26 July 2014

Here is a nice book for the summer: Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From – The Natural History of Innovation. Johnson writes:

“We have a natural tendency to romanticize breakthrough innovations, imagining momentous ideas transcending their surroundings, a gifted mind somehow seeing over the detritus of old ideas and ossified tradition.

But ideas are works of bricolage. They are, almost inevitably, networks of other ideas. We take the ideas we’ve inherited or stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape. We like to think of our ideas as a $40,000 incubator, shipped direct from the factory, but in reality they’ve been cobbled together with spare parts that happened to be sitting in the garage.”

(if you are looking for an interesting short article to read this weekend, try this: The Genius of the Tinkerer.)

Since good ideas are the results of networks, any think tank’s success to remain fresh and innovative over a period of time depends above all on the quality of its networks. Any series of interesting reports  are the result of the effort of many individuals collecting spare parts, and many long nights trying to cobble them together.

This summer it is fifteen years since we set up ESI in Sarajevo in summer 1999. Since then we have been tinkering with ideas.

The real birthday: launch meeting in Sarajevo in summer 1999.

By now we have produced a few thousand of pages of writing under the ESI logo.

Are you still short of summer reading? Then take a quick look at any of these, perhaps one strikes your interest.


Highlights and Disappointments over 15 years

Some of our reports have shaped debates: Islamic Calvinists. The European Raj. Caviar Diplomacy.

There have been some successful campaigns, such as our Visa White List Project. Or helping highlight injustices committed against ordinary Bosnian police officers. Or helping Turkey obtain a visa liberalisation process.

Some recommendations were picked up directly by decision makers. In 2001 we wrote a report – in cooperation with Martti Ahtisaari – recommending that the Stability Pact for South East Europe focus on regional energy integration; our second recommendation then, to focus on visa liberalisation, was picked up much later by the European Commission.

In 2002 we called for a big summit on the Balkans under the Greek EU presidency, advocating also that “the states of the Western Balkans could join Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey within the responsibility of a post-2004 Directorate for Enlargement.” And we worked closely with friends in the Greek foreign ministry at the time preparing ideas for the Thessaloniki summit.

Since 2007 we pushed for visa liberalisation for the Western Balkans, later including Moldova and Turkey. We organised a meeting with Balkan NGOs for a coordinated campaign in Novi Sad in October 2007. And pushed the idea of making this a major focus in COWEB in Brussels at the invitation of the Slovenian EU presidency in January 2008.

Since last summer we are working on how to make the current pre-accession process and methodology more effective and inspiring.

We had many disappointments. Advocating solutions for Mitrovica. Arguing for an Economic Development Strategy for Kosovo in 2004. Advocating for a change in Council of Europe policy on Azerbaijan.

For more than a decade we shared our writing experience with others: with ESI fellows, and in capacity building seminars to help new think tanks emerge, from Albania to Kiev. Quite a number have emerged, and prosper today.

Since 1999 we produced many reports on Bosnia. Some widely debated: Bosnian Power Structures (1999). A state building agenda for Bosnia (2000). Making Federalism Work (2004). Post-Industrial Society and the Authoritarian Temptation (2004). A Bosnian Fortress (2007). Bosnian Visa Break Through (2009). Lost in the Bosnian Labyrinth – on Sejdic-Finci (2013).

We worked a lot on Macedonia: Ahmeti’s Village – on the political economy of Albanian-Macedonian conflict (2002). The economic crisis in the borderlands (2005). The need to give Macedonia candidate status in 2005. Recently the loss of credibility of the European Union today: Vladimir and Estragon in Skopje.

In Turkey we focused on issues ranging from the position of women in society (Sex and Power, 2007) to Turkey-EU relations (A very special relationship, 2010); from the Turkey debates in the Netherlands, Austria and Germany to murders and campaigns against missionaries; from the Erasmus generation (2014) to trials of military (in Kafka’s world, 2014)

In Kosovo we published on the impact of migration on households and families (Cutting the Lifeline), on economic development in Peja and Pristina, on the failure of privatisation and on the future of Kosovo Serbs, arguing against the Spirit of Lausanne. Currently we are working on schools and education policy in Kosovo.

In Georgia we studied reforms and a libertarian revolution, a topic picked up by many other scholars. We looked at the genocide debate and Armenian-Turkish relations. We also did work on Montenegro. On Croatia. On Albania. On Slovenia. On Bulgaria. On Romania. On Serbia.

Finally, we produced documentaries, seen by millions of people on public and private television stations in more than 10 countries: these included 12 films in the series Return to Europe.

(Please check out our new country pages with links to all our work here – reports, picture stories, films)

All of this was possible because of donors who believed that by funding our research, they could contribute usefully to policy debates. Here are the five most important ones  in recent years: ERSTE Stiftung. Open Society Foundations. The Swedish government. The UK government. And Stiftung Mercator.


Thank you to Yana and Max

Two analysts are leaving us this summer. Both joined us as junior fellows: Yana Zabanova five years ago. She has since worked on a huge number of different ESI reports. And Maximilien Lambertson half a year ago. For their reflections on this experience go here.  Many many thanks!

If this inspires you and you want to join us as a Junior Fellow, please apply here! We look forward to hear from you. (In August the ESI office in Berlin handling applications shuts down. However, you can send in the meantime send any complete applications to me directly: g.knaus@esiweb.org.)

 

 

 

Filed under: Books,How ESI works,Uncategorized — Gerald @ 10:35 am
31 January 2014

Does EU enlargement policy change countries? Can it inspire the people who have to push through deep and complex reforms? Does it help ensure respect for fundamental rights?

What really are the minimum political standards that candidates will have to meet? What is, in the European Commission’s view, a “functioning market economy”?

What is the future of the Directorate General for Enlargement, the department of the European Commission in charge of this policy? And what is the future direction of the DG for Enlargement’s actions, given the unpopularity of the current policy in certain key member states?

 

Measuring alignment?

2013 EU assessments of countries according to the 32 chapters assessed. When it comes to the state of alignment, Turkey is ahead, despite many chapters being blocked. Macedonia is second, despite not being allowed to negotiate. Serbia is ahead of Montenegro. In October 2013 Albania was the very last. For the origins of the assessments in the 2013 reports see at the bottom of this text. The effects of producing such tables in a credible way is the subject of this text.

For the score this conversion used is:  Advanced = 3 points, Moderate = 1 point, Early = 0 points (Source: EU progress reports – see below!). Since Bosnia and Kosovo have different types of progress reports they are not included here.

 

This week in Brussels I gave a presentation on the future of EU enlargement policy. The occasion was a strategy brainstorming session of the senior team of DG for Enlargement in Brussels, made up of some 60 people. The meeting followed similar presentations to policy makers in Berlin, Stockholm, Zagreb, Skopje, Brussels, Istanbul, Paris, and Rome. While I spoke in Brussels, my colleague Kristof presented similar ideas to Croatian Foreign Minister, Vesna Pusic, in Zagreb.

I was asked to be provocative. So I started with a personal encounter from a few weeks ago.

During a late night conversation in Zagreb, a journalist from a very respected European paper in a large EU member state told me that in his view “DG Enlargement should be shut down.” The argument, (which I had heard before in large EU member states I know well) was as follows:

None of the countries in the Balkans (or Turkey) are today even close to meeting what should be the EU’s demanding standards. They have weak institutions, corrupt administrations, create few or no jobs, and have incredibly polarised political environments. Nor are they moving in the right direction at a credible speed in overcoming these problems to make real change likely in the next decade or two. The EU has already admitted too many weak countries. Against this background having a DG for Enlargement creates constant pressure to repeat an earlier mistake. “Can you really imagine Albania in the EU any time soon?” And if you cannot, what then, is the point of a DG for Enlargement?

A few years ago such a view would have been very radical. In some European member state parliaments it is now on the way to becoming the new mainstream.

Of course, there will continue to be a DG dealing with enlargement for the foreseeable future. There is a policy, there are commitments, and there is inertia. The “European perspective” still produces real results. It is an “anchor.” It is leverage, at a low cost to the EU.

