26 October 2015


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


From here on the conclusions become ever less realistic:

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

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


This is the least serious part of the conclusions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, there is this:

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

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


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

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

gerald Phoenix



»Erdoğan needs Germany«

October 15, 2015

The political scientist Gerald Knaus on working together with Turkey, border controls and Germany’s role in receiving refugees.

DIE ZEIT: Mr Knaus, while Germany finds itself confronted with one million refugees, you are calling for taking in another 500,000.

Gerald Knaus: This is not as absurd as it looks at first sight. After helpless politicians proposed many faulty solutions in the past few weeks, chancellor Merkel needs to present something credible and tangible.

ZEIT: The plan that Angela Merkel will bring to Ankara comes close to a proposal you made already weeks ago – and now it became EU foreign policy. What exactly did you propose?

Knaus: Greece declares Turkey a safe third country. Turkey commits to readmitting all refugees that reach Greek islands through the Aegean, from a point in time to be specified. In return, Germany commits to granting asylum to 500,000 Syrian refugees from Turkey in the next twelve months. In addition, the EU visa requirement for Turkish nationals will be waived next year.

ZEIT: Why should this reduce the number of refugees who want to come to Europe?

Knaus: This offer is only for refugees who are already registered in Turkey. Thus no new incentives for refugees to travel to Turkey would be created by this plan. Then refugee families – half of the Syrians in Turkey are children – would no longer need to make the dangerous trip across the sea and the Balkans. This would quickly reduce the number of boats heading towards the Greek coast. The result would be what Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer both demand:  control of the external borders and an orderly process – and German emergency relief for refugees in a real crisis situation.

ZEIT: But Turkey is currently reeling from a terrorist attack of which nobody knows who was behind it. Kurds and members of the opposition are brutally persecuted. How is one supposed to declare such a country a safe third country?

Knaus: You have to differentiate between a safe third country and a safe country of origin. For refugees Turkey is a safe third country – even if it is not necessarily a country of safe origin for its own citizens. Currently, these two things are often confused. Under the new Turkish asylum law, refugees can apply for asylum, are not persecuted in Turkey, and are also not deported to Syria. And that’s decisive for this proposal. Whether the EU should declare Turkey a safe country of origin as the EU Commission suggested, raises doubts indeed.

ZEIT: But is it wise to demonstrate to an autocrat like Erdoğan in the run up to the elections how much one is dependent on him?

Knaus: Even Erdoğan needs Germany. Turkey finds itself in the biggest security crisis since the end of the Cold War. Russia is waging war north of Turkey, in Ukraine. The Russian air force is bombing Turkish allies in Syria in an alliance with Assad and Iran, both adversaries of Turkey. And Turkey itself is at war with the »Islamic State« and the PKK. The economy is no longer growing as it was in the last decade, and taking care of two million Syrian refugees is not easy. The refugee issue plays hardly any role in the electoral campaign.

ZEIT: Part of your proposal is visa free travel for Turkish nationals to the EU – what effects would this have in practice?

Knaus: I do not believe in a mass exodus of Turks. In the past few years the trend went the other way; especially from Germany more Turks immigrated to Turkey than did immigrate to Germany. For the young generation in Turkey, Europe only has a real meaning if they can actually travel there. The only danger that I see is if the situation in Southeast Turkey would descend into a full blown war like in the 90s.

ZEIT: But in the current political climate it is completely unthinkable that the chancellor would speak about a number of 500,000 she actively wants to bring to Germany.

Knaus: I know that in the first moment this sounds counterproductive. But you can make it clear to people that without an agreement more refugees are to be expected. Even now there is talk of one million. And in talk shows superficial solutions like fighting root causes, solving the situation in Syria and Libya, or sharing the burden in the EU are being floated.

ZEIT: What about the magic formula “transit zones”?

Knaus: What the German federal minister of the interior proposes would indeed reduce the number of applicants from Balkan countries who are being rejected anyway – but this is not about them. Above all, it is about civil war refugees. Often people will say that the EU needs to better secure its borders, introduce stricter border controls and better equip refugee camps in the region. But none of these proposals will solve our most acute problem: How to reduce the number of refugees reaching the external borders of the EU. No Frontex mission, no European quota, no perfectly equipped refugee camp will stop the desperate from trying to flee to Europe. But if there’s an impression in the public debate that there’s no limit at all for the number of refugees, then soon the readiness to help will turn into fear. That’s why I believe that we need to move fast. Angela Merkel and her political allies in Europe need to show that they – and not the extreme right – have a real solution to offer.

