Dear friends, in October the European Council refused to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia. Here is an attempt to illustrate what happened, what France would like to happen now and what should happen.
Thank you very much for an opportunity to to talk to you this evening. It is so great to be back here after eight years.
Let me introduce myself. I think it is the easiest way for me to convey a message that I would like you to leave this room with.
I was born in 1986 in a small town in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina called Doboj. Today, Doboj is in Republika Srpska, one of the two Bosnian-Herzegovinian entities.
I was five years old when the war broke out in former Yugoslavia. I was six when fighting began in Bosnia. Together with my mother and my brother I spent the war as a refugee in Croatia. My father remained in Bosnia and fought in the war.
We were lucky because we all survived. When the war ended in 1995 I was 9. Throughout my primary and secondary school education there was peace in Bosnia. Ther was peace also when I went abroad to study, first in Austria and then in Belgium. There was peace also in 2013 when I returned to Bosnia to live and work there. There is still peace also today in Bosnia.
But I remember very vividely February 1996, when together with my family we went to Doboj for the first time. It was city of horror where Bosniaks and Croats were expelled, all minarets and mosques destroyed and many houses damaged. We did not even dare to say our Muslim names out loud on the streets. For months and years after the war I had nightmares about Doboj.
But since then Bosnia has changed dramatically. The number of foreign soldiers keeping the peace went from 60,000 in 1996 to just less than a thousand today, mostly Austrian soldiers. Since 2006 there is a joint army and conscription has been abolished. I am part of generation of young Bosnians and Herzegovinians that where never forced to use a gun.
But today I stand before you and tell you this story because I am genuinely worried. And I will tell you why.
I do not remember the time before the war but I read a lot about how Doboj turned into a nightmare. I read a lot of Yugoslav intellectuals and politicians talking about borders, injustice and ethnic rights. They were all making a simple but destructive argument:
You are only safe IF your own ethnic group is in control.
You are only safe WHEN and WHERE your own ethnic group is in control.
This idea destroyed Yugoslavia and Doboj. It destroyed families, it has led to mass expulsions and genocide in Srebrenica. It turned borders into frontlines, created new borders drawn in human blood.
But ideas can change. And they did in Bosnia. Doboj is a good example.
Half of the pre-war non-Serb population returned to live there today: almost 20,000 of them. Mosques and minarets had been rebuilt.
The Doboj of my nightmare is today an ordinary city, where Bosniaks and Croats do not fear their Serb mayor. They even vote for him repeatedly. And they all face same challenges: poor health and educational system, too few jobs to compete for.
And this is why I am worried. Today’s Doboj was possible because international community had a clear policy:
NO MORE CHANGES OF BORDERS ALONG ETHNIC LINES.
Serbs should be safe in Central Bosnia, as much as Croats in Banja Luka. Bosniaks in Doboj or Srebrenica. Macedonians should be safe in Tetovo, as much as Bosniaks in Novi Pazar, Albanians in Presevo, or Serbs in Gracanica and Mitrovica.
Some ideas seem innocent at first, but as they grow up they can become monstrous. The idea that you are only safe if, when and where your own ethnic group is in control is such idea.
This is why I plead to Balkan leaders, in particular those sitting at this panel today, not to go down this road, again. I also plead to European leaders, in particular those sitting at this panel and those in audience, to state clearly they would oppose it if the Balkan leaders decided to take that road.
The task for our generation is to turn all Balkan borders into European borders: like those between between Tyrol and South Tyrol. In order to do that we will have to do a lot: build institutions based on rule of law, allow freedom of media and do a lot more. It is time.
Thank you very much.
PS: The video is here: https://www.facebook.com/forumalpbach/videos/574682706268252/
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:
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:
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:
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:
And here is what the European Commission found for 2014:
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:
This 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
ESI has recently presented these ideas in many capitals. Here are five of the most frequently asked questions concerning this CHAPTER ROADMAP PROPOSAL
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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,
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.
“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 … “
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.
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.
They might also – if properly highlighted – trigger more important policy debates.
4 YEAR OLDS IN SCHOOL
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 %).”
17 YEAR OLDS IN EDUCATION
“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 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.”