However the challenge posed by skeptics calls for a credible answer to the question of whether or not the basic premise of accession policy – that it changes countries for the better, and for good – is valid. And does the European Commission offer credible assessments of progress, or is it condemned by bureaucratic self-interest to be a cheerleader for badly prepared countries? (Or, to avoid this criticism, does it end up being seen as unfair in accession states?)

We accept that there is a crisis of credibility of the process. We are also convinced that there is an opportunity to substantially improve the impact of what is being done today by the EU in accession countries without changing the basic policy. The focus must return to the concrete and visible results in accession countries –  “concrete” and “visible” for skeptics as well.

Enlargement policy needs to mobilise people or it fails. Without the mobilisation of policy makers, civil servants, civil society, and interest groups in accession countries, the kind of changes that have to happen will not happen.

It is here that we encounter a problem with the way many measure accession progress today: the language of “counting chapters opened.” Any complex process generates technical language, bureaucratic procedures, and jargon for those most involved. In the case of enlargement, however, the technical language has crowded out a focus on what makes this policy worthwhile and inspiring.

Recently I asked some of my Turkish friends what they thought the EU should do next in Turkey. Their answer: “Open Chapter 23. Then the EU can seriously discuss fundamental rights with Turkey.” This is how very serious and committed people talk, full of good intentions. And yet, it is puzzling. For when one asks “what do you believe happens after a ‘chapter is opened’ that makes any real progress more likely? Is there evidence that ‘chapter-opening’ produces change?” people pause. Rightly so, as I showed in my Brussels presentation. There is in fact no evidence that “chapter opening” produces change – Turkey shows this best in recent years – that progress in “un-opened” chapters is faster or slower than in “opened” ones. A country can make all the reforms and then “open and close” all chapters at the very end (Croatia did this in many key policy fields). It can open many chapters and make no progress for years.

See this table. Note that it is based on the Commission’s own assessments in the 2013 progress reports (For more on these assessments see the ESI scorecard further below):

The argument is not against the need to have “chapters,” which define separate policy areas, from consumer protection to public procurement or waste management. These are useful conventions to deal with the vast range of European standards and policies.

However, what really matters is that the EU spells out clearly, publicly, fairly, and strictly – and in a way that is understood by the broadest possible public in Albania, Turkey, Serbia or Macedonia – WHAT the basic and fundamental rights and standards should be in a country that wants to join. And it should do this regardless of whether a “chapter” is opened (or a member state decides to veto this, as has happened and may well continue to).

This is what accession is about from the very beginning. To allow for a “veto” against focusing on key issues makes no sense at all. What does make sense is a focus on closing “chapters,” which in any case only happens at the very end, and in turn depends on the nature of the reforms being done!

So by all means, open Chapter 23 with Turkey (and every country), if this is possible. And yes, it was good to “open a chapter on regional policy” (Chapter 22), last summer. It was a “signal” that there was still a process in motion. But in the end, it was also a strange response to the drama of the Gezi protests and their subsequent repression. Yes, there is a process, as the EU stated, but one that does not address WHY opening Chapter 22 is an answer to the question most observers were asking about the state of democracy. How did opening a chapter on regional policy change anything meaningful in Turkey in 2013?  What has it changed since this was done?

The bureaucratic steps designed many years ago to make enlargement manageable are here to stay: the categories of potential candidates, opening one of 35 chapters, opening benchmarks, closing chapters. The bureaucratic process is not the problem. Nor is the fact that at every step, 28 member states have a veto. This is simply a fact of life.

However, what can and must happen is that the European Commission – and supporters of enlargement – see this ladder and the more than 70 steps for what it truly is: an instrument to many more worthwhile ends. And it is only those ends that matter to skeptical EU member states and to people in accession states: more vibrant public debates on political issues, particularly on television. Less discrimination of minorities, whether LGBT or religious minorities. More transparent spending whenever public agencies procure goods and services. A credible strategy to ensure safe food. Environmental inspectorates that ensure that dangerous waste is dealt with appropriately. Less polarised politics. A credible judiciary. Rules for businesses that allow fair competition. And many more…

Take another example. There is an esoteric debate, reminiscent of what scholars discussed in the cathedral schools of medieval Europe, on what is a “functioning market economy” for the European Commission. And in every progress report there is one section on “economic criteria.”

The EU insists that all accession candidates have a functioning market economy before they join: this makes intuitive sense. But the European Commission does not explain how it recognises one. Turkey has a “functioning market economy,” according to the EU. Serbia does not. One could have many long debates on whether a country that is not creditworthy has a functioning market economy (Greece? Cyprus?). Is this status linked to growth or its absence? (Was Finland a functioning market economy in 1988, stopped being one in 1993, and became one again in 1995?)

In fact, I recently learned that some people are trying to take the Commission to court (!) to disclose what its (secret) yardstick for measuring the functionality of an economy is. But it seems a misleading and irrelevant debate. If the Commission WOULD say that Albania will have a “functioning market economy” in 5 years, would members of the Bundestag or the Dutch public believe it? What does withholding this label do for Albania and the EU?

Would it not be better to assess countries by a few clear, measurable, and meaningful outcomes – the results of good economic policy? And to rewrite the currently unreadable and incomprehensible economic sections of progress reports so as to trigger regular and widespread public debates on economic fundamentals?

This could be done by defining and explaining a few key indicators for non-economist readers. Take the employment rate – how many people of working age have worked at least some in the past week, as measured by a credible standardised labor force survey? (Counting people employed in subsistence agriculture – how many of them are among the “employed?” This is also hugely interesting.)  Then one looks a bit closer: if employment is low, is this because few young people work? Or few women?

An accession candidate should focus on these questions, and a progress report by the commission should highlight them, which it does not currently do. In the 2013 Macedonia progress report the authors gave TWO employment rates: 40.7 percent on page 16 and 48.2 percent on page 61, in the same report! (It obviously did not seem central to the authors).

A country that has a low employment rate and yet aims to convince the EU that its economy can, after accession, “withstand competitive pressures” should be asked to show – over the period of the accession process – that it can address this issue seriously, and with at least some success. This is a debate worth having and renewing every year.

The same could be said for other outcomes of economic policy: what about exports per capita, the stock and flow of FDI, the qualifications of the future work force (as measured by the OECD’s PISA tests, which amazingly, not all candidate countries are currently required to participate in), or the ability to spend EU grant money on development?

For most of these outcomes of economic policy there are robust indicators that allow comparisons over time and between countries.  For some the European Commission can easily construct them. Indicators work best if they are completely plausible, and intuitively make sense to a broad public. And there need not be 20. The World Bank’s Doing Business reports started with five in 2004. Better five that every reader can understand, than twenty that are esoteric and hard to grasp.

The same is true for policy areas covered in the chapters. In my Brussels presentation I suggested doing for each chapter – and for each country – what the EU has done in the recent visa liberalisation process: produce one document that clearly sums up what the core requirements are under each policy area (or chapter) that every accession candidate should meet. They could look like visa liberalisation roadmaps (see here examples)

“Core” requirements means that these roadmaps for chapters need not include everything, but rather most of the important criteria – requirements that countries only need to meet shortly before actual accession can be excluded. These requirements should focus on OUTCOMES:  not just to pass a law, but also to “pass a law, have a credible institution and implement it.” And these requirements should be assessed annually in the progress reports for all countries, so they can be compared. There is no reason not to do this in all 7 countries, including Albania and Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo. This would trigger very healthy debates and competition everywhere. In this way the annual progress report of the European Commission, its sections on “economic criteria” and on the policy areas in the 33 chapters, would become readable, interesting, and useful. It would address all four strategic objectives:

  • Fairness: Regular fair public assessments of where accession countries really stand in terms of meeting EU criteria.
  • Strictness: Strict public assessment of where accession countries are failing or even falling behind. The more concrete and specific the assessments are of what is missing, the better.
  • Clarity: Any EU assessment needs to be understood, not just by a handful of experts, but by the broader interested public in accession countries and in the EU. (Sections that are incomprehensible to an interested non-expert should be cut and rewritten).
  • Comparability: Any assessment should encourage two types of comparisons: between the situation in accession countries and EU standards, and among accession countries. Comparisons help both the fairness and the strictness of assessments.  They encourage friendly competition and mutual learning from best practice.

