be realised, it would obviously be a very good thing: “Increasing the capacity to provide temporary shelter, food, health, water and sanitation to all in need.” A worthy aspiration.


How realistic are these commitments, though? It is the end of October. Some conclusions suggest that additional resources may not be available soon:

“Working with International Financial Institutions such as the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Development Bank of the Council of Europe which are ready to support financially efforts of the countries willing to make use of these resources”

Slovenia noted that 60,000 people arrived there in recent days. What does the summit do to help Slovenia, concretely, in the coming weeks? Or Croatia? Or Greece?

Is there a working group to determine where capacities for temporary shelter are most needed? In Slovenia? in Croatia? In Serbia? in Macedonia?


It would help to know where temporary shelters are needed, or exist now; or how many new ones have to be found. Perhaps this is known, but it is not stated in the conclusions:

“Greece to increase reception capacity to 30,000 places by the end of the year, and to support UNHCR to provide rent subsidies and host family programmes for at least 20,000 more – a pre-condition to make the emergency relocation scheme work; Financial support for Greece and UNHCR is expected”

Note; this does not say how many such places Greece has now. So it is not clear what “increasing” capacity to 30,000 means in terms of additional capacity. Which makes budgeting and raising funding for it tricky. Or assessing the meaning of this commitment.

Note also: this would be sufficient for the number of refugees who will arrive between today, Monday, and next Friday. By the end of the year, these refugees would unlikely still be in Greece.

Plus: these are still rest stations. Nobody will stay in any of these shelters one day longer than necessary. “Host families” for rest stations?


From here on the conclusions become ever less realistic:

“Working with the European Commission and Frontex to step up practical cooperation on readmission with third countries and intensifying cooperation in particular with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan; Commission to work to implement existing readmission agreements fully and start work on new readmission agreements with relevant countries;”

Anybody who has examined the difficulties of readmitting even rejected Balkan asylum seekers from Germany to Western Balkans countries – which do not oppose taking back their citizens – knows that expecting to do this, on a large scale, with Pakistan or Afghanistan is not a plan, but closer to day dreaming.


This is the least serious part of the conclusions.

“- Finalising and implementing the EU-Turkey Action Plan;
– Making full use of the potential of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement and the visa liberalisation roadmap;”

Turkey was not even invited to this summit. The EU-Turkey Action Plan is empty of content. “Making full use of the visa liberalisation roadmap” means what concretely? We have to wait for another summit.

“- Upscaling the Poseidon Sea Joint Operation in Greece;
– Reinforcing Frontex support at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey;”
What is this supposed to achieve? How will it make any difference?
“- Strengthening border cooperation between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, with increased UNHCR engagement;
– Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania will strengthen the management of the external land border, with Frontex to support registration in Greece;”

Is the aim to slow down people leaving Greece … and has Greece agreed to this? Where would those who are made to stay longer stay in Greece?

Or is the idea to register everyone in Greece … and people then move on? What difference would this make?

“- Working together with Frontex to monitor border crossings and support registration and fingerprinting at the Croatian-Serbian border crossing points;
– Deploying in Slovenia 400 police officers and essential equipment within a week, through bilateral support;
– Strengthening the Frontex Western Balkans Risk Analysis Network with intensified reporting from all participants;”

So there will be more Frontex and more reporting, everywhere! But Frontex is essentially just other European border guards, not magicians or super-heroes. And this seems to assume that the problem in Slovenia or Croatia is a lack of people.

“14. Reconfirming the principle of refusing entry to third country nationals who do not confirm a wish to apply for international protection (in line with international and EU refugee law and subject to prior non-refoulement and proportionality checks);”

How many of those who reach the EU’s borders do NOT wish to apply for international protection? ANYBODY?

Finally, there is this:

“Under the current circumstances, we will discourage the movement of refugees or migrants to the border of another country of the region. A policy of waving through refugees without informing a neighbouring country is not acceptable. This should apply to all countries along the route.”

This either means a dramatic change which will likely cause the humanitarian tragedy Juncker wanted to avoid or it means that waving through refugees should happen “while informing a neighbouring country” a little better. Most likely – and fortunately – it is the second.


If this is what the countries most concerned by this crisis come up with as their operational conclusions we know that there is no plan. It was another summit without a serious discussion. Another missed opportunity.

Filed under: Balkans,Border revolution,Europe,Greece,Migration,Refugees — Gerald @ 2:07 pm
4 July 2015


Getting to Yes – on the brink in Greece

“People only accept change in necessity and see necessity only in crisis.”
(Jean Monnet)

Dear friends,

This weekend Greeks vote in a referendum whose outcome could have dramatic consequences for their country. Polls show that the result is on a knife-edge. Every vote counts. The stakes for Greece could not be higher.


Please find the full ESI newsletter on the Greek Referendum here: 




Please Stay with us – facebook campaign

More here


More reading:

ESI Paper: The good news from Greece – Can Thessaloniki point the way? – January 2015

Reuters on the Greek Referendum, quoting ESI

Rumeli Observer: After Syriza fails … the Greek speech Europe needs to hear (June 2015)

Rumeli Observer: Cosmopolitan visionary – Boutaris and Thessaloniki (12 October 2014)

Ricardo Hausmann, “Austerity is not Greece’s Problem”, Project Syndicate, 3 March 2015:

“The truth is that the recession in Greece has little to do with an excessive debt burden. Until 2014, the country did not pay, in net terms, a single euro in interest: it borrowed enough from official sources at subsidized rates to pay 100% of its interest bill and then some. This situation supposedly changed a bit in 2014, the first year that the country made a small contribution to its interest bill, having run a primary surplus of barely 0.8% of GDP (or 0.5% of its debt of 170% of GDP).

To watch “One Step Ahead” (on the 2010 Thessaloniki elections) go here.


Filed under: Balkans,Europe,Greece — Gerald @ 6:36 pm
29 April 2015


“NERP” sounds like “NERD”: may this contrast – or this photo – help you remember this particular acronym. NERP stands for National Economic Reform Programme. Last year the European Commission asked all Western Balkan governments to produce one NERP a year. (Proposed on page 8 here). The 2015 Kosovo NERP report is in fact different from the nerdish, impenetrable language of many economic analyses published on the Balkans in recent years. It deserves to be read widely.

The 2015 Kosovo NERP is 129 pages.  Probably few people intend to read it in full. This would be a pity, as it provides a good foundation for a serious debate. In fact, the report hides its radical implications with its  first sentence:

“Kosovo has been one of the very few countries in Europe and the region of South Eastern Europe that had positive growth rates in every single year in the period since the 2008 outbreak of the global financial crisis.”

This is not wrong, but it is misleading, as the analysis itself quickly makes clear. While everyone  knows that Kosovo is poor, exports little, attracts little foreign investment and creates few jobs the NERP tell a far more disturbing story.

Kosovo’s problem in six figures

The 2015 Kosovo NERP contains many numbers, but some that are particularly telling. Between them, these six numbers tell you (almost) everything you need to know about Kosovo’s economy.


            305 million Euros – the total value of goods Kosovo exported in 2013

An annual export number of 305 million Euro is abysmally low. For comparison: Estonia exported goods worth 12.3 billion Euros in 2013. Estonia has a much smaller population than Kosovo.[1] It is also worrying that in 2013 two thirds of these exports were “base metal and mineral products.” This means there are barely 100 million Euro of other exports (food, vegetables, plastics) that produce added value. Kosovo extracts minerals from the earth and sells them – but it produces very little.


            2.3 billion Euros – the total value of goods Kosovo imported in 2013

This is very high compared to Kosovo’s exports. So how is the gap financed? How do Kosovo importers obtain these 2.3 billion Euros to import goods? One must assume that they obtain much of this from Kosovars who earn this money abroad.


The level of imports is directly linked to the third number:

1.3 billion Euros – total revenues (income) of the Kosovo government in 2013. No less than 871 million of this comes from border taxes on imports

This means that the state – 70 percent of its total revenues – depend on imports taxed at the border (customs, excises, and VAT on imported goods).

To maintain the current level of public spending, imports need to remain at least as high as they are now. If less money is transferred to Kosovo by Kosovars abroad, for whatever reason, government revenues will contract quickly. Even if government revenues and spending are in balance (with a low government deficit), and even if the debt of Kosovo’s government is relatively low as a share of GDP, the structure of public finances is very fragile.