“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.
 Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong excluded as cities.
In recent months large numbers of Ukrainians braved first the cold, and then snipers, protesting and waving the blue star-spangled flag of Europe. This has angered leaders in the Kremlin and triggered the dramatic crisis over Crimea. It also left many in the EU confused how to respond. Should the EU, or future Ukrainian governments, withdraw their commitment to association and deeper integration in order to placate a grim and threatening Russia? Is Ukraine’s still undefined “European perspective” worth the risk of offending Russia?
In fact, by defending their right to ratify an Association Agreement with the EU – and the prospect for deeper integration in the future – Ukrainians kept open the single most promising path for a poor country like theirs to change their fate. Here is why.
Leave aside for one moment geopolitics. Focus on the situation of ordinary citizens, the lives of average households living between Lviv and Kharkiv. The most basic fact about Ukraine is that it is poor. In fact, Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Europe; only Moldova, Georgia and Armenia are poorer. The Gross National Income per head in Ukraine is lower today than it is in Kosovo, which is the poorest country in the Balkans. See the table below:
Poverty gap: EU, Balkans and Ukraine
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate 2012
European Union (28 countries) Turkey Bulgaria (poorest EU member) Macedonia Kosovo Ukraine Georgia Moldova
Now look at the table below. It shows the forty-six richest countries in the world in 2012. The measure of wealth used here is Gross National Income per head (at market exchange rates, taking the average exchange rate over three years), using data published by the World Bank.
To be rich or poor is, of course, a matter of comparison. Here – following the example of Oxford economist John Kay – I take as a reference point the richest country in the world and consider countries to be prosperous if they have at least one eighth the Gross National Income per head of the frontrunner. In 2012 the richest country in the world was Norway, followed by Switzerland and Denmark.
Table 1: The world’s richest countries in 2012
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate
GNI per head between one half and
one quarter of Norway
GNI per head between one quarter and
one eighth of Norway
Netherlands Japan Austria Singapore Finland
Belgium Germany Kuwait (2010) France
United Kingdom Hong Kong SAR, China
United Arab Emirates (2011) Italy New Zealand (2011) Spain Israel (2011) Cyprus
A few things are remarkable in this list. First, most of the forty-six countries were already prosperous half a century ago (North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia). The biggest exception to this is a group of petro-states (Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain).
Most emerging economies are not yet members of this club: not China, not Brazil, not India, not Turkey. Russia barely makes the list. Becoming prosperous relative to traditionally wealthy countries is very hard. It takes decades of stable growth. Still only a minority of the world’s population lives in these prosperous states: in 2012 about 1.3 billion people, out of an estimated global population of 7 billion.
Second, note all the countries highlighted in bold in the list above. They are the members of the European Union: twenty-four of forty-six countries! Luxembourg and Malta (not included in this table because they have less than 1 million inhabitants), would also qualify as rich. This means that all but two of the members of the enlarged EU of twenty-eight are currently members of the club of the world’s rich countries. There are only two exceptions: Bulgaria and Romania. If the past is any guide, one should expect these two countries to join the club of the rich within another decade.
Third, the most promising strategy to become part of this exclusive club is to make the effort to join the European Union. To see this, compare the above 2012 list of the world’s richest countries with that of 2002 below. This list contains forty-one countries, home to 1.1 billion people.
In the decade between 2002 and 2012, Mexico and Lebanon fell out of the list of the prosperous. And only seven newcomers broke through: two petrol states (Russia, Venezuela); Chile; and four European countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
In 2002 thirteen of the forty-one richest countries in the world were members of the EU. Even then, many of the newcomers, countries that appeared among the rich for the first time in 2002, had focused for years on joining the EU.
Table 2: The world’s richest countries in 2002
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate
United Arab Emirates Denmark Sweden United Kingdom Netherlands
Hong Kong SAR, China Finland Austria Ireland Belgium Germany
Fifth, once an EU member joins the club of rich nations it remains there, despite severe crises later. Portugal, Spain, Greece remain in the club of the prosperous top forty. Other countries, which are on their own, such as Mexico or Argentina, have dropped out of the list.