ESI believes that the regular progress reports – published annually by the European Commission on every applicant country already now – are the obvious and best instrument to achieve all of these objectives. Improving them is rightly at the center of any debate on how to increase the impact and credibility of current enlargement policy.

We are convinced that, building on what the Commission is already doing, progress reports could easily have the same impact on reform debates and reforms in accession countries as the regular OECD Pisa reports have had. Since 2000 these have reshaped the global debate on education.

This would help the Commission to keep (or regain) the trust in its assessments, which it needs to be effective.

In the end, the success of the commission in the field of enlargement cannot be measured by formal criteria: how many countries have started accession talks or how many chapters have been opened is not what matters most. What matters is closing chapters. And this can only happen after reforms are implemented. This means what matters now is what best helps the reform process.

 

BRUSSELS PRESENTATION

Below are a few slides from my Brussels presentation. In the next weeks we are planning to organise many more presentations across Europe. We integrate the feedback into the next presentations and policy papers. If you have thoughts on this, please do let us know: you can write directly to g.knaus@esiweb.org.

One reason PISA tests capture the public imagination: they make it possible to compare results between countries and over time. But the ranking is not a gimmick for the media: the results also allow detailed analysis, such as what kind of schools are doing better than others? Are there differences between reading and science results? Between girls and boys? How significant are the discrepancies between the best and the worst performing schools?

A notable strength of PISA is that it focused on results, not perceptions. DG enlargement needs the same. A credible yardstick – a gripping, readable annual report – would achieve all of these goals. The progress reports should be this:


This requires that all parts of the reports be read, understood, and taken seriously by at least the following members of a focus group: the civil servants who work on it, political leaders in government and opposition, business people who care about EU accession for what it means for them, critical journalists, civil society activists, and interested followers of the news, who might be tempted to look for a translation of the report.

See below a possible focus group in Macedonia: this IS the readership of these reports in any country.

At the same time EU member states need to see what is being done.

There are three parts to progress reports, where different ways of assessment are needed:

Political criteria: A focus on outcomes and areas where countries fall short. This is NOT likely to be usefully measured in quantitative terms, but best by reference to minimum standards, (which need not be low, but should be plausible). More on this in the next ESI reports.

Economic criteria: A focus on plausible OUTCOMES of good policy, a mere handful of key and obvious indicators.

Alignment with EU policies and regulations in sectors: The production – for the 33 chapters – of roadmaps would help because it would allow turning implementation into scorecards. This WAS done for visa liberalisation:

The key is how to identify core objectives in each policy field. The expertise for most or all of the policy fields currently exists in the Commission, as does the text.

This would then also allow comparisons. And this in turn would inspire debates, allow leaders to focus, and allow the media to analyse … it would put the results of the process – not the formal opening of closing of chapters – at the center of attention.

Rethinking the methods of assessment would also allow countries to make real efforts to try to beat low expectations… and to know that this would be recognised. It would allow certain ministers in a government to stand out. This is what happened to Bosnia during the visa liberalisation process in the summer of 2010. (See below the scorecard before and after this real effort).

At the same time, this would allow critical member states to understand in detail HOW the European Commission arrives at its assessments.

All this leads to a few concrete suggestions for EU accession future progress reports:

  • Precise formulations (even more so than today, though in 2013 this was already done)
  • In assessing “alignment” (or “preparation”) consider moving towards terms that more clearly indicate the required end-state: “Fully met,” “Largely met,” and “Not yet met.”
  • Build each chapter assessment on publicly available individual chapter roadmaps, which also list the indicators used to assess implementation.
  • Add scorecards for each chapter
  • Report on all seven countries in the same way so they can be compared.
  • Consider adjusting chapter roadmaps every three years in light of the changing EU acquis.

Scorecard legend for the table below:

Green: alignment is/preparations are advanced / well advanced / rather advanced / relatively advanced; high / sufficient level of alignment)

Yellow: alignment is/ preparations are advancing / moderately advanced / on track

Red: alignment is/ preparations are starting / at an early stage / not very advanced / not yet sufficient. / A country has started to address its priorities in this area.

Alignment with the acquis – per chapter – 2013 Progress Reports

 

Chapter

Turkey

Mace-donia

Serbia

Monte-negro

Albania

1: Free movement of goods

3

3

1

3

1

2: FoM for workers

0

0

1

0

0

3: Right of establishment, freedom to provide services

0

1

1

0

1

4: Free movement of capital

0

1

1

1

1

5: Public procurement

1

3

1

1

1

6: Company law

3

1

3

1

1

7: Intellectual property law

3

1

3

3

0

8: Competition policy

1

3

1

1

0

9: Financial services

3

1

1

1

1

10: Information society & media

1

1

1

1

1

11: Agriculture & rural development

0

1

0

0

0

12: Food safety

0

1

1

0

0

13: Fisheries

0

1

1

0

0

14: Transport policy

1

1

1

3

0

15: Energy

3

1

1

1

0

16: Taxation

1

1

1

1

1

17: Economic & monetary policy

3

3

1

1

0

18: Statistics

3

3

3

1

1

19: Social policy & employment

1

0

0

0

0

20: Enterprise & industrial policy

3

1

1

0

1

21: Trans-European networks

3

3

1

1

0

22: Regional policy, structural instr.

1

0

1

0

1

23: Judiciary & fundamental  rights

24: Justice, freedom & security

0

3

1

1

1

25: Science & research

3

1

1

1

0

26: Education & culture

1

1

1

3

1

27: Environment & climate change

0

1

0

0

0

28: Consumer & health protection

1

1

1

1

0

29: Customs union

3

3

1

1

1

30: External relations

3

1

1

1

1

31:Foreign, security, defence policy

1

3

1

1

1

32: Financial control

1

0

1

1

1

33: Financial & budgetary prov.

0

0

0

0

0

 

 

Detailed assessment by the European Commission (2013)

Chapter

Turkey

Macedonia

Serbia

Montenegro

Albania

1: Free movement of goods

The state of alignment in this chapter is advanced.

Preparations in the area of free movement of goods are advanced.

Preparations in the area of free movement of goods are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of free movement of goods are relatively advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

2: Freedom of movement for workers

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are still at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Alignment with the acquis is still at an early stage.

Preparations in the area of freedom of movement for workers are at an early stage.

3: Right of establishment and freedom to provide services

Alignment is at an early stage.

In the area of postal services, the level of alignment is advanced. There is not yet full alignment with the acquis, particularly as regards mutual recognition of professional qualifications, free movement of services and establishment.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

Substantial efforts are still needed to align the legislation and implement the acquis on mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

4: Free movement of capital

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations are on track and gradual harmonisation of the regulatory framework for payment systems is under way.

Alignment in this area is moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

5: Public procurement

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of public procurement are advanced.

Alignment in the area of public procurement is moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of public procurement are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the field of public procurement are moderately advanced.

6: Company law

Turkey is well advanced in this area.

Preparations in the area of company law as a whole are moderately advanced.

Alignment in the area of corporate law is well advanced.

Preparations remain moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

7: Intellectual property law

Alignment with the acquis is advanced.

Preparations in the field of IPR are moderately advanced.

Alignment in the area of IPL is advanced.

Preparations are advanced.

Preparations are not very advanced.

8: Competition policy

Turkey is moderately advanced in this area.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Alignment in this area is moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

Preparations for the revision of state aid legislation are at an early stage.

9: Financial services

Preparations in the area of financial

services are advanced.

Alignment with key parts of the acquis on financial market infrastructure has not yet been achieved. In the area of financial services, alignment with the acquis is moderately advanced.

Alignment in the area of financial services is moderately advanced.

The level of alignment is moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

10: Information society and media

Preparations are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are on track.

Alignment with the

acquis in this area remains moderately advanced.

Preparations are on track.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

11: Agriculture and rural development

Preparations in the area of agriculture and rural development are at an early stage.

Preparations remain moderately advanced.

Alignment with the acquis remains at an early stage.

Alignment with the acquis is at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are not very advanced.

12: Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations in the area of food safety and veterinary policy are well on track. Preparations in the phytosanitary area are at an early stage.

