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 raises questions. 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 huge distrust in this policy:
What is even more striking is the TREND in the past five years: a dramatic fall of support EVERYWHERE.
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, which 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, put into one table:
And here is what the European Commission found for 2014, again put into one table:
Comparing these two tables, based on the European Commissions’ own assessment of progress, about the TRANSFORMATIVE impact of the 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 had an intense year in which it 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. Either way, the most important documents written by the European Commission to show transformative impact everey year 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 where 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 if one wanted, including the adoption of screening reports, etc …)
For each step up this stairways 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 formally start talks (Macedonia) or apply, is a political decision.
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 which 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 casual 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.
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 be concerned.
Take one example to see why the sceptics would be right. In summer 2013 there was a heated debate in Turkey and Europe 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 openening 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 the summer. In the end chapter 22 was formally opened in the autumn. Leaders – and international media – spoke about this as if something very significant had happened (Die Welt: “Accession talks gain new momentum”)
In fact, following the 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.
So let us sum up 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 the enlargement policy. Seen from Brussels, Berlin, Paris or The Hague, the current group of candidates looks problematic. They are poorer, have weaker institutions, have more dysfunctional economies and are more politically polarised than any previous group of applicants. This is not enlargement “fatigue”, suggesting a temporary state of exhaustion. It is a chronic ailment, which is getting worse.
This has created a vicious circle. 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. And 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 … and how to know this.
And at the heart of this frustration are the annual Progress Reports. As ESI found, very few people even in EU foreign ministries read these carefully. They do not do a good job measuring progress. They do not allow for comparisons in any detail. They do not educate the public about what needs to happen. Above all they do not make real transformation – if it happens – clearly visible also to sceptics.
Such a proces is bound to increase frustrations and cynicism. This is what we have called the Godot effect. It is today most pronounced in Macedonia and Turkey. However, unless things change it is easy to predict that something similar might soon happen in Montenegro, Serbia and Albania. As for Bosnia and Kosovo, there is frustration, cynicism and apathy even before any process has begun.
So what is to be done? In order to answer this question let us imagine a different approach to defining and assessing progress, strictly, fairly and transparently, as follows:
To imagine such a process is noto to day-dream. For this is how the Commission has acted for years, when it came to assessing alignment and progress in the field of visa liberalisation.
In this crucial sector ALL countries in the Balkans were given precise visa roadmaps with dozens of benchmarks. Roadmaps set out clearly what the Commission expected. They listed all individual criteria. There were no short cuts.
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.
This 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.
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:
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, which ESI issued at the time, based on the Commmision 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 involved in this process the longest. In 2014 the European Commission published just four short paragraphs, about half a paage. 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 fields 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 earlier 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 real EU standards for all 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 statistics, discussions of economic governance in progress reports are of very little use and 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 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 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 and has not led to a measurable tranformative impact in key policy areas. The visa roadmap process 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 seriously test the idea of chapter roadmaps as soon as possible.
We propose that DG enlargement develops 4 pilot roadmaps, and then assess progress in these 4 fields similar to the Commission has done with visa roadmaps, for all accession countries, 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 concerns incentives. In the case of visa roadmaps, we often hear, there was a clear “reward” at the end of the road: visa liberalisation. 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 thus make clear that they have an instrinsic motivation to carry out reforms. The notion that the EU would need to “bribe” government to incentivise them to carry out reforms is all wrong. Such governments should nevere apply or risk being exposed as actually uninterested in any reforms.
EU acccession is in fact more similar to a young football player offered to go to to 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; 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. They still have to offer contracts to the graduates of La Masia. 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, nd 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 ressessed 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 Commision can act on its own to improve what it is already doing. However, such a change does change 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.
If you come to our website often you will have noticed that ESI writes a lot about the Council of Europe. You might wonder why. Are there no other, more important European issues? And why is our stance so critical?
One reason that we keep returning to issue relating to the Council of Europe is that almost nobody else does, outside of a small group of human rights activists mainly concerned about the crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan.
For large European think tanks and for most European media, the crisis in the Council of Europe still does not exist. Or does not really matter. Why care about debates in PACE, or about what the secretariat in Strasburg does or does not do, when there is a war in Ukraine, crises in the Middle East and challenges to democracy in old and new EU members?
We at ESI disagree. We believe that when the institution that gave us today’s European flag, and that remains the guardian of the moral constitution of democratic Europe – the European Convention on Human Rights – is fatally undermined, this points to a very serious crisis for all of Europe. It is a wound that must not be allowed to fester. Today the Council of Europe resembles Ouroboros, the snake of Greek mythology that devours itself … in this case, by destroying the moral basis on which it was founded.