ZEIT: Why should European solidarity suddenly work now if there was already a lack of it in past months?

Knaus: If hundreds of thousands of Syrian children grow up without schooling and without perspective, if we lose an entire generation, this will not be without consequence for European security. There’s a helplessness among the political elite in the entire EU, from Greece to Sweden, nobody has an idea what to do. And extreme right parties profit from this, while having no real solutions to offer either. In this situation Germany is the only country that has the political credibility and economic clout to take the initiative. If Germany can’t deal with the problem, nobody else will manage to do so. But if Germany takes the lead, countries like Austria, Italy, France and Sweden will follow.

ZEIT: Viktor Orban accuses Angela Merkel of moral imperialism. This argument also goes down well with many Germans.

Knaus: Orban is right if he calls the hitherto existing international refugee policy hypocritical. On paper there’s a generous right to asylum. But at the same time everything has been done to prevent refugees from claiming this asylum. In recent years, UNHCR resettled only 100,000 refugees worldwide per year to wealthy countries. That’s of course a ridiculously low figure. But Orban’s response to this is to by de facto get rid of the right to asylum altogether. He regards refugees as criminals, as enemies, and refers to Hungarian experiences with the Ottomans, as if they were an invading army. He also says that the refugee crisis is a good opportunity to overcome the “liberal age of human rights.” Le Pen in France, Strache in Austria and others join in into that chorus. In the general helplessness such slogans are becoming more and more appealing.

ZEIT: The right and the left claim that 60 million people are fleeing and that we are only talking about a fraction.

Knaus: That figure is totally misleading. The biggest part of all refugees worldwide stay within their home countries. Syria is the biggest disaster. One fourth of all refugees outside of their home country are Syrians. Most of them now live in Turkey, in Jordan, and in Lebanon. Only a few years ago the number of migrants who tried to enter the EU illegally was 72,000. So this is not about a massive migration of the planet’s poor to the rich North that has been going on for a long time and will never end. This is a specific emergency situation.

ZEIT: Why should erecting borders not work?

Knaus: Angela Merkel said that she has lived behind a fence long enough and she knows that fences won’t help. At first sight that’s a strange argument: The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall worked very well and repelled refugees for decades. But for that you need a death strip and a firing order. And even that could not deter many desperate people to try nevertheless. Merkel made it clear that she will not build this kind of fence. You could militarise your borders and regard refugees as enemies. But then you would need to give up European asylum law as we know it.

Gerald Knaus is chairman of the European Stability Initiative, a think tank advocating unconventional solutions to European crises.




Filed under: Europe,Germany,Greece,Hungary,Migration,Refugees,Turkey — Gerald @ 12:54 am
4 July 2015


Getting to Yes – on the brink in Greece

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

Dear friends,

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


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




Please Stay with us – facebook campaign

More here


More reading:

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

Reuters on the Greek Referendum, quoting ESI

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

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

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

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

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


Filed under: Balkans,Europe,Greece — Gerald @ 6:36 pm
20 June 2015

Pro-Europe Greece

When the Syriza government fails this must not mean that the only alternative are the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn.

There are pro-European and pro-reform Greeks who will make their voice heard. And there would be a huge reservoir of good-will across Europe for a Greek government that is serious about reforms, does not blame outside forces for its problems and really designs credible reform strategies to replace inchoate reforms proposed by foreigners.

Imagine the next Greek prime minister speaking like this, in Athens as well as in Berlin, in Thessaloniki as well as in Brussels, and also in Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and Bratislava:

“As you all know Greece is going through an excruciating financial crisis. Under these conditions we need common sense …

… in Greece we are still hesitant to liberate the administration from the rule of the politicians. We are all embedded in a culture which resists the separation between politics and administration.

In the Greek state as a whole, this is the most important reform which is desperately needed. Unfortunately, in reality it has not advanced much.