The fact that Kosovo produces few goods, which people outside of Kosovo (low exports) or inside Kosovo want to buy translates into tragically low numbers of jobs. Here is the fourth number:

220,000 people – registered as employed in 2013

There is sometimes confusion in public debates about “employment.” They frequently get mixed up with debates on the distinction between the official and unofficial (grey) economy. In fact it is simple: there are two ways to measure how many people work, which always give different results as the meaning of “employed” is different in each case.

The first way is to look at registered jobs. These are jobs which are known to public authorities and which are taxed. The second way is to do a representative survey of the labour force, based on samples. In the Kosovo Labour Force Survey (LFS), or any other such survey elsewhere, this is how “employment” is defined:

“People aged 15-64 years who during the reference week performed some work for wage or salary, or profit or family gain, in cash or in kind or were temporarily absent from their jobs.” (LFS 2013, page 7)

This includes anyone in the family of that age who works “for family gain” on their small plot of land, milks the cow, looks after vegetables during the reference week, even if nothing is then sold for cash. In a country with a lot of subsistence farming this number is always much higher than registered employment. In Kosovo in 2013 this number was 338,000 people.

These two figures of employment allow us to estimate the size of the Kosovo private sector. There are 77,000 jobs in the public sector (paid by the state). This leaves 143,000 jobs in the registered private sector. Then there are another 118,000 people “employed” (LFS) without being registered.

Even added together, this number is shockingly low. Kosovo’s resident population of 1.8 million people divides into some 297,000 households (the average household has 6 members, still the largest households in Europe today). Even including all employment (per LFS definition), and all subsistence family farming on tiny plots, this yields barely one “employed” per household.

No wonder only slightly more than one in ten women of working age in Kosovo are “employed” (even by the LFS definition). No wonder Kosovo households have few savings: every employed person has to support five other people (dependents).


All of this raises the key development question: will Kosovo businesses – existing or new ones – develop more competitive products for new markets in the coming years?

Gaining market share in export markets requires competing successfully against businesses from other countries, from the EU, the Balkans, Turkey. This requires investment, such as new machinery. New or expanding businesses in Kosovo can be either foreign (through FDI) or domestic.

Here is the fifth number:

241 million Euros – Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2014

This is very low by any standards: it means that very few foreign companies show any interest in using Kosovo as a base for their production and transfer their machinery and know-how here.[2] And, as the NERP notes, FDI has been decreasing in recent years:

“Since 2007, net FDI inflows have been volatile and with an overall negative trend … the sectorial composition of FDI has shifted towards real estate and construction between 2009 and 2013.”

What the NERP does not give us is the value of all cumulative FDI (the FDI stock) in Kosovo. For comparison: in Estonia in 2014 this FDI stock is around 15.9 billion Euro. Kosovo’s total GDP is only 5.3 billion Euro.


The sixth number tells us what opportunities existing Kosovo entrepreneurs have if they want to develop:

10 percent – the annual interest rate on loans in November 2014 (in November 2013 it was 12 percent)

This is very high. Again, look at Estonia (European Central Bank data): loans to non-financial corporations – depending on specific conditions – carry around 3 percent annual interest at the end of 2014.

What do these six numbers tell us about the Kosovo economy?

  • Export of goods is very low; given current trends of declining FDI and high costs of borrowing for businesses in Kosovo this is unlikely to change anytime soon. The NERP projects a best case scenario in which the export of goods increases from 305 million Euro to 441 million Euro by 2017.
  • There is little structural change in the Kosovo economy compared to one decade ago. The GDP growth that has happened has been the result of households spending money (consumption) based on transfers from abroad and increases in public sector salaries (funded largely through border taxes on imports of goods, which are bought largely with money transferred from abroad).
  • The employment rate will remain very low in the foreseeable future. If new jobs are created in the next years in the private sector one might expect some subsistence farmers to turn away from non-cash production to other – regular – employment. In order to really increase employment rates and create new jobs Kosovo would need levels of investment and export growth that are simply not on the horizon for many years to come.
  • This makes public policy in many areas hard to formulate. Take the issue of skills needed for the labour market. What jobs does today’s generation of young Kosovars need to be prepared to take? What skills will they need? Unless there is a realistic job of more jobs in the foreseeable future this question is impossible to answer.

All of this is well set out in the NERP. At the same time it also underlines the main gap in the NERP analysis: the absence of any analysis of the economic impact of current and future migration flows.

While the word remittances appears many times, “migration” does not appear anywhere in the text. At the same time everything described in the NERP – the huge trade deficit, a public sector funded to 70 percent by border taxes, recent GDP growth – is the direct consequence of the migration that took place many years ago. There is no discussion of what policies – education, social and foreign policy – might make regular migration from Kosovo to the EU possible. This created the lifeline of remittances that keeps Kosovo households – and the public sector – afloat today. This is the lifeline that the EU has tried to cut since 1999, making it increasingly difficult for Kosovars to migrate to work.

This is a dangerous omission. But it is not surprising. In the current Kosovo government programme “migration” is discussed only under the heading “diaspora”, as a foreign, not an economic development issue.

“Promotion of Kosovo Diaspora and realization of objectives arising from Strategy on Diaspora and Migration 2013-2018, which is related to the preservation of national and cultural identity of Diaspora, to creation of conditions for the participation of Diaspora in the political and social life and their representation in decision-making institutions of the country, integrating them in countries where they live, as well as involvement of Diaspora in socioeconomic development of the country.

Kosovo Government Programme 2015-2018

This half sentence is not followed by any concrete policy measure.

The pressure on Kosovars to look (legally or illegally) for work and income elsewhere will grow ever stronger in coming years. How strong this pressure is already has recently become obvious to policy makers in the EU and in Kosovo.

ESI argues that the European Union, instead of simply opposing this pressure, should try to channel it in mutually beneficial ways. Illegal and irregular migration needs to be stopped, but opportunities for regular, or circular work migration need to be opened. This will also require a major effort on the part of Kosovo authorities in many policy fields, starting in education policy.

The first paragraph of the NERP euphemistically refers to “the country’s rather specific development model.” What is today specific about this model is that it is not about development in Kosovo at all. As the NERP notes, Kosovo experienced growth:

“… based on strong remittances and FDI inflows from diaspora that boost domestic demand through household consumption and investments channelled primarily into the non-tradable sector, such as real estate and services.”

This is growth dependent on wage earners in Germany, Switzerland or Austria with links to family members resident in Kosovo. The NERP refers to some risks:

“The existing growth model of the country based on large financial inflows is associated with significant risks. On the short run, the main risk factor would be a sudden fall of these inflows – caused by unfavourable economic developments in countries with the largest Kosovo diaspora – and its negative consequences for growth, public finances, and external and financial sector stability.”

But then it falls silent. It does not discuss the role of EU policies that try to prevent further migration.

Young Europeans – but not part of Europe today
Young Europeans – but not part of Europe today

The NERP is an interesting document. More will be said on this blog later on its recommendations to increase exports. But the main value of the NERP lies in showing what many prefer to forget: while migration alone is no development policy, without migration Kosovo has no medium term economic future. Simply put:

The Kosovo “growth model”

Workers abroad, with family in Kosovo  SEND Money that fuels local consumption. This funds imports. Taxation of these imports is the core of public revenues

EU member state policy

STOP Kosovars moving abroad to work illegally
CLOSE most possibilities to move to work abroad legally

Greatest risk to Kosovo “growth model”

Current EU member state policy succeeding.

In order to develop a credible migration policy, the vital importance of migration needs to be acknowledged first, including in the NERP. It is never too late.

Looking for workers with specific skills: www.make-it-in-germany.com
Looking for workers with specific skills: www.make-it-in-germany.com

Further reading:


[1]  Estonia: 1.3 million. Kosovo 1.8 million.

[2] The definition of FDI according to the World Bank: “Foreign direct investment are the net inflows of investment to acquire a lasting management interest (10 percent or more of voting stock) in an enterprise operating in an economy other than that of the investor.”

Filed under: Balkans,Europe,Kosovo,Writing well — Gerald @ 8:47 pm

They are the two most memorable words for texts that are best forgotten: Gibberish and Gobbledygook.

“Gibberish or gobbledygook refer to speech or other use of language that is nonsense, or that appears to be nonsense. It may include speech sounds that are not actual words, or forms such as language games or highly specialized jargon that seems nonsensical to outsiders.” (Wikipedia)

As Glenn Seaborg explained one theory in 1980 in “Our heritage of the elements”:

“… gibberish comes from the name of the famous 8th-century Islamic alchemist Jābir ibn Hayyān, whose name was Latinized as “Geber”, thus the term “gibberish” arose as a reference to the incomprehensible technical jargon often used by Jabir and other alchemists who followed.”