Look at the European order today, and Europe’s big three organisations: the OSCE, the EU and the Council of Europe.
The OSCE has a justification as a forum for debate even with autocracies. This was its original conception in Helsinki in 1975. This is why Belarus (and Uzbekistan and the Vatican) can be members today.
The EU has to defend its own standards internally (and do a much better job at this) and externally, in particular when it comes to its ongoing enlargement talks.
For the Council of Europe, however – the first institution to enlarge to almost all of Europe in the 1990s – the current crisis of values, norms and credibility is existential. It has to be a club of European democracies, or it does not have any reason to exist.
This is why Belarus is not a member today. This is why Russia and Azerbaijan currently have no place as members, unless things change in both countries. There really is no use for an institution focusing on human rights and democracy when these standards are defined by autocracies and thus undermined for everyone else.
ESI strongly believes that the Council of Europe should matter. It should be talked about more. It should be given the resources to fulfil its crucial role better. But the key recource missing today is not money, but attention. Think tanks and media should follow what happens in Strasburg. It is a shame that the foreign ministers of influential countries attend its meetings so rarely (to begin with Germany and France) and that parliaments throughout Europe pay so little attention.
We believe that it is important to preserve the idea that one day the European Convention on Human Rights will be the normative basis for all of Europe (including Russia and the South Caucasus), not just the current European Union. Just as it was crucial to preserve this aspiration in the decades prior to 1989 in a divided Europe. It may look unlikely now; it definitely looked implausible then.
Europe’s moral constitution
For what is the European Convention? It is the basis of civilised life, in a continent known as much for autocracy and human rights violations as it is known for the enlightenment and rights.
It is comprised of the following basic commitments, that are once again under pressure across the continent:
Article 1 Respecting the rights in this convention
Article 2 The right to life – a duty to refrain from unlawful killing and to investigate suspicious deaths
Article 3 Prohibits torture, and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. There are no exceptions on this right.
Article 4 Prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour
Article 5 Provides the right to liberty, subject only to lawful arrest
Article 6 Provides a detailed right to a fair trial
Article 7 Prohibits retroactive criminalisation
Article 8 Provides a right to respect for one’s “private and family life, home and correspondence”, subject to certain restrictions “necessary in a democratic society”.
Article 9 Provides a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Article 10 Provides the right to freedom of expression, subject to certain restrictions “necessary in a democratic society”.
Article 11 Protects the right to freedom of assembly and association.
It is irresponsible to close our eyes to the fact that today the European Convention is being mocked by certain member states of the Council of Europe, not occasionally but systematically. Today these core articles are not only disregarded but also openly challenged.
If Azerbaijan or Russia were expelled from the Council of Europe today (or would preemtively leave voluntarily) then this does not mean that a democratic Azerbaijan or Russia might not one day join again. In fact, that would be the goal. It would give human rights defenders in these countries a clear objective. And they should be supported in this in all possible ways. Greece was not in the Council of Europe under military rule in 1968 … and later rejoined it as a democracy.
Today we have the worst of all worlds. We see the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights mocked, the institution and its bodies paralysed. We see these institutions turned against the very people in those countries who defend them there … and who risk jail and worse for doing so.
We see democrats indifferent to the institution, while autocrats invest resources to capture and manipulate this critical intervention. Things are upside down. It is time to put them back in order.
We have written before about parallels between the fate of the League of Nations and what is currently happening in Strasburg (See : Europe’s Abyssinian Moment).
Here is another thought-provoking parallel from Europe’s early 20th century history. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference East European nations signed treaties guaranteeing rights to minorities. These treaties called for religious freedom and civic equality. Minorities were granted the right of petition to the League. Governments in Eastern Europe complained about these “unjust requirements that the great powers did not impose on themselves”. These countries had a point. However, the proper response to this complaint was not to water down these rights, but to apply them equally to everyone.
Instead, the solution chosen was the worst of all. These rights were never applied and these treaties were never taken seriously. Despite there being a special League of Nations Minorities section it proved to be a “weak reed”: of 883 petitions the League received between 1920 and 1939, only four resulted in condemnation of the accused state. When the first anti-Jewish university quota system was introduced in Hungary in 1920 protests at the League of Nations failed to secure the law’s withdrawal. (For more on this see Bernard Wasserstein’s fascinating book “On the Eve – the Jews of Europe before the Second World War.)