The current system of a strikingly unreliable administration tends to reproduce itself. And this is clearly the responsibility of both the Greek government as well as of the EU since it hasn’t touched upon this during the last 34 years.

I dare to say that reforms and changes are not enough in the case of the Greek state. We need to revamp the state and its mentality almost from scratch! A new political culture needs to emerge in order to host a genuine separation of powers within the state.

The current institutional framework under which we operate is excessively centralist and any effort of decentralisation has proved to be inefficient. We are still unable to cooperate effectively with the private sector and increase our productivity. An inextricable web of laws determines the framework within which we are forced to operate.

The state needs to stop being hostile to its citizens. We need a government that will stop fooling citizens and proceeds immediately to some common sense action.

Greece is going through a crucial phase. After the biggest recession ever experienced by a developed country in the post-war period, people are in despair.

Political forces must form a united front on certain fundamental issues – like the state’s modernisation – and negotiate from a better position the country’s future.

The view that we can resort to excessive public spending in order to revive the prosperity of the past is not only surreal; it also ignores the current balance of power in our continent.

In order to distribute wealth you need to create favourable conditions in order to produce it. Unfortunately, there are too many Greek politicians suggesting that sustainable growth can come without radical reforms but in some magic way.

What Greece desperately needs, is radical transformation of its state which can in turn bring change to its political culture. This will be our task.”

PS: Note: this speech was actually delivered by a Greek politician in 2014. A politician who was elected on this platform in 2010 and reelected in 2014 in Greece’s second biggest city.

” … we have an obligation to act in order to preserve Greece’s stability and prosperity. This can only be attained within the Eurozone and the EU. In the unfortunate event that things will go astray, we should all unite and protect the people’s well-being from irresponsible political manoeuvring. Greece cannot afford to waste more time and consume itself in endless and irrational political conflict. I will do whatever I can in my power to avert this. If we manage to pass the dire straits of the immediate future, I am hopeful that our country will enter a phase of creative reform and sustainable growth. Greece has demonstrated in the past and Greeks have demonstrated abroad that if they work under decent conditions, they can definitely thrive.”


See also: ESI essay: Greece: The good news from Greece – Can Thessaloniki point the way?

Filed under: Europe,Greece,Uncategorized — Gerald @ 6:26 pm
12 October 2014

Yannis Boutaris, Mayor of Thessaloniki

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

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

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

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

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

Ouroboros – societies sometimes resemble this ancient creature,
devouring themselves

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PS: Some further reading:

Thessaloniki’s exemplary revival:

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

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

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

Meeting the Mayor


Presenting on the Balkans in 2014



12 September 2013

What if?

In his wonderful book on Turkish history – The Young Turk Legacy And Nation Building – Dutch historian Eric J Zuercher has an intriguing chapter on “Turning Points and Missed Opportunitities in the Modern History of Turkey: Where Could Things Have Gone Differently?”. Here he discusses how Ottoman and later Turkey history might have developed if the wars of 1877 and 1912 had NOT taken place; if there had NOT been the Istanbul uprising of April 1909; if Kemal Ataturk had NOT established “an almost totalitarian grip” over the country in the 1920s; and if the transition to democracy after World War II had happened differently. And Zuercher concludes:

“it is a very useful exercise for us historians to remind ourselves that the historical developments with which we are all too familiar, should not be seen as inevitable … Thinking about what could have been makes us more sensitive to processes and contingencies that we too easily overlook when we already know how the story ends.”

It is indeed a useful exercise and I only regret that Zuercher stops his what if in the 1950s.

One of the most intriguing missed opportunities in Turkey’s modern history surely took place in the late 1970s, when Turkey decided not to follow Greece, Spain and Portugal and did not submit an application for full EU accession. Why did it not? Would it have succeeded?  Was it discouraged by EU member states or was this above all a result of its internal politics?

I have long been puzzled by this question; and so far I have found it difficult to find detailed accounts of what actually happened then. For now I only hope that Zuercher, or some other curious historian, will go and look in the diplomatic archives to tell us the full and real story.

Here are, for now, the outlines of this missed opportunity as I have pieced them together from different sources.