Jabir ibn Hayyan alias Geber
Jabir ibn Hayyan alias Geber

There is no particular reason why texts about economic development should be either gibberish or gobbledygook. And yet, quite a lot of what was written by the European Commission on the economic development in the Balkans in recent years might qualify.

Take a look at the “EU Candidate & Potential Candidate Countries’ Economic Quarterly” published regularly by the Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs (ECFIN) of the European Commission.

The report in late 2014 described trends in the “real sector” of Bosnia and Herzegovina as follows:

“The economic upturn throughout 2013 and the first quarter of 2014 came abruptly to a halt in the second quarter of 2014 mainly as a result of the heavy spring floods. Accordingly, GDP growth slipped into a negative territory by 0.5% y-o-y after expanding by 3.2% in the previous quarter. Going further, preliminary data for the third quarter released by the statistical agency indicate GDP growth to have marginally turned positive (0.6% y-o-y). Similarly, high-frequency indicators for July-October 2014 point towards a modest revival of economic activity with the country-wide industrial production up by 1% yo-y, before turning negative again in November. In particular, the mining and quarrying sector as well as the utility sector registered the largest output contraction y-o-y, -1% and 10.7%, respectively, while the manufacturing sector posted the largest output increase (4.4%). The slump of domestic demand in the second quarter of 2014 started to reverse in July September with the growth of retail sales speeding up by 2.1% y-o-y and even accelerate in October-November to 7.8% y-o-y, well above the expansion of 4.6% in 2013.”

Already at first glance this breaks the basic rule of writing well: the writer is making the reader work too hard.

At second glance, once one begins to analyse this paragraph, it turns out that its meaning is elusive … or, in plain language, this makes little sense. Read this once, twice, three times, and then ask yourself: what has been happening in the Bosnian real sector in 2014, compared to 2013? There was a flood, and the economy suffered: but what do all these quarterly variations add up to? (Note that this paragraph is all the quarterly report tells the reader about the Bosnian real sector in late 2014.)


Or take this analysis of “monetary developments in Kosovo” in early 2015:

“Consumer prices started declining in December 2014 (-0.5% y/y) and continued on a downward trajectory by February (-0.2% y/y). The decline in the price index was almost completely influenced by decreasing prices of transport and education. On the other hand, 65.7% of the CPI components have actually been increasing; most notably food 2.1% y/y, energy 7.4% y/y etc.”

The reader understands that 65.7 percent of the prices of the components of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) have increased (one assumes in February), and (one assumes) 34.3 percent of the prices have not. One learns that there have been (monthly) decreases in the “prices of education” in January and February 2015, though what that means is elusive. There is no explanation which costs of education are included in the Consumer Price Index. Or why any of this matters and to whom. And what the etc. at the end refers to.

The economic sections of progress reports, which the European Commission publishes every autumn to evaluate accession countries, have also been written by ECFIN. The following paragraph is from the 2013 annual report on Macedonia. It invites readers to meditate on the meaning of words and numbers:

“Fiscal discipline was relaxed in 2012, and the quality of public spending deteriorated further. The general government budget deficit reached 3.8%, thus overshooting even the revised deficit target, which the authorities had raised by 1 percentage point to 3.5% in autumn. Another budget rebalancing reduced mainly investment spending, due to severe revenue shortfalls. Total expenditure as share of GDP rose from 31% in 2011 to 34% in 2012, and is estimated to reach 35% in 2013. The primary government budget deficit rose to 3.1% of GDP in 2012, compared to 1.7% in 2011. Capital spending was almost unchanged in 2012 compared to 2011, at 12% of total expenditure, or just over 4% of GDP, projected to decline to 11.3% of total expenditure in 2013, or 3.9% of GDP. The share of social transfers in total expenditure declined slightly in 2012, to 44.7% from 45.2% a year earlier, and is projected to stay largely unchanged in 2013. As a share of GDP, social transfers increased somewhat, to 15% of GDP, up by 0.4 percentage points.”

This creates an illusion of meaning. The reader is offered fourteen facts:

General government deficit target (2012)
Revised general government deficit target (2012)
Actual general government deficit (2012)   
2.5 per cent
3.5 percent
3.8 percent
Total expenditure as share of GDP (2011)
Total expenditure as share of GDP (2012)
Total expenditure as share of GDP (2013 expected)  
31 percent
34 percent
35 percent
Primary government budget deficit (2011)
Primary government budget deficit (2012)   
1.7 percent
3.1 percent
Capital spending as share of total spending (2011)
Capital spending as share of total spending (2012)
Capital spending as share of total spending (2013)
12 percent
12 percent (4 percent of GDP)
11.3 percent (3.9 percent of GDP)
Social transfers in total expenditure (2011)
Social transfers in total expenditure (2012)
Social transfers in total expenditure (2013 projected)
45.2 percent (14.6 percent GDP)
44.7 percent (15 percent GDP)
44.7 percent

What does all of this mean? The reader learns that

  • Fiscal discipline was relaxed and that “the general government deficit grew more than expected”; (two ways to say the same thing)
  • The reason for this: a severe revenue shortfall.
  • In response to this shortfall the government REDUCED investment spending but “capital spending was unchanged.”
  • Meanwhile total government expenditure ROSE.
  • And the share of social transfers in expenditure DECLINED.

So what actually happened in Macedonia?

The government did not collect as many revenues as it had planned. It then reduced investment spending. Social transfers declined as a share of expenditure. Total government expenditure rose. What type of spending increase explains the remarkable increase (by 3 per cent of total GDP!) in government spending? On this, there is nothing. We learn that the “quality of public spending deteriorated further,” a point that is never explained.


The truth about markets Money
Lucid writing on economics

During such meetings I also quoted positive examples of good writing. Oxford professor and FT columnist John Kay on markets. My friend Felix Martin on money. The Dutch Central Bank, describing the “faltering Dutch economy” in its 2012 annual report (page 15). You do not need a PhD in economics to understand the annual reports by the European Central Bank either:

“The economic and financial crisis has reduced euro area potential output via two main channels: lower investment and higher structural unemployment.

First, during the most severe phase of the crisis, investment rates declined considerably, with financing conditions, such as terms and availability of credit, worsening in particular. Increased economic and political uncertainty and an unfavourable economic outlook made it more difficult to assess investment projects and lowered the expected rate of return on investments. High indebtedness of non-financial corporations in some euro area countries also made deleveraging necessary, further reducing credit demand.

Second, the crisis has also led to an increase in short to medium-term structural unemployment rates, indicated by the rise in long-term unemployment and an increase in skill mismatches. The unemployment rate of low-skilled workers has increased more than that of high-skilled workers, largely because the crisis triggered a sectoral relocation in many euro area economies, in particular a shift away from the construction sector. As it may be difficult for low-skilled workers dismissed from one sector to find jobs in other sectors, and as their human capital progressively erodes with the duration of unemployment, structural unemployment rates may remain elevated for an extended period.”

(ECB, 2014 Annual Report, page 23).

Fortunately, during 2014 awareness of the problem posed by unclear writing on economic trends has increased in many EU policy circles. There is good reason to expect that future writing by the European Commission (and ECFIN) on the economies of accession countries will be less impenetrable. (It may also be worth considering a thorough reform – or even a discontinuation – of these quarterly reports: http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/db_indicators/cpaceq/index_en.htm)

PS: To add one useful example when it comes to writing about economic trends in the Balkans – certainly for the economic section in the next Kosovo progress report of the European Commission – look here: 2015 Kosovo NERP.

Filed under: Balkans,Books,Bosnia,Economics,Macedonia,Stickiness,Writing well — Gerald @ 8:29 pm
27 November 2014

A crisis of trust

The ESI Roadmap Proposal for Enlargement

Belgrade presentation, November 2014

The ESI future of enlargement project is supported by ERSTE Stiftung in Vienna


Every year the European Commission publishes its Enlargement Strategy. The 2014 Enlargement Strategy, presented in  October, starts out on a very optimistic note with the following sentence:

Belgrade - ESI Roadmap Proposal - Nov 2014 - Gerald Knaus_Seite_01

This assertion raises questions, though. How does the Commission measure the credibility of enlargement policy? For whom is enlargement policy more credible today than five years ago?