Take the case of Greece. Its recent economic plight has been seen by some as evidence of the limits of the European Union’s ability to bring about convergence.
Here is the story of the Greek economy, seen through Gross National Income per head since 1980 (Greece joined the EU in 1981). Greece’s GNI dropped in the first years after accession, then grew sharply, most spectacularly after 2000. Between 2010 and 2012 it dropped again: but this is still (despite the obvious hardship) a crisis in a country that has remained one of the most prosperous in the world (and the richest in the Balkans by far).
Historically, rich countries have formed contiguous geographical blocks. This remains true. Growth spreads through intense contact and exchange between neighbours. Of course, proximity alone is not enough: policies and institutions must allow for integration, as common standards facilitate beneficial exchange (in EU jargon the adoption of the so-called “European acquis”). Integration also encourages mutual learning and economic interaction.
These tables have strong implications for enlargement policy. The protestors on Maidan, Kiev’s central square, were right: the most promising strategy for ordinary Ukrainians to live a better life is not to stay on the sidelines or to look East, as they had done since gaining independence in 1991, but to integrate with their Western neighbours.
EU integration is not a magic wand. In the case of Greece it has taken a generation to become prosperous. EU integration also does not prevent future crises. But as a generational strategy to catch up it has worked, again and again, for countries from the Atlantic coast to the Baltic Sea. This is because it is a process based on openness and on meeting standards, on learning from the most successful economies in the world and on receiving feedback from them.
Ukrainians, like Finns or Austrians during the Cold War, might well decide to remain neutral in terms of military alliances. NATO is also unlikely to offer Ukraine the kind of security guarantee it has offered to the Baltic States. However, no one interested in the welfare and long-term stability of the Ukrainian people can expect them to renounce the possibility to follow in the path of Poland or the Baltic states when it comes to EU integration. This also holds true for Moldovans and Georgians.
This is not a matter of geopolitics, spheres of influence, or the prestige of leaders: it is about better lives for millions of households. No one can legitimately ask Ukrainians, Moldovans, and Georgians to give up their European perspective just to please the Kremlin. It would be far too big a sacrifice, with consequences for the next generation.
This article is part of a research project on the future of Europe funded by ERSTE Stiftung in Vienna.
The inspiration for the tables above came from Oxford economist John Kay, one of the leading economists in the United Kingdom. His website: www.johnkay.com. I also strongly recommend his book The truth about Markets for a stimulating introduction to modern economics for non-economists: www.johnkay.com/books.
 These tables omit countries whose population falls under 1 million people: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Bermuda, Brunei Darussalam, Cyprus in 2002 (but not in 2012), Equatorial Guinea, Greenland, Iceland, The Isle of Man, Malta, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macao SAR (China), Malta, Palau, San Marino, Seychelles, St. Kitts and Nevis. These tables also omit Qatar; although it has a population of over 1 million and its GNI per head in 2011 was 76,010. However, the World Bank has no GNI per head figures for Qatar for either 2002 or 2012.
 Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators: Size of the economy (population data for 2012) http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/1.1
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.
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:
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.
In October 1935 the Italian army invaded Abyssinia. In the same month the Abyssinians appealed to the League of Nations for help. The League condemned the attack. All League members were ordered to impose economic sanctions on Mussolini’s Italy. Then all resolve faltered.
Sanctions were half-hearted. They did not include vital materials such as oil. Britain kept open the Suez Canal, crucial as Italy supplied her armed forces. In December 1935 the British Foreign Secretary and the French Prime Minister met and presented a plan that gave large areas of Abyssinia to Italy. Mussolini accepted the plan.
The League’s involvement was a total failure.The capital, Addis Ababa, fell in May 1936 and Haile Selassie was replaced by the king of Italy. Somaliland, Eritrea and Abyssinia became Italian East Africa. The League of Nations was a corpse even before it perished. It had no more legitimacy.
The Crimea crisis and events in Ukraine today pose a similar threat to the credibility of other European organisations … created, like the League, in the wake of a devastating war with high hopes of launching a new era. And one organisation already in the crosshair of the dictator’s assault, already reeling, which Russia was able to join under false pretext and then proceeded to capture with the support of other autocrats in the East and accomplices from the West is the Council of Europe.