Preparations in the area of food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy are moderately advanced.

Preparations remain at an early stage.

Preparations remain at an early stage.

13: Fisheries

Alignment in this area is at an early stage.

A large proportion of the fisheries acquis is not relevant as the country is landlocked.

Preparations in the area of fisheries are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations are not very advanced.

14: Transport policy

In the area of transport, Turkey is moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Serbia is moderately advanced in its alignment with the acquis in this area.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Preparations in the area of transport are not very advanced.

15: Energy

Turkey is at a rather advanced level of alignment in the field of energy.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of energy are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of energy are moderately advanced.

Preparations are not very advanced.

16: Taxation

Preparations in this chapter are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of taxation are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of taxation are moderately advanced.

Montenegro’s alignment with the acquis is moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

17: Economic and monetary policy

Turkey’s level of preparedness is advanced.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Serbia is moderately advanced.

Alignment in the area of economic and monetary policy is moderately advanced.

Preparations are not yet sufficient.

18: Statistics

Alignment with the acquis is at an advanced level.

Preparations in the field of statistics are advanced.

Serbia is advanced in the area of statistics.

Preparations in the area of statistics are moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

19: Social policy and employment

Legal alignment is moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Serbia has started to address its priorities in this area.

Montenegro has started to address its priorities in this area.

Preparations in the area of social policy and employment are not very advanced.

20: Enterprise and industrial policy

Turkey has a sufficient level of alignment in this chapter.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are on track.

A strategic effort to promote skills at all levels in sectors where Montenegro has significant trade with the EU will be important to improve competitiveness and ensure preparedness for competitive pressures and market forces within the Union.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

21: Trans-European networks

Alignment in this chapter is advanced.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Preparations in the area of trans-European networks are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of trans-European networks are not very advanced.

22: Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments

Preparations in this area are

moderately advanced.

Preparations in

this area are not very advanced.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

23: Judiciary and fundamental rights

24: Justice, freedom and security

Alignment in the area of justice and home affairs is at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Serbia is moderately advanced in the area of justice, freedom and security.

Alignment with the acquis in the field of legal migration, asylum and visas is still at an early stage.

Preparations in this field are advancing.

25: Science and research

Turkey is well prepared in this area.

Preparations in this area are on track.

Preparations in the area of science and research are on track.

Preparations in this area are well on track.

Preparations are not sufficiently advanced.

26: Education and culture

(No assessment of the state of alignment.)

Preparations in the areas of education and culture are moderately advanced.

Preparations for aligning with EU standards are moderately advanced.

Preparations are advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

27: Environment and climate change

Preparations in these fields are at an early stage.

Preparations in the field of the environment are moderately advanced while preparations in the field of climate change remain at an early stage.

Priorities in the fields of environment and climate change have started to be addressed.

Preparations in these areas are still at an early stage.

Preparations in the fields of the environment and climate change are at an early stage.

28: Consumer and health protection

Preparations in this area are on track.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area remain moderately advanced.

Preparations in these areas are moderately advanced.

Preparations are starting.

29: Customs union

The level of alignment in this area remains high.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Preparations in the area of the customs union are well on track.

Preparations in the field of customs union are moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

30: External relations

There is a high level of alignment in this area.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of external relations are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of external relations are on track.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

31: Foreign, security and defence policy

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are well advanced.

Preparations in the area of foreign, security and defence policy are well on track.

Preparations in the area of foreign, security and defence policy are on track.

Preparations in this field remain on track.

32: Financial control

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

33: Financial and budgetary provisions

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations are at an early stage.

Preparations in this field are at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations in the area of financial and budgetary provisions are at an early stage.

13 July 2009

Saturday 11 July 2009 is a special day in the life of this particular European think tank …

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In summer 1999 a group of friends gathered in Sarajevo and decided to set up a new institution to analyse international policy in the Balkans. Thus ESI is born.

Ten years later a much larger group of friends, from across a much larger Europe, comes together in Istanbul to discuss the lessons of the past decade (1999-2009) and how new ideas might shape the next decade of Europe’s evolution (2009-2019).

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We come together in a colourful building full of modern art, which reflects both the diverse composition of our staff and our eclectic approach to research methodologies, but built solidly on Byzantine foundations, in the heart of the old town.

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Our first debate is, not surprisingly, on Turkey: how much have things really changed in the largest EU candidate country during the past decade? And what is likely to happen in the coming years?

Nigar Goksel (Turkey), ESI senior analyst for Turkey and the Caucasus, moderates and watches as Amberin Zaman (Turkey), correspondent of the Economist and columnist in Taraf, explains what it was like to work in Turkey’s South East as a journalist in the mid 1990s … and how much has changed since then. In fact, dramatic change is continuing as we meet, she notes, refering to the most recent legal changes affecting military and civilian courts

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Barcin Yinanc (Turkey), editor in chief of Hurriyet Daily News (previously Turkish Daily News) explains why she, too, is an optimist concerning developments in her country … and why she is both a strong believer in EU soft power and in the power of Turkish civil society, including women’s organisations.

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Our next debate is on the new contested neigbourhood and the Southern Caucasus. What is the likely future of EU – Russia rivalry and/or cooperation in this region? Does the EU have any soft power here?

Ivane Chkhikvadze (Georgia) and Arzu Geybullayeva (Azerbaijan), ESI analyst and author of Flying Carpets and broken Pipelines, an excellent English-language blog on Azerbaijan, explain how things look from Tbilisi and Baku (where some bloggers have just been arrested on trumped up charges)

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… while the co-author of one of the most interesting recent texts on the EU and its neighbourhood, Nicu Popescu (Moldova), explains the dangers should Europe continue to pay too little attention to its Eastern neighbourhood. Keti Tsikhelashvili (Georgia), presenting ESI’s ongoing research in Georgia, agrees. There and then the idea is also born for ESI to establish a program looking at Moldova sometime in 2010. Of course, first funding must be found, but such details cannot spoil the visionary mood …

esi_073_2009_jul_11

Hungry for new ideas the group moves a few steps down the road to have lunch, overlooking Topkapi Palace and the Golden Horn: here you see your Rumeli Observer (Austria), Rakel Dink (Turkey), Minna Jarvenpaa (Finland), Eggert Hardten (Germany), Marcus Cox (Australia) and Emanuela del Re (Italy) discussing the future of the world over Kebab.

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After lunch Verena Knaus (Austria), ESI senior analyst based in Kosovo, talks about the EU and Kosovo, a topic of inexhaustible complexity, while ….

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… ESI friend Arbi Mazniku (Albania) listens and recovers from an intense national election campaign in Albania.

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Here Kristof Bender (Austria) and Alex Stiglmayer (Germany) listen carefully as Besa Shahini (Kosovo/Canada) explains the European future of the Balkans and what ESI should do about it …

esi_126_2009_jul_11

The last discussion is about the future and impact of think tanks. Jordi Vaquer (Spain), director of Cidob in Barcelona, explains the plans of the Spanish EU presidency, the outlook of the policy elite in Madrid, and the possible role of think tanks in influencing the Spanish policy debate.

Kristof (Austria), Goran Buldioski (Macedonia), director of the OSI Think Tank Fund based in Budapest, and your Rumeli Observer listen, wondering why Spanish foreign policy is so peculiar.

esi_128_2009_jul_11

When all is said about Turkey, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the role of think tanks participants gather for a group picture in the garden of the conference venue, next to a sculpture which expresses well the complex nature of EU foreign policy ….

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At this stage a happy Rumeli Observer realises that with the ideas generated by this one day of brainstorming another two dozen ESI reports could be written. At least …!

esi_136_2009_jul_11

The next agenda item is continued debate, now focusing on the Istanbul urban experience, and furious networking, this time on a boat: here Alida Vracic (Bosnia), Marcus Cox (Australia), Kristof Bender, Piotr Zalewski (Poland), Yana Zabanova (Russia), Engjellushe Morina (Kosovo) and Gerda Vogl (Austria) contemplate an uncertain future.