Here is a reality check. Eurobarometer surveys in 2008 and 2013 show growing opposition to enlargement in every single EU member state: old and new, rich and poor, those hit hard by the global economic crisis in 2008 and those relatively unscathed.

Enlargement has never been less popular in the EU than now. The 2013 Eurobarometer survey shows that an absolute majority of EU citizens oppose further enlargement (52 per cent). Opposition is stronger among euro area respondents (60 per cent). This table shows the significant lack of support for enlargement:

Belgrade - ESI Roadmap Proposal - Nov 2014 - Gerald Knaus_Seite_04

What is even more striking is the overarching TREND in the past five years: a dramatic drop in support across the EU. .

The fall in support for enlargement is sharpest in traditionally pro-enlargement countries such as Italy (where opposition to enlargement increased by 22 percentage points) or Spain (21). Post-2004 EU members, who initially were less sceptical, are rapidly catching up with pre-2004 members. The changes in Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are dramatic.

Here opposition to enlargement has increased most since 2008:

Belgrade - ESI Roadmap Proposal - Nov 2014 - Gerald Knaus_Seite_05

What about the second claim in the opening sentence: that the European Commission has enhanced the TRANSFORMATIVE power of enlargement policy?

Here is a second reality check. Every year the European Commission assesses progress and the state of alignment with EU rules and norms (the acquis) in its annual Progress Reports. It examines for all accession countries whether the alignment in each policy area is “advanced”, “moderate” or at an “early stage.”

Here is what the Commission found in 2013:

Belgrade - ESI Roadmap Proposal - Nov 2014 - Gerald Knaus_Seite_06

 And here is what the European Commission found for 2014:

Belgrade - ESI Roadmap Proposal - Nov 2014 - Gerald Knaus_Seite_07

Comparing these two tables, based on the European Commissions’ own assessment of progress, on the TRANSFORMATIVE impact of the enlargement process, we see the following:

First: there is very little change anywhere.

Second: in the case of Macedonia the Commission finds regression (from 9 to 8 “advanced” chapters).

Third: in the case of Serbia – which also opened accession talks in January  – the Commission finds no change at all!

Either the EU process is not actually transformative or the current way in which the European Commission measures transformation in its progress reports is inadequate. Or both. Regardless, the most important documents written by the European Commission to show transformative impact of the enlargement process do not support the sunny view of the Strategy paper.

There is a second striking sentence in the 2014 Enlargement Strategy:

Belgrade - ESI Roadmap Proposal - Nov 2014 - Gerald Knaus_Seite_02This is a standard claim, made by EU member states and by the European Commission. On 7 June 2014 the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, made a video podcast on Western Balkan enlargement in which she asserted: “There are very clear criteria for the steps needed to move closer to the EU. In the end it is up to each country whether they pass through this process rapidly or not.” The message: “the process is fair. It depends on merit. It depends on you.”

Is this claim convincing?

Look again at the 2014 assessment by the Commission. Macedonia, which became an EU candidate in 2005, is ahead of all other Balkan countries when it comes to its alignment with the acquis according to the European Commission. And yet it is behind Montenegro, Serbia and Albania when it comes to accession. Clearly this is NOT about merit.

Is Macedonia an exceptional case? Hardly. As bilateral vetoes have proliferated, the political nature of every single step in this process has become ever more obvious.

Belgrade - ESI Roadmap Proposal - Nov 2014 - Gerald Knaus_Seite_01

In fact, the problem of merit and fairness goes very deep.  Today the accession process is like a stairways with more than 70 steps: to obtain candidate statue, to open accession talks, to open (34 or 35) chapters, to close chapters; then ratification and finally accession. (Note: one could count many more small steps, including the adoption of screening reports, etc …)

For each step up thes estairways there are 28 gatekeepers, EU member states, which have to agree to EACH step taken. And these 28 decide on the basis of political criteria, not merit. Whether Turkey opens Chapter 23, or when and whether Albania, Serbia or Montenegro are allowed to open a chapter, or Macedonia starts accession talks, are all political decisions.

This image captures accession today: a stairways that may well appear to be a stairway to nowhere, given the many veto points and the huge potential for obstruction.

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There is one more striking fact about this stairways that renders the current debate on accession puzzling.

Half of these stairs are linked to the “opening of chapters”.  In fact, much of the political debate on enlargement today is focused on chapters: how many get opened, and when.  But few people – including experts or journalists – ever ask themselves: what is the POINT of “opening a chapter”? What does it mean? What does it do?

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 Take the case of Turkey, the most advanced country in its talks, having started in 2005, as an illustration. In 2014 Turkey had 14 open and 18 closed chapters (we leave two chapters, where the Commission provides no assessment of alignment, out of this table here – chapters 23 and 34).

As the following table – based on the Commission’s own assessments in its progress report – shows, there is no causal or other link between the alignment (state of progress) in a sector and whether a chapter is open or closed. This means: whether a country has many or few open chapters is no indicator of where it is in terms of its preparedness for EU accession.

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What is no less surprising: opening chapters is not only not a yardstick of progress; it is also not an incentive to make more progress in the future. This is what the European Commission found in Turkey in 2013: there was MORE progress in closed than in open chapters in Turkey during the year.

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This raises a basic question: why is it so important to open chapters? Having many open chapters does not indicate progress towards meeeting EU standards. Having many open chapters also does not make future progress more likely.

A recent study of EU-Turkey relations made the following  strong recommendation:

“In the light of the above it is stated that opening the chapters Energy (15), Judiciary and Fundamental Rights (23), Justice, Freedoms and Security (24) and Foreign, Security and Defense Policies (31) would facilitate Turkey’s drawing a robust road map under the EU umbrella at a time when the country faces three successive elections.”

This is the conventional wisdom, repeated in conference after conference, article after article. However, it is not explained HOW opening a chapter is crucial for either the EU or for Turkey; why a Turkish citizen, or a sceptical EU member state parliamentarian, should consider this significant.

In summer 2013 there was a heated debate in Turkey and in the EU whether to open a new chapter after many year in which none were opened: Chapter 22 (regional policy). There were many statements by politicians about how important this would be. Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s chief negotiator, explained in April 2013:

“Since no new chapter has been opened, I have kindly asked our prime minister to slow down everything until a new chapter is opened. I thank him for having done that. Now the process for the opening of the regional policies chapter has begun.”

Foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated:

“No postponement or review of the decision to open it is possible. As we said before during the reform follow-up group meeting, we want not only the chapter 22 to open but also the chapters 23 and 24.”

The German government, on the other hand, insisted on delaying the opening until after summer 2013. In the end chapter 22 was formally opened in the autumn.  Leaders – and international media – spoke about this as if something significant had happened (Die Welt:  “Accession talks gain new momentum”)

In fact, following a meeting – the so-called Intergovernmental Conference – when it was declared that Chapter 22 was now “open”, nothing else happened. There was no additional meeting. There was no additional funding. There was no additional impetus for reform. The “opening” was political theater, for one day. It had no link to merit, criteria, or progress. Ultimately it made no difference.

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We can now  easily understand how all these dynamics create a deeply frustrating and dysfunctional process.

In the face of growing public opposition, many EU leaders have given up defending enlargement policy. Seen from Brussels, Berlin, Paris or The Hague, the current group of candidates are problematic. They are poorer, have weaker institutions and are more politically polarised than any previous group of applicants. This has created a vicious cycle. As enlargement loses popularity in EU member states, EU leaders try to reassure their voters that the process is stricter than ever. Yet as the hurdles to be jumped appear more and more arbitrary, candidate countries find it harder to take difficult decisions in pursuit of a goal that is increasingly distant and uncertain. The stairways approach makes vetoes extremely easy. And the public debate is focused on whether chapters are open or closed, not on whether reforms are taking place.

This is not enlargement “fatigue”, suggesting a temporary state of exhaustion. It is a chronic ailment, which is getting worse.

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And at the heart of this frustration are the annual Progress Reports. As ESI found, discussing these in many European capitals during the past year, few people, even EU foreign ministry officials, read these carefully. The reports are not doing a convincing job measuring progress. They do not allow for comparisons between countries in any operationally meaningful detail. They do not educate the public about what needs to happen. Above all they do not make real transformation – if it happens – visible also to sceptics. It is as if everyone – reformers in candidate countries, publics, policy makers in the EU – is proceeding through thick fog.