Perhaps then too there were serious and influential people who thought that Europe had more important problems than to defend norms and treaties concerning human rights in small East European nations.
However, this assumption was wrong then and it is wrong now. The crisis in Strasburg matters not just to a few brave human rights defenders on the European periphery. It matters to all of us.
This contradiction matters
PS: For more on the crisis of the Council of Europe, see also the latest ESI newsletter:
Thomas de Waal is one of the leading experts in the world today on the Caucasus, author of “Black Garden, Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War” and “The Caucasus: An Introduction” and a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC. He also knows all the key actors in the region for decades, including Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif, two of the most impressive intellectuals and human rights defenders in Europe today. The fact that both are in jail in the Azerbaijan of Ilham Aliyev tells you almost everything you need to know about this regime.
The Responsibility of a Politician: Leyla Yunus and the Heirs of Andrei Sakharov
Thomas de Waal
October 11, 2014
In 1989 during some of the most tumultuous days of perestroika, Andrei Sakharov stood up in the Soviet Union’s first popularly elected parliament, the Congress of People’s Deputies, and called for the end of the monopoly on power of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Sakharov was an influential voice, but also a lonely one, speaking amidst a cacophony of old Communist Party nomenklatura officials on the one hand and aspiring nationalists on the other.
At the same time, in the Soviet Union’s non-Russian republics, a few brave activists were inspired by the courage of Sakharov and others. They stepped forward and spoke out about the rights of their republics to win independence and achieve democracy.
These activists were strongest in the three Baltic republics and the three republics of the South Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In Azerbaijan, the struggle was especially difficult. The Communist Party apparatus clung tenaciously to power. The Popular Front of Azerbaijan had a radical nationalist wing that was ready to use violence. All the while the mutually suicidal conflict with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh was heating up.
A small band of academics and intellectuals in the city of Baku were the first to talk about democracy, the first to warn about the dangers of “provocations” and the first to speak up about the defence of the Armenian minority still living in Azerbaijan. They combined courage with intellectual insight about where their republic was heading.
Leyla Yunus, a young historian, was one of that band, together with her husband, Arif, also a historian and scholar. Yunus was one of the half-dozen founders of Azerbaijan’s Popular Front, an organization that modeled itself on the Popular Fronts of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, even as they knew how much harder the struggle was in their country.
As 1989 unwound, Leyla and her colleagues warned that two extremes–the dinosaurs of the Communist nomenklatura and the nationalist radicals–were feeding off one another in a dangerous game of bluff and provocation.
The sad culmination of these mutual provocations came in January 1990–Baku’s terrible “Black January” and the bloodiest episodes of Mikhail Gorbachev’s entire rule as Soviet leader. First the city’s remaining Armenians were subjected to pogroms and expulsion. Then Soviet tanks rolled in to the city, fired on apartment buildings and crushed demonstrators to death.
At the end of Black January, around 90 Armenians were dead and thousands had fled, 130 Azerbaijanis had been killed. Leyla Yunus spoke up again, this time in print. In an essay entitled “The Degree of a Responsibility of a Politician,” published in the journal Istiklal in April 1990, she described the situation with devastating clarity.
In the essay, she begins by praising the bravery of those who stood in the streets to face down the tanks in Baku:
They stood with linked arms. “Freedom!” The word rang over Communist Street, which would soon lose its name, along with so much that lost its meaning that night. They did not step away from the path of the armoured personnel carriers and tanks, whose tracks were already crimson with the blood of the people they had crushed on Tbilisi Avenue, Square of the XIth Red Army and other places. But even the bloodied tanks stopped before this never-before-seen unity. “Freedom!”
Yunus calls Moscow’s military intervention “red fascism”
Forty five years ago, practically unarmed–how much the armament campaign of 1941 cost us!–our people stopped the tanks of brown Fascism. On the night of January 20, the armour of red Fascism went through the streets of Baku–the very same Fascism which had crushed and overpowered the peoples of the Union after October 1917.
Until then, Leyla Yunus tells us, Azerbaijanis had been “lucky”–to a degree.