Once these new questions have been exhaustively discussed, some can no longer sit still …

esi_148_2009_jul_111

… and start moving uncontrollably to the rythm of Turkish music…

esi_146_2009_jul_11

This continues until the CD-player breaks down and serious conversation about the state of Europe becomes possible again, this time in Rumeli Hisari

esi_155_2009_jul_11

… overlooking the narrowest point of the Bosporus. Over some food, raki and wine new plans are hatched, networks are woven and conspiracies developed which future historians of ideas will find hard to disentangle …

esi_163_2009_jul_112

… until, at the end of the day, even the most energetic members of the ESI family are exhausted, including Yana Zabanova (Russia) …

esi_164_2009_jul_12

… Robin Gosejohann (Germany), who used to run ESI’s administration from Istanbul and is now project manager at Erste Stiftung in Vienna, Besa Shahini (Kosovo) and the youngest ESI analyst of them all, all dreaming of an even more democratic and self-confident Europe in 2019.

All photographs: Jonathan Lewis, www.jonathanlewisphoto.com

Filed under: Europe,How ESI works,Think Tanks — Tags: , — Gerald @ 2:52 am
4 January 2009

Boris Marte, Chairman of Erste Foundation, one of ESI’s largest donors

This is a time of reckoning. As one year draws to a close and another one rears its head donors of think tanks want to know what has actually been achieved in the period that has passed. So the end of the year is always also a time for writing donor reports.

Perhaps such reports are read with more anxiety at a time like this. Wider developments remind people of the fragility of all institutions. A colleague recently told me about institutional troubles at two of Turkey’s best known think tanks, Asam in Ankara and Tesev in Istanbul. Indeed: if world companies such as Citibank, Fortis and Ford can get into real trouble, if even international foundations, art galleries and museums around the world are shaken to the core by the effects of a financial crisis, one is reminded of the fact that few human institutions are built for ever.

(In a previous era of innocence, say 6 months ago, I might have added as a bonmot that “all institutions are mortal except for the Catholic Church”, a seemingly eternal institutional survivor; but recently I read an article about growing problems of German bakeries that have specialised in producing altar bread. The Church will remain in business for a while, I am quite sure, but it is striking that even some of its suppliers are in trouble).

The economic crisis has even hit Rumeli Hisari already, my mahala on the European side of Istanbul. A few days ago I wrote that my favourite spot in 2008 was a certain cafe on the shores of the Bosporus. Then I noticed that since the beginning of this year my cafe has ceased to exist. Now its furniture and lots of personal memories have been packed away into lorries. This is not a crisis, of course, except for this Observer. It was not even a very old cafe. But it is hardly the only institution that will meet this fate in the coming months, so I see it as an omen.

On the other hand: the good news for ESI is that it remains very much alive. We are looking forward to celebrate our 10th anniversary as an institution in June 2009. And we have facts to prove our vitality to donors: here is the life of a European think tank, reduced to a few numbers:

  • ESI is bigger than ever. At the beginning of the new year, we have 25 researchers and supporting staff, most of them full time.
  • ESI is more spread out than ever. Our staff is dispersed across 10 countries in Europe, from London to Baku.
  • ESI is more international than ever. Our team holds the following passports: Albanian, American, Armenian, Australian, Austrian, Azeri, British, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Kosovar, Polish and Turkish.

2008 has been an exiting year: Gerald and Chris filming in Rome (April 2008)
ESI in Barcelona: three Balkan Deputy Prime Ministers (Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro) and a film screening (September 2008)

Of course, none of these numbers are spectacular; and you certainly learn more about ESI by reading any one of the 61 reports or discussion papers on our website than by numbers like these. There are many other think tanks in Europe (and in the US) which are much bigger and much more visible in the public debate. But at least we can claim that, as ESI approaches its 10th anniversary, it is – cautiously – growing in its outreach. Under today’s conditions that is not little.

How about the output of this page, the Rumeli Observer?

In 2008 I posted 20 new articles, missing my ambitious target of one article a week on average by quite a margin.

On the other hand, I wrote no less than 31 articles which, for now, remain in the category “drafts”: in Paris, where I spent a month in the Marais in February (When Heads Role); in Sofia, where I went three times in 2008 working on a film (Are Bulgarians Happy?); in Athens, interviewing Greek intellectuals trying to find out how much Greece has changed in the past decade (The two faces of Greece); in Sweden, where I travelled for two weeks during the summer (A Swedish Saint); and most recently in Pristina, where I spent a week in December to see how things were going (Stuck).

I will try to edit and post these articles in the coming weeks.

I will also try to be more productive this year.

That is another New Year’s resolution. Hold me to it, before the next reckoning, which will certainly come … at the latest 12 months from now.

Filed under: End of year,How ESI works,Think Tanks — Tags: , — Gerald @ 8:07 pm
22 November 2008

The Charles Hotel, Boston

I assume most everybody who finds his or her way to this website will have read one of my favourite books: The Tipping Point by New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell. If you have not, do. If you have, and liked it, consider getting the latest book by the same author: Outliers – the Story of Success. I just finished reading it and it is fabulously inspiring.

Of course, there is something ironic about recommending an author such as Gladwell: it is as if, for a moment, one steps into the world of his books and performs one of the roles that he explains there: to contribute to another “social epidemic”. And since many people do this, the outcome is, indeed, epidemic (see a recent article in the Guardian, In Praise of Malcom Gladwell). But this is not hype: any praise for Gladwell’s work is fully deserved.

In his first book Gladwell sets out what he calls the rules of social epidemics. The basic idea: ideas, products and messages spread like viruses. Any epidemic has a tipping point, when it spreads exponentially. So do ideas. Certain individuals – connectors, mavens and salesmen – play a key role in this. Mavens are people who collect information, who read newspapers and magazines obsessively, who share news: information brokers, data banks, people who provide messages. Connectors spread messages. Connectors are those who have a very large and diverse circle of acquaintances: people who know lots of people, who have a foot in many different worlds and can thus bring these worlds together. Salesmen persuade people who remain unconvinced of what they are hearing. As Gladwell describes a salesman: “it’s energy, it’s enthusiasm, it’s charm, it’s likability.”

One of my favourite passages from Gladwell’s first book – which I have used many times during ESI capacity building seminars, trying to explain how we at ESI think about our own writing – is taken from the US TV series Sesame Street. It seeks to explain a concept dear to anyone engaged in the business of producing stories for a (hopefully) large audience: “stickiness”.

The makers of Sesame Street succeeded in making their TV series for children ‘sticky”: their insight was that if you can hold the attention of children, they can be educated. They went about this systematically: devising tests such as running shows on TV screens while giving young children toys to play with. Children were quite sophisticated when to turn away from their toys to watch the screen and when to ignore the show: “they looked at what were for them the most informative parts of the program.”

The head of research for Sesame street then developed what he called a distractor: playing one episode of the show on one TV and running a slide show on another. When would children turn from the TV and watch the slide show? What episodes would hold children’s attention? Often the difference between a message that is sticky – and thus likely to turn into a social epidemic through the efforts of mavens, connectors and salesmen – and one that is not sticky consists in small but critical adjustments. People did not like it when two or three people talked at the same time. Etc:

“The Distractor showed that no single segment of the Sesame street format should go beyond four minutes, and that three minutes was probably optimal. He forced the producers to simplify dialogue and abandon certain techniques they had taken from adult television.”

(This is also a central idea in ESI’s writing: whenever something can be explained in a more simple way, do it. If we can find a simple word instead of a complex one, use it. Cut out any superfluous sentences. Insert no table whose message cannot be grasped at one glance – a rule most international organisations seem to delight in breaking. Make a report sticky. We call this internally our “Ahtisaari test”: every report should be written in such a way that when we get it to Martti Ahtisaari – a very busy man who nonetheless appreciates our work and is interested in the issues we care about – he should never get bored. Thus, no report must be longer than 30 pages, no discussion paper longer than 10. The few times we broke this rule we paid a price, and even well-researched reports failed to have any impact).

Gladwell’s writing can be applied to many different situations. In fact, his own success is an almost perfect illustration of his theory: his messages are certainly sticky. People who read a lot – like myself – feel compelled to recommend him. And when he appears on television, he radiates optimism and enthusiasm and draws attention (a perfect salesman).

