Romania's membership of the EU in 2007 seemed to promise a continuation of the growth trajectory and an eventual catching up with EU living standards. It was a promise that seemed plausible until 2008. In the six years after Romania started its accession negotiations, GDP per capita rose from 30 to 47 per cent of the EU average. Romania remained poor, but salaries were rising. A new middle class – university graduates employed by multinational companies – found itself with money to spend.
There was nothing inevitable about Croatia's evolution: it took significant political leadership, as well as courage and perseverance, to repudiate the values and policies of the 1990s. It also took smart EU interventions. The Croatian experience, as well as the lessons it holds for the rest of the Western Balkans, is worth exploring in more detail.
In December 2013 the EU-Turkey visa liberalisation process was launched. ESI recommends that EU member states now commit to five goals to support this process. These goals can be achieved by each member state through steps fully in compliance with existing EU visa rules.
The prospects of obtaining visa-free travel and signing the Association Agreement and DCFTA soon are both good news. At the same time Moldova desperately needs economic development and increased foreign direct investment. For this a clear long-term EU membership perspective would be crucial. If the EU wants Moldova to become a true success story in the Eastern neighbourhood, it should be prepared to go further.
This report argues that the future of election monitoring on the European continent depends on how decision makers – in the European Parliament, in the Council of Europe, in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and in European governments – react now. It is vital to revisit the facts and analyses behind the different assessments, and to retrace how different groups of observers could arrive at radically diverging conclusions. The relationship between long- and short-term election observers needs to be rethought.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has already broken every record when it comes to its Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU. It started negotiations in November 2005. Eight years later, the agreement has not yet entered into force. No other Balkan country has taken so long. Bosnia has also not yet submitted an application for EU accession. If the experience of Albania and Macedonia is anything to go by, it might not start accession talks for another decade.
In December 2009 the European Court of Human Rights found – in its judgement in the case Sejdic and Finci vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina – that the constitution and election law of Bosnia and Herzegovina violate the European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols. Behind the international interest in this case lies a strong sense of moral outrage. How can a country in today’s Europe prevent a Roma or a Jew from running for head of state? Is this not a racist constitution?
Turkish tourists and European justice - The Demirkan ruling and how Turkey can obtain visa-free travel
On 24 September 2013 many eyes across the EU and Turkey turned to Luxembourg. There, at just after nine-thirty in the morning, the Court of Justice of the European Union (or European Court of Justice, ECJ) delivered a judgement in one of its most important cases this year. The issue at stake was visa-free access to EU countries for Turkish citizens.
On 24 September 2013 at just after nine-thirty in the morning the Court of Justice of the European Union (or European Court of Justice, ECJ) will deliver a judgement in one of the most important cases it will decide this year. The outcome will affect millions of Turkish citizens. It could also have a profound impact on the future of the Schengen visa system.
Visa liberalisation has been a crucial element in the EU’s relations with Romania, Serbia and Albania. Yet until recently it had not even appeared on the agenda of talks between Brussels and Ankara. Then on 21 June 2012, the Council invited the Commission to establish a dialogue with Turkey aimed at visa liberalisation. Almost a year has passed since these Council conclusions. The dialogue on visa liberalisation has yet to begin.
As Albania prepares for parliamentary elections on 23 June 2013 this paper draws attention to recent violations of democratic principles in Albania that provide the international community, and in particular the European Union, with an opportunity to make a crucial point of principle at a crucial moment in what is set to be a very right and heated electoral contest.
On 23 January 2013 a record 224 members of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) participated in a debate on Azerbaijan. There have never been more members voting on any resolution in the history of PACE. The vote was also historic because of its outcome: PACE rapporteur Christoph Straesser's resolution on political prisoners in Azerbaijan was defeated – 125 votes against 79 votes, with 20 abstentions – sending a very strong signal of support to the authoritarian regime in Baku.
It was the most dramatic vote in the history of the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) of the Council of Europe: a vote on the definition of "political prisoner" and whether or not PACE had the responsibility to monitor the state of fundamental rights in member states. It was one of the most well-attended debates in the organization's history. It was also the one with the closest ever result at the end of the debate.
There are very few members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) who have been to Azerbaijan as regularly over the past decade as Pedro Agramunt. From the very beginning of his relationship with Baku he has been a defender of the Aliyev regime. It would be better if her were to resign from his position as PACE's rapporteur for Azerbaijan.
Since the visa requirement was lifted for Western Balkan countries in 2009, there has been a sharp increase in claims for political asylum by citizens of the region. Barely any of these applicants qualify for asylum. Now, EU policymakers find themselves under increasing pressure to address the problem directly by suspending visa-free travel for Western Balkan countries. Such a draconian measure would undermine the credibility of the EU’s whole approach to visa liberalisation – not just in the Western Balkans, but also in Moldova, Kosovo, Turkey and the Ukraine.
What is needed is a way forward that accepts the bottom lines for Athens and Skopje. This can be achieved through a constitutional amendment in Skopje that changes the name of the country with a geographic qualifier: to replace "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" where it is currently in use, allowing Athens to support the start of EU accession talks and to send an invitation to join NATO later this year or early next year, but which foresees that the change will enter into force permanently and erga omnes on the day Macedonia actually joins the EU.
When Azerbaijan was admitted to the Council of Europe, despite well documented democratic failings, it was with the idea that Council of Europe membership would gradually transform Azerbaijan. Sadly, the reverse has occurred. The outcome is a tragedy for the citizens of Azerbaijan, particularly those brave pro-democracy activists who languish in jail as political prisoners. But it is also a tragedy for Europe, whose values have been trampled on.
For educated young Azerbaijanis the recent boom created many opportunities. Born in a communist empire that has since ceased to exist, having come of age during a tumultuous transition, they are now able to take advantage of new possibilities to study abroad and to reap the rewards – jobs at international organisations, multinational companies or Azerbaijani institutions – after returning home.
In April 2007 a gruesome triple murder took place in the Central Anatolian city of Malatya. The victims, tortured, stabbed and strangled, were two Turks and one German. All three were Protestant Christian missionaries who had recently moved to Malatya. Five young men, armed with knives and covered in blood, were found at the scene of the crime only moments after it happened.
During the last twelve months the EU has demanded more from Kosovo than from any other Western Balkan country. Kosovo has met most of these additional demands. There is no good reason as why it should still be kept out in the cold.