Our people saw this regime in April 1920 and experienced its charms most acutely in the 1930s. Fortunately, we did not meet the fate of the Crimean Tatars, Balkars or Volga Germans, who were deported wholesale in cattle cars to destruction. We did not lose our homeland as the Meskhetian Turks did. We did not lose a third of our population, as the Estonians did, we felt the famine of 1933-34 less than did Belarus or Ukraine. We were lucky enough to be spared Chernobyl. But all the rest that this prison-house order gave to our peoples we experienced to the full. Collectivization, the genocidal destruction of the intelligentsia, the economic theft of our riches, the transformation into a mono-cultural colony…
Only now, it seems, had Azerbaijanis woken up to the nature of the regime they lived under, but they should have known earlier…
Which of you, who threw away their Communist Party cards today, rejected the “Ruling and Guiding” Party in 1968 when our sons were sent to crush the Prague Spring? Which of you spoke out, when our boys were dispatched to Afghanistan?
Did it really have to take the rivers of blood spilled in beautiful Baku for every decent person to decide that it was morally unacceptable for him to stay in the ranks of a criminal party? There is an easy human explanation for this–it is one thing to hear and to know something, and another to see all the horror with your own eyes, to feel it on yourself. However, in my view, this epiphany which even today has come to too few people, came too late and cost us too much…
She rebukes the extreme nationalists of the Popular Front for fomenting hatred against Baku’s defenceless Armenians.
On January 13, on Freedom Square the rally was still continuing, and in the building opposite people were already assaulting Armenians. Woe, disgrace, dishonour came to our town.. The pogromshchik has no nationality. The looter and murderer does not have the right to belong to any people…
And she warns against those who want to soak Azerbaijan’s movement for independence in blood.
The responsibility of a politician is comparable to the responsibility of a doctor. In both cases lack of professionalism leads to death and injury. And if someone writes, “Sacrifice cleanses the nation! You know how much we needed this cleansing… ” it is absolutely clear to me where this patriot-politician can lead us.
Why, in the name of a falsely understood unity of the nation should we march like a herd, behind first one, then another organization, behind this “father-leader” or behind another one?
But she still hopes for the release of political prisoners and the triumph of democracy:
My greatest desire is to see the Popular Front of Azerbaijan as a single powerful organization speaking out from a position of democracy, defending with the help of lawyers today with human rights organizations everyone who has been arrested.
I dream of an overwhelming victory by the democratic forces of the Azerbaijani people headed by the Popular Front of Azerbaijan in the elections.
Our tree of freedom will not bloom soon, and we need to water it with reason and not with a pool of blood.
Leyla Yunus’ essay was so powerful, clear-sighted and morally cogent that it persuaded hundreds of young Azerbaijanis to support the country’s Social Democratic Party, which became the most progressive and democratic part of the opposition.
Leyla Yunus subsequently briefly served in the Popular Front government of 1992-3, where she was a moderating influence. In 1993 former Soviet leader Heidar Aliev returned to power as president of independent Azerbaijan. In 1996 she founded the Institute of Peace and Democracy. The list of issues they worked on was dizzying: rule of law, defence of those arrested, national minorities, land-mines. Later they founded Azerbaijan’s first women’s crisis center. In the mean time Arif Yunus was Azerbaijan’s foremost expert on a host of issues, including the plight of refugees and the rise of political Islam.
In recent years, under the presidency of Heidar Aliev’s son Ilham, Leyla and her colleagues were increasingly targeted by the authorities. They were called strident, aggressive and difficult. And they were.
In the past year, the situation in Azerbaijan has deteriorated rapidly. The old nomenklatura mindset is back in full force. The list of political prisoners Leyla Yunus compiled—now including her and Arif—has 98 names on it. Most of them are secular pro-Western activists. In April, Leyla and Arif Yunus were detained at the airport as they were about to board an international flight. They were hit with all sorts of ludicrous charges, most notably–and with the scariest echo of Soviet times– espionage on behalf of the enemy, the Armenians.
In prison, Leyla Yunus, who has diabetes and other health problems, has been subjected to verbal and physical abuse. Arif Yunus, who has a heart condition, has been kept in complete isolation in the cells of the national security committee, the heir to the KGB.
In the same week, the Russian Ministry of Justice applied to have Memorial–Russia’s strongest human-rights organization and the winner of the 2009 Sakharov Prize–shut down.
In 1989 and 1990, these people had a vision, even as they recognized with the same clarity all the dangers that lay ahead, the narrow path that needed to be trod between different forces, if the former Soviet republics were to achieve European-style democracy.
Now, unfortunately, 25 years later, in both Russia and Azerbaijan some of the worst fears are coming to pass. That increases our responsibility to support people like Leyla Yunus and Memorial, as they are punished for having that vision.
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 … “
While European institutions are finally recognising the heroism of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan – thus making clear that their struggle is of global significance – every single political prisoner so far rewarded remains in jail. Our attention needs to shift to the only real prize: to get international institutions and states to act and to sanction.