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Such a proces increases frustrations. We have called this the Godot effect. It is today most pronounced in Macedonia and Turkey. However, unless the process change we may anticipate that something similar could soon happen in Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, as cynicism increases. In Bosnia and Kosovo, there is today frustration, cynicism and apathy before any EU accession process has even begun. Bosnia has not yet applied for accession. Kosovo is not even able to apply.

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 So what is to be done? In order to answer this question let us imagine a very different approach to defining and assessing progress; one that is strict, fair and transparent. A process as follows:

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To imagine such a process is not to daydream. For this is how the Commission has acted for years in the context of visa liberalisation.

In this crucial area ALL countries in the Balkans were given precise visa roadmaps with dozens of benchmarks. These roadmaps set out clearly what the Commission expected. They listed all individual criteria. There were no short cuts. And these roadmps, based on the acquis, were essentially the same for all countries, and thus progress easily compared.

The Commission then organised a serious monitoring and assessment effort. This involved experts from the Commission and from member states.  Based on their findings detailed progress assessments were issued.

The whole process was developed by the Directorate General for Home Affairs together with the Directorate General for Enlargement. And it worked. It inspired many reforms. It made it possible to see where real reforms happened … and when they did not. Above all it convinced even sceptical EU interior ministers that when the Commission did find progress they could trust it.


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In fact, in October 2014, while DG enlargement published its regular progress reports, another part of the Commission also published a detailed document on progress made in the field of visa liberalisation by Turkey. It offers a clear, readable, strict and fair description of where Turkey stands. Each benchmark is assessed, using the following categories:


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The result of such a strict, fair, and meritocratic process in the case of the Western Balkans was to inspire civil servants. It was also clear to them what needed to be done. All countries were assessed based on the same criteria. It was possible to make transformations visible; even in special grade reports, that ESI issued at the time, based on the Commission experts’ assessments:

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We can compare the thoroughness of this process with the current assessment of progress in key chapters in the Progress Reports.  Let us take just one subject, Chapter 18 (Statistics).

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Look at the current assessment of progress in the field of statistics in Turkey, which has been in this process the longest. In 2014 the European Commission published just four short paragraphs, about half a page, on this chapter in the Turkey progress report.  A reader does not understand from this how far Turkey has come, what remains to be done to reach EU standards, or in what specific areas most efforts are still needed. Nor can one see how Turkey compares to other candidates.

This is surprising for many reasons:

1. The recent experience with Greece. Following the discovery of just how unreliable key statistics provided by the National Statistical Service of Greece (NSSG) had been before 2010, a new statistical agency, ELSTAT, was created. This was a priority for reform for the EU!

One might expect the EU to be just as keen to see all Balkan countries reach EU standards for all their key statistics, as soon as possible, and well before actually joining the EU, in order to be able to develop a credible track record.

2. The importance given to “economic governance” in the accession process. Without reliable economic statistics, from GDP per capita to employment, from the FDI stock to exports, discussions of economic governance in progress reports are of little use; and any evidence-based policy making on the part of governments is very hard.

3. One objective of the annual progress reports is to assess whether a country is a “functioning market economy” or FU-MAR-E. How can this be done without comparable and solid numbers and statistics?

The sooner all accession countries reach EU standards in the field of statistics the better. Now imagine a scenario where the European Commission draws up a roadmap for Chapter 18, gives it to every country, and thus spells out what all the key benchmarks for a future EU member are … and then assesses the state of affairs against these benchmarks every year with the help of experts, in order to produce a document on statistics that is similar to the recent October report the Commission produced for the Council and the European Parliament on visa liberalisation.


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The current EU accession process has not halted the erosion of trust in the policy since 2008. It has not led to measurable transformative impact in key policy areas. The visa roadmap process, on the other hand, has inspired and encouraged change. It has also – crucially – made this change visible and credible to sceptical outsiders.


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Given these experiences ESI proposes to the European Commission to put the idea of chapter roadmaps to the test as soon as possible.

We propose that DG enlargement develops four pilot roadmaps, and then assess progress in these four fields similar to the way the Commission has done with visa roadmaps; for all accession countries,  already in the 2015 Progress Reports: Statistics (fundamental for economic governance), Procurement (central to progress in the rule of law and the fight against corruption), food safety (key to attract FDI in a vital sector) and Financial Control.

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Giving such chapter roadmaps to all seven countries, and assessing them by reference to these benchmarks in 2015, would mark a small but very important improvement in the current process of writing progress reports.

One additional effect would be similar to the regional competition we have seen in the field of visa liberalisation. Or to the debates on public policy triggered by the Paris-based OECD with its regular publication of results of its PISA tests in the field of education.

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ESI has recently presented these ideas in many capitals. Here are five of the most frequently asked questions concerning this  CHAPTER ROADMAP PROPOSAL

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The first question often posed concerns incentives. In the case of visa roadmaps, we hear, there was a clear “reward” at the end of the road: visa liberalisation. This was popular with the broader public. Would elites and civil servants in accession countries be equally motivated to carry out reforms in fields such as Statistics or Procurement, without a similar tangible reward?

We believe that this question puts the issue of incentives upside down.

When elected governments say that they want their countries to join the EU as a matter of national interest – and embark on a many-years-long process that requires work, focus, human resources, and that remains uncertain until the very end – they state that they have an intrinsic motivation to carry out reforms. The notion that the EU should “bribe” governments to incentivise them to carry out reforms on this path is wrong. Governments that need to be bribed in such a blunt manner should never apply, and simply risk being exposed as uninterested in the EU accession process. Then it depends on publics and voters who they will react.

The EU acccession process is more similar to a young football player being offered a place at La Masia, the famous football school of FC Barcelona; or to a budding entrepreneur admitted to Harvard Business School.

People do not get paid to submit themselves to rigorous training at these institutions of excellence. Instead they have to work hard. If they do not have intrinsic motivation this will become apparent very quickly, but in a fair manner.

However, no one would think that a young footballer might just as well practice all by himself in the street, rather than benefit from the training system of La Masia; or that a great business school has nothing to offer to those who come prepared to work hard. What such centers offer is excellent coaching by experts, precise feedback, a system of instruction that will make those who take part better at what they say they want to do in the future.

Of course there are also more specific rewards: prestige and certificates to validate progress. In the case of chapter roadmaps more FDI – if investors believe that institutions and rules are becoming more predictable.  One can even imagine more donor aid for those who perform best. But the real reward is for leaders – and civil servants, who do most of the extra work and are not paid more for it – to feel that what they do is taking their countries forward; that is makes sense for their country and for them professionally. For this incentives must be intrinsic.

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Can such chapter roadmaps be done for every chapter? No. We believe that they cannot be done for some chapters where there is no clear acquis (Chapter 23 or Chapter 30).

But this does not mean it cannot or should not be done for most chapters.

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Does such a roadmap-approach encourage superficial reforms? Not if the roadmap – like visa roadmaps – is done well, and measures not just laws but institutions and performance. Then it becomes a very good tool also to assess progress over time and track records.

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Is this a dramatic change in enlargement policy?

No. Member state do not lose their veto. They still have to agree – unanimously – to give candidate status, to open accession talks, to open chapters, to close chapters. However in the meantime the Commission helps these students get better … and provides member states with more information and feedback to assess how accession countries do.

Such an approach allows the European Commission to do better what it is already doing and already has a mandate for:  assess annual progress according to the Copenhagen criteria in all countries in a strict and fair manner, provide feedback, and encourage reform.

Such a change puts the substance of actual reform back at the heart of the accession process. This is  win-win situation for everyone.

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Not everything will be in such roadmaps. Some reforms only make sense just before accession. The aquis changes, so it also makes sense to adapt roadmaps every two years. It is always possible for member states to insist on additional reforms as preconditions for them allowing a chapter to be closed (or even opened, though this can both happen at the same time later; Croatia actually opened and closed a number of chapters all in the final year of its talks).

These chapter roadmaps would likely capture 95 percent of reforms needed in key areas.  This would be a flexible tool (fishery benchmarks might be of different importance in landlocked Macedonia than in Turkey), but in the end the idea is that the acquis is the same for all future members, as they are all heading for the same horizon.

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The past five years have seen a steady erosion of trust in enlargement across the EU and in many accession countries.

Turkey has been negotiating since 2005 and has not yet opened even half its chapters.

Macedonia is a candidate since 2005 and has not yet been given a date even to open talks.

Albania became a candidate this year, but has been warned already that it could be years away from opening accession talks.

Bosnia and Herzegovina concluded its negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement in 2008 without seeing the agreement enter into force.

