Turkish Visa Liberalisation Breakthrough in 2013? An interview




You have been involved in a major project titled “The White List Project” on visa liberalization for the Western Balkans and been credited for contributing to its success. Would you tell us about it?

I have lived and worked many years in Bulgaria and in Bosnia and Herzegovina and I remember well the frustrations that the visa requirement brought, particularly for young people. For two decades governments and civil society in those countries complained about visa to the EU.

However, when we started our White List Project in 2006 we realized that you never obtain anything on such a sensitive issue by complaining. To lift visa you need enough votes in the EU Council to change the visa regulation! To get the votes you need to address the fears that EU ministers have about what happens after visa are lifted. If they feel that nothing bad will happen, if they feel they can trust a country, they will take the political risk.

And so we started to do research on how to reduce the risk. We even formed an advisory group of former interior ministers of big EU countries – Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom. When they said that there was only limited risk their colleagues would listen. And we started reaching out to public opinion, and hundreds of articles were written about the White List Project. And in the end this approach worked.

Will it also work with Turkey?

The latest I learned last week is that there is now a proposal on the desk of Foreign Minister Davutoglu that could work: a proposal how to respond to a recent offer by the EU to open a visa dialogue on liberalisation. It has the backing of key Turkish officials and experts, but would also be acceptable to the Commission. So a breakthrough is still possible this year. My hope is that there will be a visa liberalisation process starting in 2013.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in the Demirkan vs. Germany case that Turkish citizens may not travel to EU countries without a visa to receive services. With this verdict, do you think the ECJ closes the doors for visa-free travel for Turks in the European Union member states?

No, I do not think so. One door has been closed by the ECJ: it is now clear that it will not be possible to obtain visa free travel for Turks through the courts. But another way, the one taken in recent years by all other countries of South East Europe, remains open, and that is to get rid of visa through a process of negotiations between Turkey and the EU, a “visa dialogue.” The sooner this process starts now, the better.

The Balkan countries received in 2008 roadmaps which involved a lot of conditions for visa liberalization. How successful they have become in fulfilling the expectations?

The image of many of these Balkan countries in 2008 in some EU member states was very bad. They were seen as a source of all problems: illegal migration, organized crime, instability. Each of these countries is small but remember: there were then an estimated 700,000 illegal immigrants in the EU just from small Albania. No other region generated as many refugees to the EU in recent decades.

So the key challenge for the Balkans was to build trust, and the way to do so was through reforms, yes, but above all through contacts with EU counterparts, in the police, in customs, in interior ministries, on the working level. And so the Balkan governments made fulfilling the requirements of the visa roadmap a top priority. And then they surprised skeptics. When German or French interior ministry officials came to Albania or Macedonia as part of the visa dialogue to check what was happening, and left impressed by what they had seen, this was worth more than ten speeches on visa by a Balkan foreign minister.

What is the importance of the roadmap given to Turkey by the Council of the European Union at the end of last year toward a visa-free regime?

There is absolutely no reason that exactly the same happens in Turkey as happened in the Balkans if a visa liberalization dialogue would finally begin, which it has not yet! Sometimes I am told in Ankara that Turkey is different from the Balkans: it is bigger, there are more prejudices in the EU, etc …But in reality Turkey is different in a way that is good for Turkey: the per capita GDP in Turkey is higher than in allBalkan countries which had the visa lifted, including Bulgaria and Rumania. And the EU allows already now more than 1 million holders of Turkish green passports visa free travel and there are no problems.

The real difference between the Balkans and Turkey is how governments approach the visa dialogue. The Balkan countries took the roadmap, set out to fulfill the conditions, and made very effective advocacy to convince skeptics in Berlin and Paris and Brussels. Until now Turkey feels that the EU cannot be trusted and hesitates to even sit down. The other difference, of course, lies in the results of these two approaches: today all Albanians, Macedonians, Serbs travel without a visa.

What developments have occurred since the Council of the European Union gave the roadmap to Turkey?

More time has been lost. In the case of the Balkans the visa liberalization dialogue lasted 2, at most 3 years before visa were lifted. Turkey was presented a roadmap in summer 2012, but there is still no dialogue. The main reason is that Turkey does not want to sign a readmission agreement with the EU, something all Balkan and all East European countries have done. A readmission agreement commits Turkey to take back from the EU illegal immigrants who cross into the EU through Turkey.

There is a fear in Ankara that this might involve tens of thousands of people. But this is just wrong. We did a detailed study of all readmission agreements in the world that the EU has made and the total of all readmission cases every year for all of them together are a few hundred. Even if there would be 4,000 readmission requests to Turkey in a year – which I do not believe – this would not be a problem. Turkey arrested tens of thousands of illegal migrants inside Turkey every year and hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrians. In addition for the first three years the readmission agreement with the EU does not require Turkey to take back more illegal immigrants than it wants to, there is a three year transition phase! So our recommendation is: Turkey ratifies this agreement, starts the visa dialogue, sees how many requests come, sets its own limit on how many it will accept. It should also set the EU a deadline: if by the end of 2015 we do not have visa free travel, we will cancel the readmission agreement.