It is time for a really broad-based campaign … targetted not the authorities in Baku, who are beyond shame, but human rights institutions betraying human rights defenders. Note: Azerbaijan, the current chairman of the Council of Europe, holds in its jails today the men and women winning or considered for the very highest prizes in the field of human rights in the world. And so far the Council of Europe – including its general secretary – acts as if this has nothing to do with them.
Mr. Jagland has issued a press release on the events in Ferguson, Missouri … how about issuing a press release congratulating Anar Mammadli, the winner of the Vaclav Havel Prize 2014, who used to work with the Council of Europe, and is in jail today?
Mr. Jagland has met the Azerbaijani president already three times in recent months. How about cancelling all participation of the Council of Europe secretariat in events in Baku until there is news about the situation of Ilgar Mammadov … who is in jail, but disappeared more than a week ago, has no contact with lawyers … and who also worked for and with the Council of Europe? Or until Leyla Yunus, Rasul Jafarov and so many other human rights defenders are released?
Mr Jagland: if you think doing nothing remains an option for your institutions you underestimate the strength and moral purpose of the broad-based coalition that is currently emerging across Europe.
The case of Leyla Yunus
Here is the most recent email ESI sent to all the members of the European Parliament who decided on 7 October 2014 on the final short list of three candidates for the 2014 Sakharov Human Rights Prize.
Today you will decide on the finalists for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize 2014.
We appeal to you to give your vote to Leyla Yunus – on behalf of all other human rights defenders and dissidents in Azerbaijan. Almost 100 of them are imprisoned like Leyla (see this list), the others face a chilling wave of repression.
These Azerbaijanis stand in the tradition of those who fought for human rights during Soviet rule. Distinguished Russian activists, some of them former political prisoners, underline this in a joint letter to the European Parliament that was published last week (available in English andRussian). Three of them – Lyudmila Alekseeva, Sergei Kovalyov and Oleg Orlov – shared the EP’s Sakharov Prize in 2009.
Oleg Orlov, Lyudmila Alekseeva and Sergei Kovalyov receiving the Sakharov Prize 2009
Photo: European Parliament
Your vote for Leyla will be a vital sign to Azerbaijan’s besieged human rights community that they are not alone.
It will be a sign that the European Union, led by the Parliament, does not close its eyes to repression anywhere on our continent.
It could be crucial also for this generation of human rights defenders. The fate of Leyla, one of the most respected human rights activists in the country, is telling. Prison conditions in Azerbaijan are appalling. At age 58, Leyla suffers from diabetes and has caught a flu in her cold cell. She has been repeatedly beaten. Last Saturday, her lawyers stated that her health “has extremely deteriorated” and “that there is no guarantee that Leyla will survive until the end of this year”.
The authorities are now going after the handful of remaining lawyers who defend human rights defenders, and torture has returned to jails in Azerbaijan.
There is hardly any news of Leyla’s husband Arif Yunus, a historian and peace activist, who was arrested in early August, a few days after Leyla, and is held at a facility notorious for torture of inmates.
Leyla and her husband Arif Yunus, both imprisoned by the Azerbaijani authorities
For 10 days, there has been absolutely no news of Ilgar Mammadov. All food parcels sent to him by his family have been turned down. The director of the Council of Europe’s School of Political Studies in Baku intended to run against President Aliyev in the elections in October 2013, but was arrested beforehand and sentenced to 7 years in prison last March. The European Parliament demanded his immediate release already last year. Lately he announced that he faces serious pressure to write an open letter of apology to the government. Then he disappeared.
The “crime” of Mammadov, the Yunuses and the other Azerbaijani political prisoners is their desire for a pluralist society, for respect of human rights, for peace – for the values on which the EU has been built.
Azerbaijan is member (currently even chair) of the Council of Europe. It has accepted the Paris Charter for a new Europe. It is formally committed to all the norms on which Europe’s post-cold war order is built. To watch one regime dismantle all civil liberties with impunity and make any human rights work impossible, and to let it happen, creates a terrible precedent. It undermines the norms on which European security rests.
Today you can take a step to prevent it from happening.
With the very kindest of regards,
Chairman of European Stability Initiative (ESI)
She – they – deserve a prize from the EU. But which prize should it be?
Celebrate the courage of Euromaidan! Honor its activists! Support democratic Ukraine! Remind Europeans everywhere just how important events in the largest country of Eastern Europe are for the future of the continent.