To an increasing number of people in accession countries the current process appears to be a stairway to nowhere. And yet, reforms in all these countries are in the interests of their citizens. They are also in the interests of the EU. As the new Commission reassesses how it can best promote reforms, we believe it should seriously look at what has worked in recent years.

We believe that improving the work that goes into the progress reports does not constitute a change in enlargement policy, and that therefore the European Commission can act on its own to improve what it is already doing. However, such a change does alter the way the Commission works. It is a real challenge, and it makes sense to implement it gradually, testing it along the way. It remains to be seen whether the new European Commission is able to carry out such reforms.

For the sake of all Europeans, we can only hope it is.

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Belgrade - ESI Roadmap Proposal - Nov 2014 - Gerald Knaus_Seite_01



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Belgrade - ESI Roadmap Proposal - Nov 2014 - Gerald Knaus_Seite_01

Earlier presentation:

See also:

Filed under: Albania,Balkans,Bosnia,Enlargement,Europe,Macedonia,Turkey,Visa — Gerald @ 7:19 pm
12 October 2014

Yannis Boutaris, Mayor of Thessaloniki

Sometimes you meet a person that is a force of nature. A person of convictions, with the modesty that comes from true charisma and the confidence that comes from not having to pretend. A person inspiring others by personal example, making words like engagement, citizenship and dignity shine in all their splendour. Somebody who makes you feel proud to belong to their generation. And who makes you wonder whether you are really doing enough yourself.

In recent weeks I felt this sense of awe working on old and new European dissidents. Meeting Khadija Ismayil and other human rights defenders from Azerbaijan, has this effect. So does rereading the writings of Havel, of the Russian Memorial generation of human rights defenders, of Adam Michnik and other Poles of his generation.

And so does meeting the mayor of Thessaloniki, Yannis Boutaris, to talk about what is possible in local politics at a moment of deep crisis. In a city shaped by decades of deep conservatism and fear of neighbours, from the Cold War to the Balkan wars of the 1990s and later. 72 years old, chain-smoking, with an ear-ring and tatoos, for decades a succesful entrepeneur, a recovered alcoholic, a long time civic and environmental activists, and now twice elected mayor of Greece’s second city.

I have come here this Sunday at the invitation of the Navarino network, a local civic organisation which has worked for a long time to open Thessaloniki to the world. I am to speak about the state of the Balkans in 2014, about false confidence and complacency.

I tell the tragic story of Soviet dissidents like Sergei Kovalev, who went to jail under Brezhnev, then became government human rights officials, and in 2014 face renewed pressure from their state. It is a tragic story with no happy end, with Russia like that fabled creature from Greek mythology, the Ouroboros: a snake that devours itself. Often history is like this. Too often.

Ouroboros – societies sometimes resemble this ancient creature,
devouring themselves

 I also speak about what Greece – and Thessaloniki – might do to prevent future vicious circles in the Balkans. In the end  I present the ESI proposal for how to address the name dispute with Macedonia.  (see in the annex of this report:  Vladimir and Estragon in Skopje. A fictional conversation on trust and standards and a plea on how to break a vicious circle) The only – encouraging – reaction I get from a big auditorium full of Thessaloniki dignitaries and young people is one comment: “Greece is ready to do this, do you think Skopje is ready?”


Then I meet with Boutaris for an interview. This was already a rich and memorable Sunday. It only got better.

Boutaris explains the value of civic engagement, voluntarism and how he strives to make his city embrace a multiethnic past. He explains how even conservatives silently tell him that they approve of his open support for gay pride … though lack the courage to say so openly. He explains why opening to Turkey, Israel and Jews across the world is vital for his city, given its history. And why having a Holocaust museum (at a cost of an estimated 25 million Euro, the design has already been done) will be so important.

How he is happy to have a Durres Park in the city now, and hopes to build many more links with other Balkan cities. How reaching out to Izmir is vital – proposing to have “days of Izmir” in Thessaloniki, and “days of Thessaloniki” there. Why having a Muslim cemetary is the most obvious thing in a city like Thessaloniki. How “Turks are our bothers and Europeans are our partners.” And how, as a Vlach, he recognises the common regional heritage when he visits the village of his ancestors in today’s Republic of Macedonia near Krusevo.

He explains how it is possible to cut the public administration (from 5,000, when he came into office in 2011 to 3,500 today) and reduce the deficit, while moving towards green urbanism and a different traffic policy. How he is encouraged that the number of bicycle shops has gone from 2 to more than 20 in a few years. And how much remains to be done.  How he has worked to encourage budget flight connections and direct links by ferries to his city, with increasing success. How this has resulted in sharply rising numbers of foreign visitors.

How his political goal is to make people proud of this, their liberal and open city. With the new slogan “I love my city and adopt my neighbourhood.” How he hopes city employees will be able to walk in the streets and citizens will respect them for their honesty and competence.

Remember: this is Greece, the EU country in its deepest economic and social crisis in decades. This is the country where the self-proclaimed fascists of Golden Dawn won 16 percent in recent local elections in Athens. With a prime minister who made his name by fostering nationalism in the early 1990s. A country all too often described in the foreign press as a hopeless case, a patient at best, an ungrateful recipient of aid at worst.

But this is also now the Greece of Boutaris and the cosmopolitanism of the new Thessaloniki.

When he became mayor, he tells me, Thessaloniki had a number of big taboos, including Turkey and the Jewish history of the town (where Jews were the largest ethnic group until 1912 and the port was closed on the Sabbath). Not long ago the City Council declared Mark Mazower, author of the great book Salonica, symbolically a persona non grata – for having described the multiethnic past of the city. This was the time when the local bishop called on people not to vote for Boutaris.

Now Boutaris looks forward to the day when citizens of Thessaloniki will be proud of the history of their city, as described in Mazower’s book. The book ends with the observation, true for all of Europe:

“As small states integrate themselves in a wider world, and even the largest learn how much they need their neighbours’ help to tackle the problems that face them all, the stringently patrolled and narrow-minded conception of history which they once nurtured and which gave them a kind of justification starts to look less plausible and less necessary. Other futures may require other pasts.

The history of the nationalists is all about false continuities and convenient silences, the fictions necessary to tell the story of the rendez-vous of a chosen people with the land marked out for them by destiny. It is an odd and implausible version of the past …”

As Boutaris tells it, being open to the past and to others is simple good sense: “if you accept differences, life is better”. This explains his support for gay pride in this orthodox city, and how he sees attidues changing. He talks about this priorities for the second term: moving towards a green city, a city in which “rich people are proud to take public transport” instead of poor people required to have a car.

When we made the 2008 ESI film on Thessaloniki Boutaris was still in opposition. Now he has been twice elected. The first time by the narrrowest of margins (some 300 votes). The second time with a clear and strong majority and 58 percent. In some elections ever single vote matters. Civic engagement matters. Having convictions matters. And fighting for them for decades can bring results.

If Bosnia had just one mayor like this in one of its big cities, ideally young and full of eneregy, so that he or she could then go on to show what is possible: the country might be a different place If only Greece or Turkey had more independents, former entrepreneurs and social activists, entering politics like this.

Thessaloniki, thank you for the inspiration. It is great to be back.


PS: Some further reading:

Thessaloniki’s exemplary revival:

“The mayor’s greatest legacy, however, may be the city’s much-improved performance in tourism. However, his unconventional approach has made him some enemies among traditionalists. Between end-2010 and end-2013, Thessaloniki achieved 19% growth in tourist arrivals according to data from the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), compared with a decline of 13% for Athens over the same period.

To a great extent, this has been achieved through approaching a “traditional enemy” such as Turkey as a potential tourism market, leading to allegations that the mayor was “serving foreign interests”. Mr Boutaris is unapologetic about his bid to present Thessaloniki as a Balkan “melting pot”, stressing the city’s multi-ethnic history, a place where Greeks, Turks, Jews and Slavs lived together until the upheavals of the early 20th century, when the Turks left, the Greeks from Asia Minor arrived and the Jewish population was decimated in the Holocaust. The attraction of Thessaloniki to Turkish visitors stems from the fact that it is the birthplace of Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the modern Turkish state. In addition, the Boutaris administration has made much of the fact that for centuries Thessaloniki had a large and vibrant Sephardic Jewish community. In broadening the city’s tourism profile, a previously rather claustrophobic city is starting to become a more open one, embracing its multicultural past.