Turkey was also expected to fulfill some conditions for visa liberalization including biometric passport, integrated border management and signature of the readmission agreement. Where does Turkey stand in regards to what it’s been expected to do?

There is a lot that Turkey has done, and there is a lot that remains to be done. Take integrated border management. It is in Turkey‘s own interest to control its borders well. There is a lot of experience on this in the EU. I just returned from Finland, which has a very long land border and a sea border with Russia, and a very experienced Border Service. Turkish border officials know the Finnish system, they studied it, but so far they were not able to carry out the same reforms. Why? Because it involves changing the roles of the police, customs and especially the armed forces which still do a lot of the land border control in Turkey. And no institution likes to give up any influence. So the result is that Turkey has good plans but still has a very inefficient system. This can change, easily. If Albania or Serbia can reform border management, Turkey can do it for sure! But it requires a political push from above. It must be a priority.

In an article titled “The Future of European Turkey” on June 17, written on the Gezi protests, you expressed concern about Turkey’s future and its EU integration. Would you share those concerns with us?

It is normal for a democracy to see protests over big construction projects: this happens in Germany, in Austria, even in Sweden. Sometimes, when police intervenes to stop protests there are clashes also in European countries. I have lived in Berlin, where this happens every 1 May. What shocked European observers about the handling of the Gezi protests was the unnecessarily aggressive response by the police. Even on 1 May you do not see the whole center of Berlin under a huge cloud of tear gas for weeks. What also surprised many observers was an official rhetoric that described all these protesters as “terrorists.”

When such events happen in the middle of the tourist season in the center of one of the most visited cities in Europe it is obvious that media interest will be huge and the Gezi protests were headline news for weeks. And if read what was written in European papers you see a consensus, from the right to the left, from Turkey’s oldest friends to the biggest skeptics, that this was very badly handled by the authorities.

What do you observe about Turkish government’s and Turkish citizens’ attitudes about their beliefs in regards to a common European future?

I see a paradox.

On the one hand there is a tradition in Turkey of distrust of outsiders, rooted in history, in the education system and in political rhetoric. Remember, already in the late 1970s there was a great opportunity for Turkey to join the European Community, together with Greece. Then it was the left and the right, Ecevit and Erbakan, who were opposed to submitting even an application. This skepticism can be found across the political spectrum, then, and now.

But on the other hand you have a new Turkey: the new middle class that wants their children to learn foreign languages, that wants to travel, the new entrepreneurs who want to expand and compete and upgrade their technology, the tourism sector that is now world class and sees many more opportunities, and millions of students who want to do what European students do, get on a cheap flight and visit other European countries for a few days. In all these groups people are also frustrated with the EU, but they see that in many ways Turkey is already part of an integrating Europe. Europe is where most foreign direct investment, most tourists, and most ideas come from, and Europe is where most Turks who live abroad live today. It is Europe, not Syria or Egypt, that is the stable partner. So there will be a common European future, because there already is a common European present. The real question is whether the new generation of Turks can experience the rest of Europe easily, which is why the visa obligation is such a problem. If there are more contacts between people there will be more trust. This happened between Poland and Germany in the past two decades, and it can happen between Turkey and the EU as well


To find our more: recent ESI publications on the Turkish Visa issue:

  • Turkish tourists and European justice. The Demirkan ruling and how Turkey can obtain visa-free travel (26 September 2013)

  • ESI call to action: After the Demirkan ruling: launch visa liberalisation dialogue now (24 September 2013). Also available in Turkish: Demirkan kararının ardından: vize muafiyeti süreci şimdi başlamalı

  • ESI briefing paper: On the eve of judgement day – the ECJ and the Demirkan case (22 September 2013)

  • ESI report: Cutting the Visa Knot – How Turks can travel freely to Europe (21 May 2013).Also available in Turkish: Vize Kördüğümünü Çözmek – Türkler Avrupa’ya Nasıl Serbestçe Seyahat Edebilir?

  • Newsletter: Cutting the Visa Knot – How Turks can travel freely to Europe (21 May 2013)

  • Happy Anniversary? EU-Turkey relations at age 50 – An appeal (12 September 2013)

  • ESI’s Who’s Who in the Turkey visa debate – Information and contacts (12 September 2013)

  • ESI turkey visa page







    Čekajući Houdinija – Put naprijed za odnose BiH i EU

    Bosni i Hercegovini je do sada u EU integracijama bilo potrebno više vremena nego bilo kojoj drugoj državi Balkana. BiH još uvijek nije predala aplikaciju za članstvo, a probila je sve rekorde kada je u pitanju Sporazum o stabilizaciji i pridruživanju (SSP). Pregovori o SSP-u sa EU krenuli su još u novembru 2005. A sporazum, osam godina kasnije, još uvijek nije stupio na snagu.