So this is what happened to me: I had set up my own distractor in my hotel room in Boston, working on my laptop to prepare a presentation on the Balkans for the Kennedy School, with the hotel TV on in the background. Occasionally I paid attention to the program (CNN). Until Gladwell appeared and talked about his new book to Anderson Cooper. Then I stopped working on my presentation.

Now, three days later, I can still recall what Gladwell and Cooper talked about. The 10,000 hour rule. The fact that it therefore takes ten years of practice to be very good at anything. That this was as much true for Mozart as it was for the Beatles. That when we think about success as individual achievement – admiring a genius and a self-made man/woman – we miss what is essential about the social opportunities that any outlier (exceptionally successful) person requires. As Gladwell puts it: “When outliers become outliers it is not only just because of their own efforts. It’s because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances.”

So the inevitable happens: two days later, now back in NY, I buy the book. I start and read it almost in one go. And now I spread the news. Get the book! And then let me know what you think!

If you need one more push to be convinced, let me give you one more example from Gladwell’s book: a test undertaken by psychologist K. Naders Ericsson at the Berlin Academy of Music. The school’s violinists were all divided into three groups: the stars, students with the potential to become world class; the merely good; and those unlikely ever to play professionally, preparing instead to become music teachers in public schools. Then all were asked how many hours they had practiced in their youth. The finding was striking:

“… by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice. By contrast, the merely good students had totaled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over four thousand hours. … once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” (p. 39)

To reach ten thousand hours of practice, however, is almost impossible if you are all by yourself as a young adult. It requires support and encouragement. Families, or societies, where this support is widespread will produce many more people who can turn innate ability into top performance. Without support, even a high IQ or an inherited talent will not be sufficient.

I immediately think of the Kosovo villages we have researched in Cutting the Lifeline (and which appear in our Kosovo film): how many of the young there, in particular how many of the young women, get anything remotely resembling the support they need to develop their talents? How many young women do so in Eastern Turkey? Does the “Matthew effect” Gladwell refers to (“unto everyone that hath shall be given”) not also hold for 2nd generation Turkish migrants in Berlin? And the story of the NY garment industry and who it generated skills useful in financial markets within one generation: does it not fit perfectly into our analysis of textile towns in the Balkans? A good book leadsto countless further ideas …

However, there is one additional lesson from the Tipping point: remember, “no sequence of Sesame street” should be longer than 3 minutes. Perhaps this is a good lesson also for this blog? To read more … come back soon.

PS: And if you want to get more information about Gladwell go to www.gladwell.com.

Filed under: How ESI works,Stickiness — Tags: , , , — Gerald @ 5:03 pm
18 January 2008

For the past seven years I have come to Brussels every few weeks.  These trips are all similar: walking between the buildings which surround Schuman square,   the Charlemagne (home to DG enlargement), Justus Lipsius (home to the European Council), the Berlaymont (the refurbished headquarter of the Commission) and the Residence Palace (home to the European Policy Centre, EPC, and to many NGOs and international media); entering various cubicle offices, spending time between meetings in the Greek cafe behind Charlemagne, giving power point presentations. 

This three-day trip (Monday to Thursday) was no different.  However, having promised to describe how a think tank works in practice let me share the impressions of these days: an ordinary week in the life of a peddler of ideas.

I came to Brussels to give a briefing to Coweb (see below); to participate in a brainstorming organised by the European Policy Centre, an NGO; to meet EU officials to find out more about policy towards Turkey and the Balkans; to set up meetings with Olli Rehn and Javier Solana; and to work with Alex, my Brussels-based colleague, on the upcoming – and likely controversial – ESI report on the German debate on Turkey. 

Presenting, brainstorming, persuading, interviewing, drafting: this is the bread and butter of a think-tanker. 

Coweb and the Balkan Ghetto   

Coweb is a group where representatives of the 27-EU member states come together to discuss and harmonise policies towards the Western Balkans. Officials meet once a week in the Justus Lipsius building, currently decorated with photographs of Slovenia.  Meetings are chaired by the country holding the EU presidency, currently Slovenia.  

(Alex and myself also brought two heavy boxes with the most recent ESI reports for each of the 27 delegations: the recent report on Doboj, the discussion paper on police reform in Bosnia, and the report on “cutting the migration lifeline” in Kosovo. ”Dissemination of ideas”, even in the age of the internet, is a sport that involves heavy lifting).

I had been invited to Coweb before; in fact, this was my sixth presentation since 2001.  The goal this time was make a case for progress towards visa-free travel for citizens of the Western Balkans. It is a cause which Slovenian officials want to see advance during their presidency.  It is also one which ESI has pushed for some years.  Now it looked like there was momentum for a real breakthrough.

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament had published an opinion in October 2007 where it had used harsh words to describe the “draconian visa regime” imposed by the EU on the Western Balkans: 

“Rather than serving its original purpose, notably that of preventing local criminal networks from extending their activities outside the region, it has prevented honest students, academics, researchers and businessmen from developing close contacts with partners in the EU countries.  A sense of isolation, of undeserved discrimination, of ghettoisation has prevailed, particularly amongst the youngest, which has undermined their European identity.  Europe is a prosperous society to which they would like to belong but from which they feel rejected.” 

The text goes on to “question the very foundations of the visa policy which the Union has hitherto applied towards the countries of south-eastern Europe” and concludes:

“The European Parliament, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs in particular, strongly advocate lifting as soon as technically possible the visa requirements for citizens of the region. In our view this should be a tangible sign that their countries belong to Europe ….”

The European Commission has also become bolder in calling for change. In its enlargement strategy paper in November 2007 it had announced that it wanted to start a dialogue with each country with a view to establishing road-maps defining the precise conditions to be met for lifting the visa requirement. 

In a confidential draft of a “Communication on the Western Balkans” (to be published at the end of March), which it had circulated among member states, DG enlargement proposed to begin a  dialogue on visa liberalisation with each of the Western Balkan states right away, to conclude these talks by July 2008.  These talks were to lead to specific road-maps: 

“They will set out benchmarks for the countries to meet requirements in areas such as border management, document security, and the fight against corruption and organised crime … the speed of movement towards visa liberalisation will depend on each country’s progress in fulfilling the benchmarks. … Once the conditions for each country are fulfilled, the Commission will propose to the Council the lifting of the visa obligation for the citizens of the country in question, through amending of Council Regulation 539/2001″

Adopting such a resolution would be an important step forward. However, the proposal remained controversial, both within the Commission and due to opposition from some member states, notably Germany.  For these member states even cautious steps forward – such as setting out more clearly what countries in the region needed to do  - went too far.  Spelling out the conditions in EU conditionality appeared to them too generous a concession.  

So what, under these conditions, was the point of my presentation in Coweb?  I saw it as providing support for the argument that there was indeed an urgency for the EU to act.  We have long argued that it was in the EU’s own interest to give a “tangible sign to the region” that it belonged to Europe. The recent (and not surprising) turn of events in Serbia adds urgency to the message.

I first set out that the Balkans in 2007 was indeed a very different region from the Balkans in 1997, making arguments familiar from ESI reports: that there is no evidence that a country like Bosnia is ”at the centre” of transnational organised crime, as is sometimes argued. That most outsider’s images about anarchy in Albania are outdated.  That introducing visa-free travel for Macedonians (2 million people), Montenegrins (600,000), Bosnians (less than 4 million people) or 3 million Albanians was taking a small risk indeed compared to granting it to Romania and Bulgaria in 2001 (which together have some 30 million inhabitants) … and that in the latter cases the importance of this step for their overall (successful) transformation cannot be exaggerated.  As Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, founder of the Romanian think tank SAR, once noted: 

“It was the lifting of the visa regime rather than the beginning of the accession negotiations that made it possible for the EU to earn the hearts of the citizens of the Eastern Balkans.” 

Compare this to the experience of most people in the Western Balkans trying to “reach Europe”: while Albanian citizens could watch the celebrations surrounding the elimination of the Schengen border between Germany and Poland and Austria and Slovenia in December 2007 on their TV screens, they were then told in January 2008 that one of the very few countries in the world to which they could still travel without too many problems – Macedonia – was planning to introduce a tougher visa regime, in the name of preparing itself for the EU!  In fact the Western Balkans are today one of the most isolated regions on earth in terms of travel restrictions. 

