6 July 2012
For those who follow EU foreign policy, June 2012 was a month of positive surprises, and of small, cautious and promising steps forward.
First, on 14 June, Kosovo received a critical visa liberalisation roadmap, followed by EU member states launching a process on 21 June, that should lead to visa liberalisation for Turkey. And finally, on 29 June, Montenegro became the third successor state of the former Yugoslavia to begin EU accession talks, after Slovenia and Croatia.
Visa liberalization visions for Turkey and Kosovo (June 2012) – in both pictures EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom
As the EU struggles with serious internal problems and the future architecture of the Eurozone, such steps may seem small. South East Europe also faces a myriad of serious crises – from a war on Turkey's doorstep in Syria to record unemployment in the Western Balkans.
And yet these initiatives send a powerful message. The basic bargain which has guided EU policy towards the rest of the continent ever since the Berlin wall came down is still in place: the promise of access to the EU of goods, people and countries in return for reforms.
ESI had campaigned for a roadmap process for Kosovo since 2009. In the summer of 2009 we published an open letter, arguing that Kosovo "must be given the opportunity to implement the same far-reaching reforms that the other five Balkan countries have set out to implement". We published two papers on the issue: "Isolating Kosovo? Kosovo vs Afghanistan 5:22" in November 2009 and "Isolation Confirmed. How the EU is undermining its interests in Kosovo" in 2010. At times it seemed hopeless: no longer.
Kosovo is still the only country in the Balkans whose citizens require a visa to enter the EU. But now the ball is in the court of the Kosovo leadership to change this; at the same time the European Commission must ensure that the process is both strict and fair (see ESI comparative analysis of the Kosovo visa roadmap: Moving the Goalposts?). For Kosovo June 2012 brings the promise of a sea change. The end of the international protectorate in Pristina (also formally decided this July) is giving way to reinforced EU conditionality.
One week after Kosovo received its roadmap, the EU and Turkey took the first concrete step towards a visa liberalisation process for Turkey: EU member states formally invited the European Commission to launch the process, and the Commission and Turkey initialled a readmission agreement in Brussels. With this accomplished, later this autumn the European Commission is expected to present Turkey with an action plan on visa liberalisation, which will list the conditions that Turkey will have to meet in order to qualify for visa-free travel.
ESI is very pleased with this development. A visa liberalisation process for Turkey has been a major goal of our Turkey White List Project, which is funded by the Stiftung Mercator. In March 2012, ESI visited Ankara to discuss the issue with senior Turkish officials and to present a paper outlining a sequence of events to lead to a process that has now started. In June we published "Facts and Figures related to visa-free travel for Turkey".
For Turkey and the EU the launch of a visa liberalisation process is also a step out of a deadlock. (See new ESI discussion paper Nine Reasons for a Turkey Visa liberalisation process, distributed to senior EU policy makers in June 2012).
(For additional information on our Turkey White List Project please visit ESI's website on the Turkey White List Project.)
"Our Lady of the Rocks" island in the bay of Kotor, Montenegro.
The start of accession talks with Montenegro is not only a major step for the small country, but the entire region. The EU's decision, taken in the midst of a major European crisis, sends a clear signal that progress towards membership remains possible. Against the backdrop of Greece's continued obstruction of accession talks with Macedonia, the stalemate in negotiations with Turkey, and previous indications by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy that enlargement would be put on hold after Croatia joins, the green light for talks with Montenegro is a badly needed signal that progress is rewarded and that the EU perspective is real. (See here for more on Montenegro's path towards the EU).
The international debate on human rights in Azerbaijan continued in June, both in the media and – more importantly – in Strasbourg. There, on 26 June 2012, the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted on two draft resolutions written by special rapporteur Christoph Strässer, a Social Democrat member of the Bundestag.
The first draft resolution gives a definition of what is a political prisoner for future use by PACE. The second warns that the issue of political prisoners remains unresolved in Azerbaijan. It calls on Azerbaijan to release or retry 89 alleged political prisoners.
Azerbaijani authorities had refused Strasser entry to the country for his mission for three years. They have also attempted to discredit his work.
Both documents were adopted by very narrow margins (26 vs 22 and 25 vs 23 votes). The original text was also watered down: all criticism of Azerbaijan's refusal to cooperate with the rapporteur was eliminated! All this highlights the divisions in PACE detailed in ESI's report "Caviar Diplomacy: How Azerbaijan Silenced the Council of Europe" (May 2012).
This vote is only the first step in reestablishing PACE's credibility on Azerbaijan. The draft resolutions will be voted on in the plenary of PACE in October 2012. ESI will publish the second part of its report as the debate will certainly heat up.
Many best regards,