On 12 June 1975 Greece, having just emerged from military rule, submitted its application to the (then) European Economic Community (EEC). Negotiations started in July 1976. On 28 March 1977 Spain submitted its application. This was followed by Portugal in July that same year.

If Turkey had submitted an application at the time chances are that it would have been very difficult for the EEC to reject it while accepting Greece. While some EEC countries (including, not surprisingly, the France led by president Valery Giscard d’Estaing) did not believe that a Greek and Turkish application would necessarily be treated together, others apparently disagreed. Armagan Emre Cakir discusses evidence that some high level European politicians and officials travelled to Ankara and urged the government of the prime minister Bulent Ecevit in 1978 to apply. Ecevit was opposed; so was his deputy prime minister at the time, the Islamist Necemettin Erbakan. It seems that for Ecevit the EU was too capitalist; for Erbakan it was too much a “Christian club.”

There were even then those in Turkey who urged the country to be more proactive. The Turkish ambassador in Brussels, Tevfik Saracoglu, returned to Ankara in summer 1975 (after Greece had just applied) urging the prime minister Demirel, and party leaders Turkes and Erbakan to do the same. He left empty handed.

In May 1978, as the membership for Greece was finalized, Ecevit, instead of submitting a Turkish application, froze relations with the EEC.

But this was not the last chance. In 1980 the foreign minister of Turkey, Hayrettin Erkmen, told the government of Suleyman Demirel that Turkey should apply urgently. Erkmen failed. In fact, in July 1980 the Islamist Erbakan brought a motion against him into the parliament because of his idea to take Turkey into the EEC. This motion was supported by the left-wing Kemalist Bulent Ecevit. And so Erkmen was removed from office on 5 September 1980.

A week later, on 12 September, tanks rolled in streets of Ankara and Istanbul, as a military junta took control of the country. One of Turkey’s darkest periods was about to begin.

This is the rough outline of what must surely be regarded as one of the great missed opportunities of modern European history. I wonder if a Turkey on route to joining the EEC would have experienced the brutal coup in 1980 that finally and decisively separated its fate from that of other European Mediterranean countries with autocratic traditions. Greece joined the EU in 1981. Spain and Portugal followed in 1986. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and the division of Europe ended. During this time Turkey first adopted a military-inspired constitution, then fought a bitter counterinsurgency campaign against the PKK – while trying in vain to suppress all expressions of a separate Kurdish identity. Economically the gap between Turkey on the one hand and Spain, Portugal and Greece on the other became ever wider during the two decades that followed.

I hope this fascinating episode will one day soon be researched in depth. Unfortunately Hayretting Erkmen died in 1999, so it is no longer possible to interview him. Erbakan also died, as did Ecevit. And yet, there must be witnesses and documents that would allow a diligent historian to reconstruct the events that led to such a tragic denouement.

This also qualifies a claim sometimes still made by Turkish politicians that the EU has prevented them from joining the EU “for half a century”. For much of that period it appears Turkey’s biggest obstacle were the attitudes of Turkey’s leaders.

One also hopes that Turkey’s leaders do not repeat the mistakes of this time and miss further windows of opportunities. I could think of a few even now. This is, however, another story.

PS: If any readers know of any more detailed study of this period, in English , German or Turkish, please let me know at g.knaus@esiweb.org!

Filed under: Enlargement,Europe,Greece,Turkey — Gerald @ 8:14 pm
1 April 2013

One decade has been lost. What about the next one?

Op-ed by Gerald Knaus (for Koha Ditore)


In Athens, spring 2003


One decade ago, in spring 2003, the New York Times published an appeal by four Balkan leaders, the presidents of Croatia and Macedonia and the prime ministers of Albania and Serbia. Its title: “The EU and South-East Europe need each other.”[1] The occasion was a special Balkan meeting of the World Economic Forum in Athens where all these leaders also came together.

I was there too at the time, and I remember both the appeal and the atmosphere in Athens well. In fact, together with my friend Misha Glenny, I drafted it. There was a sense of urgency in the air, and of anticipation. Zoran Djindic, the prime minister of Serbia who had delivered Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, had been assassinated by ultra-nationalist members of the Serbian security forces. Croatia had handed in its application to join the EU, the first Western Balkan state to do so. The host of the meeting, Greece, then the EU’s rotating president, pushed hard to get a European commitment to continued Balkan enlargement.