The rebranding of Thessaloniki based on this new perception of its past has managed to increase the influx of visitors from Turkey and from Israel. Overnight stays at the city’s hotels increased during the past four years by 226% for Turks and 358% for Israelis, reaching 80,000 and 50,000, respectively, by the end of 2013. Coinciding with a period of deepening national economic crisis, the tourism revival has been welcome. The shift in public opinion in the city has been radical, and previous detractors now firmly support a similar rapprochement with all neighbouring countries … “

Meeting the Mayor


Presenting on the Balkans in 2014



18 June 2014


Sometimes a simple idea has the potential to have a lot of impact. Here is one simple idea for the day, split into three concrete recommendations:

a. the European Commission – and in particular DG enlargement – ask all Western Balkan countries to take the regular PISA tests of the OECD, as one important way to assess whether in the future their economies will be able to “withstand competitive pressure” – which is one of the 1993 Copenhagen criteria.

b. the European Commission includes the scores of PISA as one of its main indicators in the annual progress report section on economic criteria – and includes a table comparing the performance of countries in the region with the rest of the EU.

c. civil society organisations in Balkan countries use this as a trigger to launch a broader debate in their countries on the quality and importance of education in national debates. Both of which are currently – to put it mildly – sub-optimal for countries trying to converge with a much more prosperous European Union.

This morning I met senior people in DG Enlargement in Brussels and made this proposal. I also made it in many recent presentations with EU ambassadors and EU officials in Paris, Skopje, Zagreb, The Hague, Berlin, Rome, Ankara and Istanbul. And as a result of some feedback I am increasingly hopeful on the first and second recommendation above. (This in turn will help with recommendation three.)

For more on all this see our forthcoming report on how to assess in future progress reports whether a candidate has a “functioning market economy”. For those impatient now, here are a few core facts:

Background: candidates, potential candidates and PISA

It seems obvious: one of the most important factors contributing to future development of an economy is the quality of the national education system.  And one of the most straightforward ways to launch a debate on this is to look at the OECD’s PISA tests, taken since 2000, every three years in some 65 countries.

Take a look at some recent findings:

PISA results – mathematics 2012

Taiwan (top country)[1]

Netherlands (top EU15 country) 523
Estonia (top EU13 country) 521
Croatia 471
Serbia 449
Turkey 448
Bulgaria (lowest EU country) 439
Montenegro 410
Albania 394
Bosnia and Herzegovina

PISA results – reading 2012

Japan (top country)[2] 538
Finland (top EU15 country) 524
Poland (top EU13 country) 518
Croatia 485
Turkey 475
Serbia 446
Bulgaria (lowest EU country) 436
Montenegro 422
Albania 394
Bosnia and Herzegovina

PISA results – science 2012

Japan (top country)[3] 547
Finland (top EU15 country) 545
Estonia (top EU13 country) 541
Croatia 491
Turkey 463
Serbia 445
Cyprus (lowest EU country) 438
Montenegro 410
Albania 397
Bosnia and Herzegovina


These tables raise many fascinating and important policy questions:

1. How can Albania and Montenegro close the serious gap (serious even compared to other countries in the region)?

2. How can all these countries learn from Estonia or Poland, some of the best performers among former communist countries?

3.  Where would Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina stand if they took the test? (Macedonia took the test in 2000: 381 in math, 401 in science, 373 in reading – abysmal scores I discussed in a recent Rumeli Observer; it is now taking it again for the first time this year).

Of course it would also be useful to have other credible education statistics from ALL candidates and potential candidates that allow for EU-wide and Europe-wide comparisons.
Here are some good statistics which already exist for the EU and some of the candidate countries. Again, they raise interesting policy issues.

They might also – if properly highlighted – trigger more important policy debates.



How many 4 year old are in primary or pre-primary education? In the EU

91.7 % of four year-olds were in pre-primary or primary education across the whole of the EU-27 in 2010. Participation rates of four year-olds in pre-primary or primary education were generally high — national averages of over 95 % in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom; as well as in Iceland and Norway. By contrast, Greece, Poland and Finland reported that fewer than 70 % of four year-olds were enrolled; lower rates were also recorded in the EFTA countries of Liechtenstein and Switzerland, as well as in the acceding and candidate countries of Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey.”

Only national data are available for Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (data for 2010), where rates stood at 57.4 % and 24.0 % respectively. More than half of the 25 level 2 Turkish regions reported that less than 20.0 % of four year-olds participated in pre-primary or primary education in 2011. The lowest participation rate was recorded for the southern Turkish region of Gaziantep, Adıyaman, Kilis (9.7 %), while the second lowest rate was recorded for İstanbul (10.9 %).”[4]


“The number of students aged 17 in education (all levels combined) in the EU-27 in 2010 was 5.2 million, equivalent to 91.7 % of all 17-year-olds. The age of 17 is important as it often marks the age at which young people are faced with a choice between: remaining in education; following some form of training; or looking for a job. The number of 17 year-olds in education relative to the population of 17 year-olds exceeded 80 % in the vast majority of the regions within the EU in 2011, and this pattern was repeated across all of the EFTA regions … As such, for one reason or another, the vast majority of young people aged 17 remained in the education system at or even after the end of compulsory schooling.”

This indicates, for instance, a clear problem in Turkey:

“Among the acceding and candidate country regions, the proportion of 17 year-olds who remained in education was above 80.0 % in Croatia (national data) and three Turkish regions (including the capital city region of Ankara and two north-western regions of Bursa, Eskişehir, Bilecik and Tekirdağ, Edirne, Kırklareli). There were four Turkish regions where the proportion of 17 year-olds who remained in education was 50.0 % or lower — they were all in the south and east of the country, namely: Sanlıurfa, Diyarbakır; Mardin, Batman, Sırnak, Siirt; Ağri, Kars, Iğdir, Ardahan; and Van, Muş, Bitlis, Hakkari. The lowest ratio of 17 year-olds remaining in education was recorded in Van, Mus, Bitlis, Hakkari, where the share was only slightly more than one third (35.5 %) in 2011.

“An indicator that presents information about early leavers from education and training tracks the proportion of individuals aged 18–24 who have finished no more than a lower secondary education, and who are not involved in further education or training: some 13.5 % of 18–24 year-olds in the EU-27 were classified as early leavers from education and training in 2011, with a somewhat higher proportion of male early leavers (15.3 %) compared with female early leavers (11.6 %). Europe’s growth strategy, Europe 2020, has set an EU-27 target for the proportion of early leavers from education and training to be below 10 % by 2020; there are individual targets for each of the Member States that range from 5 % to 29 %.”

Tertiary education:

“Tertiary education is the level of education offered by universities, vocational universities, institutes of technology and other institutions that award academic degrees or professional certificates. In 2010 (the 2009/10 academic year), the number of students enrolled in tertiary education in the EU-27 stood at 19.8 million; this was equivalent to 62.7 % of all persons aged 20–24.

In candidate countries:

“In Turkey there was a particularly high concentration of tertiary students in Bursa, Eskişehir, Bilecik — this may be attributed to there being an open university in Eskişehir, where a high proportion of students are enrolled on distance learning courses. Otherwise, the ratio of students enrolled in tertiary education to residents aged 20–24 was below 60 % for all of the remaining regions in the candidate and accession countries.”

Tertiary attainment

“In 2011, for the EU-27 as a whole, just over one third (34.6 %) of 30–34 year-olds had completed tertiary education. These figures support the premise that a rising proportion of the EU’s population is studying to a higher level — in keeping with one of the Europe 2020 targets, namely, that by 2020 at least 40 % of persons aged 30–34 in the EU-27 should have attained a tertiary level education.”

Again Turkey is backward:

“Bati Anadolu (23.6 %) — which includes the Turkish capital city of Ankara — was the only Turkish region to report that more than one in five of its residents aged 30–34 had attained a tertiary level education. By contrast, the lowest ratios … were recorded for the north-east of Turkey (Kuzeydoğu Anadolu), where only just over 1 in 10 (10.2 %) of the population aged 30–34 had attained a tertiary level education.


One thing should be obvious: if PISA rankings and such tables are seriously discussed in candidate countries, everyone would benefit. And if the EU can manage to encourage a focus on such issues – through its own regular assessments – everyone would gain.

So let us hope that this simple idea will indeed be picked up.


[1] Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong excluded as cities.

[2] Sic.

[3] Sic

[6] Croatia, 2002; Serbia, 2004.

[7] Albania, 2007.

[8] Albania, 2009.


13 March 2014

Lost in the Bosnian labyrinth – five months later

A few months ago ESI published two reports on EU conditionality concerning Bosnia.