There are good reasons to doubt that it is. These reasons have nothing to do with what happened in Ukraine in early 2014, but rather what is not happening in the EU now. Tens of thousands of Euro and a ceremony on TV is not the prize that Ukrainians have fought for, and will do little for them in this dark hour.
What is a real prize?
Let us first ask: what do Ukrainians need from the European Union today?
With their country under attack, their territory occupied, their people displaced and their soldiers locked in battle with Russian and Russian-backed forces, Ukrainian society hopes for substantive support from the EU – material, financial and moral. This includes credible and sustained sanctions against Russia, holding them accountable for the annexation of swaths of Ukrainian territory. It includes economic aid, assistance in coping with rising numbers of internally displaced and support for the cold winter that is looming. And, perhaps most important of all, it includes the promises made in Article 49 of the Treaties of the European Union: that once Ukraine meets the specified criteria, it might also have the chance to join the European Union, without any neighbouring country holding the right to veto. Just as the Baltics and Poland have.
It was in order to keep such a perspective alive that many Ukrainians risked their lives last winter, waving the blue European flag. To sustain the momentum of the Maidan protests, the Ukrainian people voted for political parties that promised to work towards a European future. During his inauguration, Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, again referred to the goals of Euromaidan. The European People’s Party also spoke of the movement’s vision, when it met in Dublin earlier this year.
This democratic vision is what the new European Parliament should be supporting today – through policy reform and concrete action. It is a vision that needs to be sold actively, both on the international stage and to European constituencies. The goals and ideals born out of Euromaidan need to be defended in the face of both indifference and skepticism. A strong restatement of this vision from the European Parliament – and meaningful and tangible support – would remind Ukrainians of what they are fighting for.
Of course, awarding a prize is much more simple than implementing palpable change. Standing on a podium next to people who have already become global stars in their own right, is easy. Perhaps it is too easy. It appears as a gesture of solidarity, but it is one without substance. At a moment when Ukrainians feel abandoned by Europe, a prize and accolades are not likely to reassure them.
There are other, more effective steps that could be taken to support Euromaidan, instead of giving the Sakharov Prize. For instance, the European Parliament could recognize the efforts of the Ukrainian people by bestowing a real award – the lifting of visa requirements for all Ukrainians. This is something that would truly benefit the people of Ukraine, carrying a strong promise of future EU integration.
By contrast, a symbolic gesture by the new European Parliament, at a time when Ukraine is facing profound existential threats, is a substitute for real action. This is not the first time such empty gestures have been made on the part of the European Parliament, though. In 2011, the EP took the obvious step of giving the Sahkarov prize to the activists of the Arab uprisings. The prize raised the hopes of brave activists for sustained support from Europe as they, like the activists in Ukraine, faced a watershed moment in their countries. But these expectations were never fulfilled.
An Egyptian prize winner was asked in 2011: “What could the EU and EP do to support the transition to democracy in the Arab world?” She noted: “I am against any form of foreign intervention, but I think the EP should insist on the application of universal humanitarian laws.” Today, many of the Tahrir Square activists are in prison, their organisations banned. The only European country that reacted strongly to this repression was Turkey.
Another 2011 Sakharov Prize winner, from Libya, explained: “[The Sakharov Prize] will be of great help to me and the Libyan people, because this is the first time that a Libyan received such a prize. So if you help me to do my job properly, it will help the Libyan people.” Today, Libya is in chaos.
The Syrian activist, Razan Zaitouneh, was a recipient in 2011 as well. Then in hiding, Zaitouneh was a human rights lawyer who had created the blog, “”Syrian Human Rights Information Link” (SHRIL), (which has since been taken down). On her blog she publicly revealed murders and human rights abuses committed by the Syrian army and police. Zaitouneh is quoted as saying: “The most beautiful part of the Syrian revolution is the high spirits of the Syrian people, who turned the protests into carnivals of song, dancing and chants of freedom, despite the bullets, arrests and tanks.” Since then, millions of refugees have had to leave Syria – although it is not the European Union that has given them shelter. On 9 December 2013, Zaitouneh, along with three other Syrian activists were kidnapped east of Damascus, in the city of Duma.
It was an easy decision to award a prize to courageous Arab activists in 2011. It was much more difficult to find practical ways to protect them and uphold their ideals. Awarding the Sakharov Prize was a gesture that failed to meet the expectations of long-repressed populations – much like the Arab Spring itself.