This is a strong (and  memorable) claim.  Here is the evidence: take a look at the Henley Visa Restrictions Index, a “global ranking of countries according to travel freedom their citizens enjoy“.  Albania comes 184 out of 192 countries in the world in terms of travel freedom! Or compare the freedom of travel of other Western Balkan countries with those of their fellow Europeans: 

“Finnish citizens can travel to 130 countries without visa (2006). Belgians to 127. Austrians to 125.  Hungarians to 101. Romanians to 73. Serbs to 32. Bosnians to 25.” 

What signal does this send to the region, to Bosnia 12 years after the end of war, to Serbia 7 years after the fall of Milosevic?  Nor will visa faciliation - which entered into force in January 2008 – change the fact that half of all applicants for a visa in Albania in 2006 were in fact rejected and that the process of obtaining a visa remains burdensome and expensive for citizens across the region.  For this I could refer to an excellent analysis done by the Tirana-based think-tank Agenda.

At the same time,  while some things are better than they appear from the outside, other problems - including the dramatic erosion of EU soft power in Serbia and the unchanged social and economic crisis in Kosovo – are worse than they look.  

Few EU policies have done more to undermine the attractiveness of the EU model of society than its visa-policy: both directly (few people from the Western Balkans can actually go and see how EU countries, including new member states, develop) and indirectly (by increasing frustrations and cynicism about the rhetoric of “steady progress towards integration”).  The political price for this can be witnessed in Serbia.  Unless something is done it is likely to rise across the region.  There is also a high economic price: compare the development just in the past few years in two very similar cities, Novi Sad in Northern Serbia and Timisoara in Western Romania; or look at the economic fortunes of two groups of people living next to each other in Central Bosnia (Bosnian Croats, who usually have a Croatian passport and need not aquire a visa to travel, vs. their Bosniac neighbours, who do not).  In Central Bosnia most of the businesses are set up by Croats.  Having interviewed many of these entrepreneurs it is obvious that their ability to travel freely to Europe is a key to their success. 

In conclusion I suggested to put all countries of the Western Balkans on the “white Schengen list” immediately with an asterix (*).  The same was done for Romania in 2001.  Under this proposal the asterix would indicate that once conditions defined in country-specific road maps were met visa free travel would follow.   

This would send a powerful political message at a moment when the EU needs maximum leverage in the region (and risked loosing it).  It would support those (in the Commission and among member states) who call for precise roadmaps to be drawn up soon. It would increase the incentives for Western Balkan governments to implement reforms that reduce crime.  It would provide civil society in the region with a tool to push their own governments to address specific shortcoming (such as the lack of a credible civil registy in Albania!). It is a win-win proposal which costs little.

The presentation was followed by 30 minutes of comments and questions. There was quite a lively exchange of opinion (which I cannot quote).  Overall, however, there was broad support among a majority of member states to do something.  There was also resistance from a few others.  By the time Alex and myself left Coweb we could hope to have added a small pebble to the pyramide of arguments needed to change opinions on this matter. 

A few months ago in Novi Sad (October 2007) ESI had co-organised a brainstorming with think tanks from across the region on how to mount a campaign on the visa issue, bringing together institutions working on this across the region. Now we are getting ready to launch this campaign. Coweb is a good way to start, even if the intellectual and political battle is certain to continue. 

…. Continue: go to Peddling ideas around Schuman II (Brussels in January: EPC)  

17 December 2007

People like to talk about their own success, although it is not polite to do so too often, is never a good way to make friends and is often bad manners. Indeed, as the style book of the Economist notes: “Do not be too pleased with yourself”: you are more likely to bore or irritate rather than to impress.

It is much better, then, to be invited to talk about the success of an institution one identifies with: then if one bores or irritates it is not entirely one’s fault. It was a pleasant assignment to travel from Vienna to Budapest in mid December at the invitation of the Central European University to give a presentation about ESI. It seemed like a good idea to go afterwards to some excellent Hungarian restaurant and answer questions from a student who is writing her thesis on ESI. I also owe Central European University a debt: it is thanks to CEU that I am an Open Society Fellow, travel around the world giving presentations for 12 months and maintain this blog. If you read this, and derive any pleasure from it, it is due to CEU.

The sad reality is, however, sometimes different from what one expects. I have rarely enjoyed any of my presentations less than the one I gave in Budapest. This had nothing to do with the hospitality of the CEU, which was excellent (my colleague Kristof and myself were picked up at the train station, the hotel was wonderful), or with the audience, which asked very good questions, or indeed with the city, Budapest, which appears to be getting prettier (and richer) every time I come to visit.

It had to do with my head, where a drum was beating without interruption from the moment we arrived in Keleti station, getting louder as I got up to speak, reaching a crescendo at the moment when it came to questions. By the time one student came up to me after the talk to ask something about Turkey (whether Kayseri was typical or an exception) I could hardly stand any more and was afraid of fainting. I found it hard even to think straight and struggled to answer. The most stressful two months of the year (indeed, it seemed at times, of my whole ESI experience) had preceeded this talk, and a week without much sleep was beginning to take its toll as well. In the end, dinner (without alcohol) became bearable due to a lot of aspirin. What a pity, I thought afterwards.

The irony was that – I assume – few people noticed the state I was in, and that the one reaction I most remember was from the woman writing about ESI: she told me that “it all seems too easy”. Standing there, my head bursting with headache, the first grey hair a legacy of a few stressful months, I almost laughed when I heared this. I could see her point: seen from the outside the story we were telling did appear too easy. But this, I told her, was exactly the point of any success.

Let me digress a little. There is a wonderful line in one of the best films I ever saw about successful story-telling: The Making of Nemo (yes, that Nemo, the clown fish): “it takes a lot of effort to make something look effortless”. In the film this line refers to efforts by a large team of creative people at Pixar to portray fishes moving around, to capture different states of light under water, and to communicate deep emotions, such as the desperation of Dori, the friend of Nemo’s father, and her recurrent amnesia. But it might just as well refer to any ESI product: our reports, our discussion papers, now our documentaries. Sometimes it even refers to public presentations (I rarely sleep much before giving one, however often I do it).

To use another image: I once read somewhere that when a swan swims it is actually a major effort for this animal to move, and that underneath the surface there is a huge invisible exertion, hectic activity by its small feet. This obviously contrasts with what one sees: a silent, proud and unphased bird, the very symbol of elegance. I know nothing about swans, and whether this is true for them, but this picture stuck with me as a metaphor: to look like a swan is not to reveal the enormous effort it takes for something to, well, appear effortless. This is of course a normal feature of much human activity. Let me explain what looking like a swan might mean for a think tank like ESI.

The story we told our audience in Budapest was a deceptively simple one: it is the story seen from the outside. A group of friends sits in Sarajevo in 1999 and discusses the political situation in Bosnia. It then decides to create a virtual organisation and begins to write reports. The group does not have money, it is not even an “institution” in any formal sense for another year. Then the first reports quickly attract attention. The Financial Times, the Economist, Die Welt, write about ESI as a “think tank changing thinking on the Balkans”. One year after the group decided to come into existence it has a staff of four, a bit of funding, and works in Montenegro as well. That same year it receives a call from the NSC (National Security Council) in the White House and is asked to brief Leon Furth, vice-president Al Gore’s National Security Advisor, about developments in Montenegro. Other governments across Europe invite ESI to provide input to their internal policy debates: Sweden, Germany, they UK, Greece. Five years later ESI has a staff of more than 10, and works across the whole Balkans, trying to influence debates on Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and EU policy towards the region.

This early part of the story is told in Budapest by Kristof, who was the very first ESI researcher setting up a field office in 2000 in Podgorica. I tell part II, the story of ESI in Turkey. Two foreigners arrive there in the summer of 2004. We look for some young Turks to join us. We set out to introduce our plans to Turkish institutions. We try to raise funding for research in Turkey. Wherever we turn we notice polite skepticism. Why would 2 foreigners, who do not even speak the language, and three young Turkish analyst, who are unknown in Turkey, possibly have any impact on the European debate on this large and complex country? This is a country of more than 70 million people, Istanbul alone has 20 universities, there are a huge number of media and experts and public intellectuals: why would anybody even notice ESI here? One potential donor we meet is particularly honest about this. After we explain what we intend to do he says: “why should we pay for your education?” The “education” was our field research in Central Anatolia that led to our very first report.