Shortly before the Athens gathering Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia, invited me to draft an appeal that he planned to ask other leaders to co-sign. He knew that the region would receive a better hearing if it spoke with one voice. He was concerned. His own country had recently been on the verge of civil war. Serbia was on the edge, its ultranationalists growing in confidence. The future of Montenegro and Kosovo was not yet settled. Would the EU, following its 2004 enlargement to Central Europe – then just about to happen – get tired of further expansion? The Balkan leaders’ appeal warned: “Until the whole Southeastern Europe is safely integrated into the European Union, the job will not be complete. And until it is, Europe cannot feel secure about itself.”

One decade later, where do we stand? Today, when EU leaders talk about crises in South-East Europe they think of Athens not Skopje, of Nikosia, not Belgrade. Europe does not feel “secure about itself” but it is not the Western Balkans or the threat of renewed conflict that keeps EU leaders awake, literally, at one crisis summit after another.

Montenegro and Kosovo are independent states; the fear of armed conflict in the region has never appeared more distant. And yet, despite these important breakthroughs, it is hard not to regard the years since 2003 as a lost decade for the Balkans. Boris Trajkovski tragically died in an airplane crash in the Bosnian mountains, on his way to submit Macedonia’s own application for EU membership. His country has been stalled for years now by a Greek veto (a threat which did not appear real in 2003 in Athens). Serbia, ten years after the death of Djindic, has still not even opened EU accession talks. Albania is not an EU candidate yet. The Greek foreign minister in spring 2003, George Papandreou, became prime minister, only to be swept away by the Greek economic melt-down. 2003 was perhaps the last success of Greek diplomacy. At the European Union summit on the Balkans in Thessaloniki in summer EU leaders stated their “unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.”[2] Croatia used the past decade, opened accession talks, closed them, and is today on the verge of accession. And yet, it is likely that ten years from now in 2023 Croatia will still be the only Balkan country inside the EU.

Rereading the Trajkovski appeal today highlights a further disappointment. It contained a specific proposal: to make EU regional and cohesion funding available to the region, so as to help it catch up economically, rather than fall further behind. The appeal warned that “the long-term stability of Southeastern Europe depends on the region’s economic health, but this does not mean the usual plea for more money … We are committed to opening our markets to our neighbors and to the EU. We have made huge progress in curbing inflation. And we are now greatly encouraged by the proposal by Greece … that the Thessaloniki summit meeting focus on the possibility of applying cohesion and development policies in our region.”

This was a hope that has not come true. The Western Balkans remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. In Serbia today less than half of the working-age population is actually employed. Unemployment levels in Macedonia and Bosnia are disastrously high. Foreign direct investment in the region, which had transformed the economic structures of Central European countries, has fallen to very low levels. And yet, if a focus on underdevelopment in the Balkans has never been more urgent, the EU’s confidence in its ability to bring about convergence and growth in its own periphery has rarely been lower. The 2003 Trajkovski appeal stated that “The EU has a remarkable record of triggering economic success by helping poorer regions — Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal have experienced veritable revolutions in social and economic development in the last 20 years.” It is hard to imagine anybody writing like this today, in the wake of bail-outs, bank failures and rapidly rising unemployment in Spain or Greece.

EU leaders no longer worry about war in the Balkans. They are no longer confident in their ability to bring about economic convergence. They fear the weakness of democratic institutions in Romania or Greece. They worry about inadequate regulation in Cyprus or Spain. Given this state of affairs: what arguments can sway them to open their institutions to accept even poorer states, with even weaker institutions, and even worse images among the public and political elites in Berlin, Paris or The Hague?

Perhaps Greece will prepare for its EU presidency in 2014 by changing its policies on Skopje and Pristina.  Perhaps Serbia and Kosovo will soon reach an agreement that allows both countries to move beyond their confrontation. Perhaps Albania will manage to hold free and fair elections this summer. Perhaps Bosnia’s leaders will soon be able to put together a credible application for EU accession. Perhaps Macedonia’s leaders will be capable of renewing the national consensus to focus on EU integration that existed in 2003. Perhaps politicians throughout the region will wake up late at night worrying about youth unemployment and the inadequacy of vocational training, about export opportunities and the best way to use scarce public resources for growth, rather than about building  statutes or wasting public money on prestige infrastructure of little proven economic benefit. And then, perhaps, a successor of Boris Trajkovski will invite all his regional counterparts to an informal meeting to seriously discuss what they might do together to correct the image of their region, driven by the recognition that the whole region has dropped out of the focus of the rest of Europe.