These publications were  followed by many reactions.

A number of EU foreign ministers wrote to me to say that they fully agreed with the arguments. So did senior staff in the European Commission. So did senior diplomats in a number of EU member states.  There have  been a lot of Media reactions.

We argued that given other priorities facing Bosnia – social and economic reform being primary – focusing on this issue to the exclusion of almost everything else was simply not a good use of the time of the country’s leading politicians. Nor did it make sense to step into the fray in the way this had been done by the European Commission.

Since we published our reports the debate has started to move, but only very slowly.

Doubts among EU member states have grown.

The European Commission has since given up trying to mediate (we suggested this already in October, arguing that it was extremely unlikely to succeed).

We learned that lawyers working for the Council of Europe were asked to check whether our arguments were legally sound, and that they concluded – internally- that they were.

However, until today Bosnia remains stuck, held hostage by this condition.

In our first report we gave three reasons why we believed that the Commission was not treating Bosnia fairly. We believe they are still valid  5 months later:

  • This is not an issue of institutional “racism”.
    Apartheid South Africa had a racist electoral system. Bosnia does not. Neither does Belgium or South Tyrol, although in both countries legislation requires citizens to declare a community affiliation for certain purposes, similar to Bosnia. However, only in Bosnia is the ethnicity of any individual not defined in official documents. By leaving it up to any individual to determine how to self-identify – and allowing any individual to change this self-identification in the future – the Bosnian system is more liberal than either Belgium’s or South Tyrol’s. Unlike in Cyprus, it is also not tied to any objective criteria such as religion or the ethnicity of parents. In fact, in 2004 the EU endorsed community-based voting and praised the UN Annan plan for Cyprus based on the very principles that Bosnia’s constitution embraces.


  • Bosnia is not violating fundamental human rights.
    The issue at stake in the election of the Bosnian presidency – the most complicated issue to resolve – is not a violation of any rights enumerated by the European Convention on Human Rights itself. It is a violation of Protocol 12 of the Convention, which extends the applicability of non-discrimination from “the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention” to “any right set forth by law”. This protocol has so far been ratified by only 8 out of 28 EU member states.


  • This is not an issue of Bosnia systematically violating its international obligations. Bosnia’s record implementing European Court of Human Rights’ decisions is better than that of most current EU members.


For all these reasons, we noted, non-implementation of the Sejdic-Finci decision cannot justify blocking Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for EU membership. The very reforms that the EU expects from Bosnia have not been asked of other EU applicants, much less of its own member states.

(see also: Not for lack of trying. Chronology of efforts to solve the Sejdic-Finci conundrumInterview with Gerald Knaus in Dnevni Avaz, “Koncept “ostalih” vrlo je čudan” (2 October 2013) – also available in English: “The concept of “others” is very strange”Interview with Gerald Knaus in Dnevni Avaz: “It won’t be Bosnia’s fault if visas are re-imposed” (12 September 2013))


Houdini in Bosnia – How to unlock the EU accession process


Interestingly, our arguments were  also taken seriously by another think tank focusing on Bosnia, DPC, which published a whole paper to address the arguments we made.

The title of the DPC paper is a bit complicated: “Legal Misunderstandings, False normative Hopes  and the Ignorance of Political Reality – A Commentary on the recent ESI Report “Lost in the Bosnian Labyrinth”.

It is clear what is being meant: ESI got it wrong. However, if this was easy to understand, the same could not be said for the rest of the argument (found here: http://democratizationpolicy.org/uimages/DPCPolicyNoteNewseriesSejdicFinci.pdf).

So I sent an email to DPC on 20 November 2013 to take our mutual understanding of the issues one step further. Here it is:

“Hi Bodo,

I just read the DPC paper on our ESI paper on Sejdic Finci.

It is flattering to have a whole policy paper devoted to our paper, but there are some arguments in the text which are perhaps not totally convincing?

I quote a few passages and make a few remarks, wondering what you think.
1. “the paper appears to be an effort to provide an ideological framework for the EU to move beyond its continuing failures in BiH that have enabled local politicians to undo many of the highly-touted reforms put in place prior to 2006, when the EU assumed policy leadership.”
This is puzzling. The author first appears to argue that the EU has failed since 2006, and that our paper provides an “ideological framework” to “move beyond its continuing failures” .. but then he implies that this is bad? How can moving “beyond failure” be a bad thing? And what is an ideological framework here?
(Which “highly-touted” reforms have been undone? This is never explained, just stated.)
2. “ESI compares this case to voting and selection processes in other EU member states, including Belgium, Italy (South Tyrol) and Cyprus, and concludes that similar provisions (sometimes even stricter) are also applied in other EU member states. These states however, are not sanctioned by the EU. Legally speaking, this assessment is correct. However, the devil is in the details.”
If this is “legally speaking correct” – here we agree – how can “details” make it legally incorrect? Or is it “legally correct” but “politically incorrect”? How can that be?
3. “while the Belgian and the South Tyrolean examples also demonstrate some form of discrimination, it is nevertheless a form of positive discrimination. The aim of the power-sharing arrangements in both countries is to allow for minority groups to participate in decision-making. Hence, the legal framework has to be understood in the context of the intended aims of power-sharing mechanisms. In the case of Brussels, it is a mechanism to engage Flemish speakers in the officially bilingual but mainly French-speaking city, and in the case of South Tyrol it gives representation to German and Ladin speakers.”
How is this different from Bosnia where there is a Croat minority?
We note that all the current debates to find a solution to Sejdic Finci turn on how to help the Croats ensure that they can elect “their representative”. Is this so different from Belgium?
Note also that there are many other minorities, including the constituent (in Belgium) group of Germans or other EU residents in South Tyrol, who, in order to participate in some functions, have to declare that they belong to one of the categories presented to them. How is this different from Bosnia?
4. “A political system that is characterized by ethnically exclusive parties does not allow for flexibility.”
This is also puzzling, given that in Belgium all parties are either Flemish or Walloon, and in Bosnia, by contrast, Komsic was elected on the SDP ticket twice. A man from Ghana was the “Croat” ambassador in Japan for Bosnia. Sven Alkalaj, a Croatian citizen and Jew was also member of the government for a (Bosniac or Bosnian?) party. How then can Bosnia be considered less flexible than Belgium?
5. “. What ESI basically suggests is that EU’s conditionality, in particular the ocus on fundamental human rights, should not apply to BiH at this stage”
Where did we suggest this? Which “fundamental human right” should not apply?
6. “The Republika Srpska’s calls for secession have become louder, while Croats undermine the current constitutional framework with their demand for a de facto or de jure third entity. No reform that involves the current elites within the current framework will be able to cure these problems.”
How is this related to Sejdic-Finci? Here it seems that the RS is not the problem (and not even involved in the most recent rounds of talks). The solution that is likely to emerge in the end, and which would address the ECHR’s judgement, could well end up creating a Croat de facto electoral district in the Federation, no? Is this then good or bad?
And if it were true the current elites cannot solve this problem, what should happen instead? It is after all the current elites that are negotiating Sejdic-Finci implementation since 3 years. If they cannot agree and will not agree then everything just stays as it is now. Is this a solution?
7. “But this also means that the unwillingness to reform must be penalised and that Bosnian elites should be punished for non-compliance”
Who is to be punished over Sejdic Finci? Every party has made a proposal, and each proposal meets the conditions by the ECtHR  … it is just that they cannot agree among each other on the one proposal to chose. Should all be punished now?
In short, we understand that there may be disagreements on how important Sejdic Finci is, but the irony is that a deal that might satisfy the EU and the ECtHR and that is actually in sight is one that makes the election of someone like Komsic less, not more, likely. Is this progress in your view?
And if any one of the proposals on the table now IS chosen in the end … would Bosnia”s constitutional or other problems of governance be solved in any meaningful way?
Was this worth the time and effort and resources spent on it for three years now? We doubt this. But if this is not worth it … why continue the current policy, where this has become the number one issue discussed by Bosnian leaders?
Thanks again for taking our paper seriously and taking the time to discuss it in detail, best wishes ,

I received a very polite response within a few days, promising some answers eventually. Since then I have not heard anything. Perhaps the responses will still come.

In the meantime we can just wait until all those in the EU – and inside the European Commission – who know that the current policy is counterproductive begin to speak out in public.




Further reading:


Filed under: Balkans,Bosnia,Enlargement,Europe,Human rights — Gerald @ 6:05 pm
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