Shining the spotlight of attention
Euromaidan was the central story in Europe in 2014. The people who led it – Mustafa Nayem, Ruslana Lyzhychko and others – will be featured heavily in any review of this year’s events. They are famous, and they deserve to be.
In other words, by awarding them a personal prize, the European Parliament will add little to what the media and European leaders have already said. It will not bring the change that is now needed in Ukraine – Euromaidan is past the point where paying lip service and attention to their cause will solve the problems their country is facing. It is similar to awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the first African-American president, right after he was elected. The White House suspected that the award was more about getting Obama to visit Oslo, than the achievements of a newly elected president. It certainly left the world – and human rights – unchanged. Is this really what human rights prizes are for?
Making a difference?
Alternatively, one should ask the question: what can awarding such a prize actually accomplish? Can – and should – the Sakharov Prize be used to make a real difference? Not just to the way we look at the past, but also to the future?
Today, human rights are under assault across Eastern Europe, from Russia to Azerbaijan. Ukrainian political prisoners have fortunately been released as a result of Euromaidan. But 2014 has also seen dozens of dissidents elsewhere become targets of persecution.
In Azerbaijan, there are dozens of activists in prison; not victorious, but languishing; not celebrated, but isolated and unknown to much of the world. They are there for defending the values of free speech – the core idea behind the Sakharov Prize. They are paying the price for protecting the European Convention of Human Rights, but remain largely ignored by democratic Europe.
By nominating these human rights defenders for the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament would celebrate the same values for which Ukrainians took to the streets. But it would also do something that has been difficult to achieve thus far. Something that Azerbaijani civil society is in desperate need of.
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan is not getting the attention or media coverage that Euromaidan has. Both causes are undoubtedly worthy of recognition. However, bringing attention to the plight of Azerbaijani activists by nominating them for the Sakharov Prize will result in substantive change, more so than would nominating Euromaidan. Ukraine is instead in need of a much different reaction from the European Parliament. It would be a missed opportunity not to take advantage of the power that the Sakharov Prize can have. The EP was successful in using the award to raise awareness about a dire situation in 2006, when it drew the attention of the world to the fate of Alexander Milinkevich, leader of the opposition in Belarus.
In this way, the European Parliament would also assert the value of human rights in petro-states, such as Azerbaijan – even those that have already invested millions in buying friends throughout Europe. After assuming chairmanship of the Council of Europe in May 2014, Azerbaijan has used its influence in the Council to launch an unprecedented assault on civil society. It is an autocracy with the same values and the same approach to “freedom” as Russia under Vladimir Putin. And we have seen what can come from such leaders, should they ostensibly be allowed to run free with their repressive tactics.
So, will European parliamentarians take a path that is obvious and uncontroversial? Or will they send a signal that could make a real difference? Honouring dissidents in Azerbaijan could have real impact. It might even save lives. It would be acting with a strong voice, not reacting passively.
Let me repeat: this is not about the relative merits of the various candidates. Euromaidan deserves the highest recognition. It deserves a prize from the EU. So this is our proposal: recognise Ukraine’s struggle with actions that will truly benefit its people, with the kind of support that is appropriate for where Ukrainians are in their fight towards liberalisation: put Ukraine on the white Schengen list and grant visa-free travel. And give the Sakharov Prize to the forgotten activists of today; human rights defenders who are suffering in the shadows as you read this, in prison for speaking out on behalf of others.
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.
Why this is so important is illustrated by the following true story.
MMB is a respected professor of International Relations and European Integration (she is a Jean Monnet Chair) at Sabanci University in Istanbul. We recently met at a conference in Berlin. Her husband is a professor of Economics and the former dean of the faculty at which MMB teaches.
Recently MMB was invited to speak at a NATO seminar in Italy on 15-17 May. She needed a new visa. So, on 29 April, she went to the intermediary agent, IDATA, which Italy had hired to handle visa applications.
(Nowadays most Schengen country consulates no longer receive visa applications themselves, but use intermediary agents who collect the applications, bring them with the passports to the consulates, later pick up the passports with the visas and hand them back to the applicants. The costs for this service, which saves consulates of lot of work, are charged to the applicants – MMB had to pay 30 Euro for it, in addition to the 60 Euro for the visa itself.)
For her visa application, MMB had filled out the application form and put together the necessary documentation: the invitation letter signed by a NATO general, her flight ticket and hotel booking, excerpts from her bank accounts showing that she has a regular income and sufficient funds for the trip, evidence of her social security payments in Turkey, a current certificate from the civil registry, all the current contracts for her work with the European Commission, evidence that she is an affiliated professor at the University of Stockholm as well as copies of her previous passports that are full of Schengen visas. In her current passport too, she has an expired two-year multiple-entry Schengen visa, a 10-year multiple-entry visa for the UK and a 10-year multiple-entry visa for the US.