If Boris Trajkovski would be around today, and would propose drafting a new appeal for Balkan leaders to sign and publish, what could it say? Appeals are expected to end with proposals, a sense of hope, recommendations. But sometimes it is better to resist this temptation. To acknowledge just how steep the wall is that one has to climb. To recognise that before any new appeals to the EU a whole series of steps have to be taken by the region itself. To recognise that time matters; and that April 2013 is another crucial moment which Balkan leaders miss at their peril. I believe Trajkovski would have realised this. Will his successors?

Perhaps this is not a time for appeals at all, but for a blunt and honest recognition: a decade has been lost. The next might be as well. And it is not by formulating words on paper that this can be prevented.

13 December 2012

Macedonia and accession: how the arguments of supporters of early accession talks prevailed

As EU member states gathered last week to discuss Council Conclusions relating to Macedonia two camps of member states emerged with two versions of these conclusions. To understand whose arguments prevailed – and how to judge what happened – it is important to go beyond facile conclusions and take a closer look at both proposals.

On the one hand there was a majority of member states who favored very positive language. These states were hoping to encourage a proactive Commission to take the initiative and to prepare the ground to launch EU accession talks with Macedonia already in June 2013. They were  hoping that in the end both Greece and Bulgaria would agree that this was also in their interest … that this was truly an issue where all sides could win.

In this group’s draft of the Council Conclusions a concrete date – June 2013 – is given for the possible opening of accession negotiations. This version states that the Council examines further progress in Macedonia on the basis of a Commission report before June 2013. It asks the Commission to submit “in due time” (i.e. at its own discretion, meaning it could start work on it right away in early 2013) a proposal for a negotiations framework, to be ready by June. It also invites the Commission to begin the “analytical examination of the acquis” (screening) right away.

Here are the key paragraphs of this maximalist proposal, backed by most member states and the Commission last week:

3. The Council largely shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

5. With a view to the possible opening of accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in June 2013, the Council will examine progress in the implementation of reforms in the context of the High Level Accession Dialogue, on the basis of a report to be presented by the Commission in the first half of 2013. The Commission is invited to submit in due time a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice, which also takes into account good neighbourly relations. Taking into account the new approach to accession negotiations as regards the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security, the Commission is also invited to carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis on these chapters.

Faced with this France, backed by a much smaller number of other EU states, put a counter-proposal on the table late last week. This version assesses progress in Macedonia less positively (the Council no longer “largely” but only “broadly” shares the Commission’s positive assessment). The minimalist proposal removes any reference to any concrete date. At an unspecified future moment, the European council would once again have to decide and invite the commission to submit a proposal for a negotiations framework.  This would happen only “once all the conditions are met”, which is not explained. The minimalist version states that in order to start screening another Council decision would be needed to task the Commission to do so. For now the commission gets no mandate to do anything until further notice.

Here is the full text of the minimalist version:

3. The Council broadly shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

5. Before opening accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a decision which will be considered in due time by the European Council, in line with established practice, the Council will continue to examine progress in the implementation of reforms including in the context of the High Level Accession Dialogue. Once all conditions are met, the European Council will invite the Commission to submit a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice, which also takes into account good neighbourly relations. Taking into account the new approach to accession negotiations as regards the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security, the European Council will also invite the Commission to carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis on these chapters.

So what actually happened? In all EU negotiations there is usually a give and take. However, if one takes a look at the final text of the Council Conclusions one sees clearly that the maximalist proposal emerged largely victorious.

In the final text the following was agreed:

– the council “largely” (not “broadely”) shares the Commission’s positive view that Macedonia was ready to open talks (the maximalist version).

– The council tasks the Commission already now to produce a report “in spring 2013” “with a view to a possible decision of the European Council to open accession negotiations”.