In the end, however, this story has a happy ending. We publish our first report, Islamic Calvinists, in 2005. It explodes on the Turkish media-scene like a fire-work: there are more than twenty op-eds about it in Hurriyet, one of the most read dailies, alone, more than a hundred articles in quality media across Europe and the US. There are discussions of the report on 10 different occasions on Turkish TV. The BBC, PBS from the US, German ARD and other TV stations go to Kayseri and report on Islamic Calvinists. The foreign minister (and now president) declares that “I am an Islamic Calvinist.”

While this debate continues, and we are invited from across the world to speak about our Turkey research (even Chinese media want an interview about Kayseri), we publish a second report: Sex and Power in Turkey. It had taken a few months for the debate on Islamic Calvinists to take off. The reaction to Sex and Power is even more immediate. It is the main topic in an article in the Economist in the week before the 2007 elections. It is discussed favourably in Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the BBC and other media across Europe and the US. Leading Turkish commentators (Alpay, Akyol, Ozel) write about it. We notice a record number of visits to our website: more than 100,000 people download the report in four months. We also notice the interest in other ways, as we receive a large number of invitations to speak about gender and Turkey: in Berlin and Vienna, Baku and Tbilisi, at Yale, in New York and at the Wilson centre in DC. In December 2007 Hurriyet writes another long article about Sex and Power, and in January a long interview about it will be broadcast on CNN Turk: it looks likely that this debate too will continue for a while. This, in a nutshell, is the 3-year story of ESI in Turkey: pick a country, create a small team of young researchers, chose a topic, write a report, send it out, wait for reactions. Any questions?

“I do not believe you, it cannot be so easy” was the reaction of the student who writes about ESI. She is right, of course. As we walk to dinner through wintry Budapest, and as she looks for the “true story” of ESI and our impact, I realise, however, that she might be looking for the “true story” in the wrong place.

Her questions focus on how we disseminate our reports. How do we get people, especially influential people, to read them? What are our networks? As I try to answer, I realise that this is like looking into the telescope from the wrong end. One person at the CEU had asked about our “legitimacy” making public policy recommendations: what gives us the right to recommend policy? It is a good question, but our answer was – I hope – convincing too: it is the simplest thing in the world to ignore us! We offer no money and no votes, there is no reward other than the information contained in the report itself. It is the easiest thing in the world not to read our reports, and if more people decide this we might as well not exist. So the real question is: why do people want to read them?

People do not read ESI reports because they know us. People know ESI because they read our reports. Of course dissemination is easier once one is known, has a website and a newsletter. However, in 1999 nobody knew me, or Kristof, or any other ESI analyst in any European foreign ministry or news room. Certainly nobody in Turkey knew us in 2004 or would have expected us to have anything worthwile or interesting to say. It is not the creation of networks, but the production of reports, which holds the secret of any impact. Dissemination is like eating desert: producing a gripping analysis (or documentary) is like preparing, cooking and digesting the whole rest of a 6 course meal. And it is only because people expect a certain type of menu that they return to this particular restaurant and might even recommend it.

But what is the secret of production? I tell the questioning student (Anna) that in our case it is a very simple principle, adopted in summer 1999, to which we have stuck until today: unless we are convinced that a report is truly excellent, and that we would still like to read it one year later without embarassment, we will not send it out. As a result, at least three people (usually many more) in ESI read every report in great detail. And as a result of this, we are often incredibly slow.

This sounds simple, again, but it has a lot of real life consequences. It explains 90 percent of all negative stress inside ESI. October and November 2007 were terribly stressful and sleepless months because of pressures on us that had all to do with production while upholding this principle.

It means, for instance, that when we receive funding from a donor and are committed to produce a report by a deadline and do not succeed in getting a report to be of the quality we believe is needed, we will not send it out. This then requires an effort of diplomacy, to explain, present excuses, give reasons, win a few more weeks, sometimes months, and in the worse (thankfully very rare) case even to risk a quarrel. What it must never mean is to break our principle and send out a semi-finished product early! In the worst case we even return money (we have done so).

This principle also means that when we put our logo on a product, we must be able to identify with it fully. Now take the case of an ambitious film project, that costs more than 1.2 million Euro, involving one production company, two large TV stations, five directors, another script writer, all working under huge time constraints to produce 10 films that are to be “based on ESI research.” In this real life example from 2007 there is a large number of creative and ambitious people who need to be convinced of our own ideas of quality (in terms of content). This requires intense interaction, and can sometimes lead to tensions and arguments. For everybody in this constellation time is money: for us this is also true, but, if need be, we will simply work longer to ensure we are content with the final output. This is at the heart of our institutional identity.

This core principle also means that what we write often (usually) takes more effort (and time) than we had planned or budgeted for at first. For a consultancy company, where time is literally money, this cannot be its working assumption: it must submit as good a product as possible, but within the time allowed (and paid for). For us, however, meeting our internal standards often requires researching, writing and editing until we are done. As a result, we often fall behind. We use up rare core funding quickly. We face recurrent cash flow problems (about once a year). We then have three (or more) things to finish at the same time, requiring us to work long nights for weeks on end, until that drum in our heads calls upon us to slow down. There were many evenings in November when I would see five ESI analysts on skype working at 11 pm, not once, but every night in the week and on the weekend.

If there is a “secret” to our impact on public debates it lies here, and only here: in our methodology of producing reports and the commitment by a team to work as required. Nobody unwilling to work like this will enjoy being part of our team for long. This methodology has also developed for many years now. In the process we created our own working vocabulary and habits, something we notice every time there is a new staff member. In fact, none of this is a business secret: it can be observed, described and (perhaps) also taught. This is what we try with our capacity building efforts. But it cannot be taught in the abstract, just as a team sport can only be taught by actually playing it. It also requires training: you can read about how to run a marathon as much as you like, in the end you need to put on your running shoes.

It also never gets easier: as we say internally, to get a report read by elites (decision and opinion makers) in any country is like playing football in the Champions League, not for pleasure in the gym: it does not matter what games you won in the past, if you play bad once or twice today you get relegated. And since it is a team sport, it requires a lot of attention to be paid to the whole dynamics of what creates winning teams, again and again. As Katzenbach and Smith describe high-performance teams in their classic (The Wisdom of Teams): “extreme commitment to one another as well as to their team’s purpose and performance, out of which blossoms an incredible ethic of work and fun, complementary and interchangeable skills, shared leadership and dramatic results.” And as they also note: “high performance teams are extremely rare”.

In the end, I am happy I came to Budapest. The questions by Anna, the student writing about ESI, remain in my head. I wonder whether it might not be worthwhile to try to explain in more detail how we actually work in practice: the inside story of a European think-tank. It might be impolite to talk too much about ourselves, but in this case there might even be an interest in our story? Perhaps there are other students fascinated by the idea of think-tanking, interested in this example of an interaction between ideas and policies; students who write papers and reports and wonder what it is that increases the impact of ideas.

Here, then, is my little plan for the new year (and this blog): to tell the inside story of a successful small think tank, in installments. To describe how we actually work, from chosing a topic to editing the final version and presenting it to the wider world. This breaks the rule in the Style guide referred to at the beginning of this entry. But then again: the Economist felt confident enough to sell its style guide to the rest of the world.

I have only one request for you, dear reader, in return. If you are interested in this question, please do let me know, and spare a moment to share your thoughts and questions. I do not know who reads this blog. This creates a funny sense of speaking from a chair on a small stage looking into a dark room. This would make it easier for me to respond to precise questions.

I thought about this question more on my way back from Budapest the next morning, sketching out this and other entries for this Observer. By now I looked forward to Christmas. Until the new year then, and the first installment of Inside a think-tank. Otherwise, may your life in 2008 be like that of a swan!

Filed under: How ESI works — Tags: , , — Gerald @ 8:58 pm
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