To any reasonable person, all this leaves no doubt that MMB is a person that travels a lot for professional reasons, has never abused any of her visas, and has a good job and family in Turkey. There is no risk that she would not come back and prefer to become an illegal migrant in Italy. In fact, MMB was hoping this time to get a 5-year multiple-entry Schengen visa.
Then the IDATA clerk explained to her that the NATO invitation letter is not valid unless the person issuing the invitation – a NATO general – has his signature validated and certified by a notary. MMB was reluctant to ask the NATO general for this. So she had to sign a statement declaring that she “knowingly” submitted “an incomplete application”.
For nine days, she did not receive any information about the status of her application despite regular phone calls to IDATA and the Italian consulate. Then the consulate was very helpful and informed her that she had been given a multiple-entry visa for three years. In the end she received her passport with the visa only four days before her flight.
An isolated case? MMB’s husband MB did not fare any better. He was invited to a seminar at Freie Universität Berlin on 28 April.
Germany uses the same intermediary agent like Italy, IDATA. So MB went to the IDATA office well in advance of the seminar, on 20 March, equipped with the same long pile of documents that MMB had to submit. However, the IDATA clerk was not satisfied. He asked him for civil registry extracts for his entire family, including his parents and his child. MB got these and delivered them to IDATA.
The saga continued. This time, the clerk was not satisfied with the evidence of income and social security payments that MB had submitted. The evidence was an attestation from the university. The clerk wanted to have an attestation from the Turkish social security provider, covering the previous 20 years.
If MB had not promised a colleague in Berlin that he would come, he would have given up, but due to this promise he decided to spend another day on the application, getting the certificate and bringing it to IDATA.
In the end, he received only a 3-month Schengen visa, so he faces the same trouble again in three months. Like MMB, he travels a lot and has previous Schengen visas and a 10-year UK and a 10-year US visa in his passport. But this apparently did not make any impression on IDATA.
If two respected and busy professors who travel extensively and have a good income are treated in this way, how are ordinary citizens treated? What about the promise of EU member states “to promote the regular mobility of bona fide travellers between Turkey and the EU and its Member States” given in December 2012? It cannot get more “bona fide” than in MMB’s and MB’s case, and their experience, in MMB’s words, has been “horrendous”.
When it comes to less well-established Turkish citizens, the situation is worse. In the end, wrote MMB, “it is not me that is the issue here, I always get a visa, but my colleagues, my students they all suffer.” She posted a tweet about her experience.
“My students and younger colleagues immediately responded saying this is a major problem for them. There are many academicians who cannot go to meetings abroad because their visas are either rejected or not prepared in time. This is a key concern for young scholars. Also, consider this: most of these young researchers are earning relatively little money, and each application costs around 300 Turkish lira – about 100 Euro – which is a lot considering their monthly income.”
EU member states ought to have systems in place that make failures such in MMB’s and MB’s cases impossible, and they need to work on making the visa burden for all Turkish citizens as light as possible. In our paper “Trust and travel. Easing the visa burden for Turks in five steps (24 February 2014, we recommended that EU member states commit to five goals to support the visa liberalisation process:
1. REJECTION RATES – GOAL LESS THAN 2 PERCENT
Reject as few Turkish visa applications as possible, striving to achieve a rejection rate of 2 percent or less. Some EU member states (Greece, Italy, Hungary) already achieve this.
2. LONG TERM VISA – MORE THAN 90 PERCENT
Issue at least 90 percent of the visas as long-term multiple-entry visas valid 3 to 5 years. Member states currently vary on this issue greatly.
3. REDUCE COSTS AND EFFORT
Allow proxies to submit visa applications on behalf of Turkish applicants; waive the visa fee of 60 Euros in as many cases as possible and consider removing it altogether; waive individual document requirements wherever possible.
4. SOLVE THE ERASMUS PROBLEM
Commit to issuing long-term visas for all Turkish students and researchers in time for the beginning of their studies and projects.
Make all improvements visible and advertise them; start to provide information on all aspects of visa policy so that progress can be easily monitored.
It is time that improvements become visible, and not that the visa application procedure becomes more difficult.
In the end MMB still felt grateful to the Italian Consulate in the end. When contacted they were prompt, efficient and helpful. Without their help the application would certainly have taken even longer.