–  The council commits that it will assess this report “during the next presidency”, i.e. before July 2013.

–  Provided that the assessment is positive, the Commission will be invited to submit “without delay” (i.e. as quickly as it can) a framework for negotiations.

–  Provided that the assessment is positive the Commission will be invited to start screening two chapters, i.e. before accession talks begin.

–  The Council even “takes note” that the Commission “will conduct all the necessary preparatory work in this respect” … which means that Commission can start preparing both the negotiations framework and screening right away.

Look at the finally agreed text of the conclusions and the answer whose arguments won the day is obvious:

40. The Council largely shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

42. With a view to a possible decision of the European Council to open accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Council will examine, on the basis of a report to be presented by the Commission in Spring 2013, implementation of reforms in the context of the HLAD, as well as steps taken to promote good neighbourly relations and to reach a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue under the auspices of the UN. In this perspective, the Council will assess the report during the next Presidency.  Provided that the assessment is positive, the Commission will be invited by the European Council to: (1) submit without delay a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice; (2) carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis beginning with the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security. The Council takes note of the intention of the Commission to conduct all the necessary preparatory work in this respect.

The original plan of the Commission and of the member states who supported the maximalist version was to create a new momentum emerging from this Council. In this they succeeded.

–  The Commission can immediately begin to prepare its “spring report” which the Council will assess before July 2013.

–  The Commission can immediately begin to prepare for the analytical screening of two chapters and draft a proposal for negotiations.

–  Once the Council accepts a positive Commission report the Commission will submit the framework for negotiations “without delay”

One basic reality has obviously not changed: Greece will have to agree to the opening of accession talks. Expecting anything else was always unrealistic. The hopes of the friends of opening accession talks were to kick-start a process of finding a solution to the name issue in the first few months of 2013. Both supporters of opening talks soon and minimalists agreed on this paragraph without arguing:

41. As set out in the European Council conclusions of June 2008, maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, remains essential. There is a need to bring the longstanding discussions on the name issue to a definitive conclusion without delay. The Council welcomes the momentum that has been generated by recent contacts/exchanges between the two parties, following the Greek proposal for a memorandum of understanding. The Council is, moreover, encouraged by recent contacts with the UN mediator.

The important point is this: if there is a positive European commission report following enough movement on the name issue and on good neighbourly relations all preparations will have been  made to launch accession talks in 2013 without delay.

Clearly the pressure has increased further for a serious effort to find a breakthrough in early 2013. This is pressure on everyone: on the Commission, on interested EU member states, but above all on Skopje and Athens. The fact that Greece accepted these conclusions, however, is another small positive sign.

The European Commission’s hope from the very beginning was to energize the search for a mutually agreed solution to the name issue.  The commission and most member states wanted a date in the conclusions when accession talks would possibly be opened. Now there are two dates in the conclusions: a report by the commission on progress by “spring” (April) with a view to start accession talks; and a Council assessment of this “before the next presidency” (before July).

An additional paragraph was also inserted upon the initiative of Bulgaria:

In light of the overall importance of maintaining good neighbourly relations, the Council also notes the recent high level contacts between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria and looks forward to their translation into concrete actions and results.

This means: if there is an agreed solution on the name issue soon, and if there are ‘concrete actions and results’ from high level meetings with Bulgaria till April, the goal to start accession talks in 2013 “before the next presidency” or very early in it remains alive. These are one big and one (slightly) smaller if. But a focused effort by the Commission and by member states supportive of opening accession talks soon has prepared a more promising playing field for a breakthrough than there has been in a while. What is needed now is a serious and imaginative solution to the name dispute before the commission reports “in the spring”; a solution that allows both Athens and Skopje to unlock the current destructive stalemate in a manner that both governments can defend before their domestic constituencies.

The Council was a warm up exercise. Now the real game begins. Athens and Skopje face a prisoners dilemma: if neither side believes that a solution is possible, and acts on this, both will lose. If both sides take a calculated risk to take the search for a mutually acceptable solution seriously both can win.

By spring 2013 we will know the outcome … sooner rather than later.

Filed under: Enlargement,Greece,Macedonia — Gerald @ 3:04 am
Newer Posts »
Rumeli Observer