Until a few weeks ago one could fear that the Azerbaijani presidency of the Council of Europe, set to begin a few weeks from now in Strasbourg, would mark the low-point in the history of this once proud organisation. And one might have hoped that, perhaps, it was still possible that the sight of a dictator at the helm of this club of democracies might produce a long overdue shock; wake up democrats across Europe, to pay attention to an institution once created to embody the values of post-war Europe (stated in the European Convention on Human Rights) and recently captured by autocrats from Europe’s east.
Until a few weeks ago I thought there was time to rescue these institutions. Certainly, that it was worth it Today there is good cause to wonder whether the Abyssinia moment has not now also come for Strasbourg.
Unless the Council of Europe reacts to the dramatic illegal occupation of one member state by another member state; unless PACE – the Parliamentary Assembly – issues a strong and unequivocal declaration; unless member states in the Committee of Ministers now take effective actions against Russia; it is hard to see how this “spiritual union” of European democracies can survive as more than a bureaucratic corpse.
It is not hard to envisage a future for the OSCE in this new, harsher, Europe: it will return to being a forum for debates between dictatorships and democracies, similar to the CSCE after the Helsinki Accords were ratified in the 1970s. It has long been obvious that countries such as Uzbekistan, Belarus, Russia or Azerbaijan are not democracies. The notion that they should participate in setting high standards for European democracies – which need these standards as much now as ever – debases everyone. Instead let diplomats meet in Vienna and talk (and exchange insults) about peace and common interests. Such a forum is useful as long as it does not serve to legitimize dictatorial rule as “democratic.”
The same is not true for the Council of Europe. Between the OSCE and the EU it has no future if it does not credibly defend the highest values of democracy. The demise of its credibility creates a void that also needs to be filled: most probably by the European Union, now called upon to define its own human rights acquis more explicitly.
The EU should make human rights central to its association agreements. It should spell out its “political criteria” much clearer, both for accession candidates and for its own members. It should find ways to cooperate with other genuine democracies, from Switzerland to Norway to Moldova in the East.
Of course it would be preferable to preserve the Council of Europe and see dictators such as Putin and Aliyev censured instead, until their countries change their ways. But this looks increasingly unlikely. Instead we will have an Azerbaijani presidency and not even symbolic sanctions against Russia after its aggression.
The Palace of Europe in Strasbourg
It is hard to see is how the Council of Europe can function much longer as a hostage of dictatorial and aggressive members. They pay an important share of its budget. They are bent on destroying the values it once stood for. And for some time now they have imposed their vision of the world with impunity.
It should also be noted that there would still be a lot worth rescuing from the burning house of the Palace of Europe, the Council of Europe’s headquarter in Strasbourg. Conventions, agreements, commissions, initiatives (such as the Venice Commission), all serving their members , all worthy of being preserved … but outside of the clutch of dictators. (The same is less obvious in the case of PACE, which appears increasingly superfluous next to the European Parliament on the one hand and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on the other).
The thread does not stop here, unfortunately. Other proud institutions might soon face a similar challenge: one is the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw. It has so far stood up, valiantly, to pressure from the East over its professional work on election monitoring. Why would Putin or Aliyev want credible election observation any more than rulers in Tashkent or Minsk? It is fighting tough battles over its budget. It soon faces a crucial choice over its future leadership. ODIHR’s independence and professionalism must be defended at all costs. In fact, should ODIHR be at risk of losing its credibility as a result of an ongoing Russian and Azerbaijani campaign, or should it be paralysed – then the EU and democracies like Switzerland should stand ready to fund it directly. To rescue valuable experience. To preserve it as the preeminent European election monitoring organisation, open to other European democracies.
It now seems only a matter of months before post-Maidan Europe will see a broader debate on the institutional architecture needed to preserve core values and safeguard the lessons from the 1930s and 40s. And we had better prepare for it. For it now seems increasingly likely that Russian troops in Crimea and Ukraine might have a similar effect on European institutions as Mussolini’s troops had when they embarked on their aggression in East Africa many decades ago.
Council of Europe
ESI background analysis: how the Council of Europe is losing credibility