    U najnovijem izvještaju Evropske incijative za stabilnost (ESI), “Houdini u BiH – Kako otključati process EU integracija”, ESI ukazuje na konkretne posljedice zastoja. U desetljeću nakon 2003. tri zemlje koje su ostvarile najgori napredak u pristupanju EU, Kosovo, Albanija i BiH, su ujedno i tri zemlje Zapadnog Balkana koje su ostvarile najgori ekonomski napredak, bilo da se radi o ekonomskom rastu po glavi stanovnika, rastu izvoza ili broju zaposlenih. Biti najsporiji dolazi sa cijenom, a ta cijena se plaća prosperitetetom.

    Sve to čini prevazilaženje trenutnog zastoja u BiH još hitnijim. Uzrok i bh. muke oko SSP-a i njenog oklijevanja u predaji aplikacije za članstvo u EU je samo jedan: neuspjeh političkih vođa da se dogovore o provedbi presude Evropskog suda za ljudska prava u slučaju Sejdić i Finci. U proteklih 46 mjeseci sigurno nije nedostajalo pokušaja da se ispregovara rješenje. Više od 50 prijedloga je razrađeno, a o istim se raspravljalo tokom više od 130 sastanaka. Samim tim nedostatk pokušaja nije razlog što se bh. političari nisu dogovorili.

    U idealnoj situaciji, vođe najvažnijih političkih stranaka iz oba entiteta će se što prije dogovoriti o potpunoj provedbi presude u slučaju Sejdić i Finci. Ali ako se ne mogu dogovoriti o svemu sada, onda se trebaju barem dogovoriti o reformi Doma naroda Parlamentarne skupštine BiH.

    Sud za ljudska prava presudu u slučaju Sejdić i Finci, u dijelu o Domu naroda BiH, zasniva na Konvenciji o ljudskim pravima i njenom prvom protokolu, a koji su na snazi u svim zemljama članicama EU. Samim tim ima smisla da fokus Evropske unije bude na promjeni Ustava BiH u dijelu koji se odnosi na Dom naroda. U dijelu o Predsjedništvu BiH, Evrospki sud svoju presudu bazira na protokolu 12, koji je na snazi u samo 8 od 28 zemalja članica EU. Samim tim politički je teže opravdati blokiranje BiH od stane EU u ovom dijelu.

    Naš izvještaj nudi izlaz iz trenutnog zastoja. Bh. političke stranke trebaju potvrditi svoju volju za implementaciju presude Suda za ljudska prava. Treba da priznaju kako im za postizanje dogovora o Predsjedništvu BiH treba više vremena i treba odmah da se dogovore o rješenje za Dom naroda. EU treba da prihvati promjene vezane za Dom naroda kao ‘kredibilan napor’ dovoljan za pokretanje procesa pridruživanja EU, te nastavi da inzistira na potrebi ispunjavanja preostalih obaveza do punopravnog članstva BiH u EU.

    U takvom razvoju događaja Predsjedništvo BiH bi trebalo da pošalje pismo Vijeću Evropske unije i podnese zahtjev za članstvo u EU. Ovo bi bilo dobro i
    za BiH i za EU jer bi omogućilo jednoj od najsiromašnijih zemalja na Balkanu da odbaci okove koji je predugo usporavaju i zaustavljaju.

    Full report here (in English: Houdini in Bosnia – How to unlock the EU accession process (17 October 2013)






    Zašto Sejdić i Finci slučaj ne bi trebao blokirati aplikaciju za članstvo u EU


    Sažetak dokumenta

    Izgubljeni u bosanskohercegovačkom labirintu

    Zašto Sejdić i Finci slučaj ne bi trebao blokirati aplikaciju za članstvo u EU

    7. oktobar 2013.

    Evropski sud za ljudska prava je u decembru 2009. u slučaju Sejdić i Finci protiv Bosne i Hercegovine (BiH) presudio da Ustav i Izborni zakon BiH krše Evropsku konvenciju o ljudskim pravima i njene protokole. Naime, bosanskohercegovački zakoni propisuju izjašnjavanje pripadnosti bošnjačkom, hrvatskom ili srpskom narodu kao uslov za kandidaturu na političke pozicije člana Predsjedništva i delegata u Domu naroda BiH.

    Iza međunarodnog interesa za ovaj slučaj stoji moralno zgražanje. Kako jedna država u današnjoj Evropi može da spriječava Roma ili Jevreja da se kandiduje za šefa države? Nije li to onda rasistički ustav?

    Četiri godine su prošle od kada je presuda donesena. Ustav i Izborni zakon BiH nisu promijenjeni. Vijeće EU je u decembru 2010. poručilo političkim liderima u BiH da je provedba presude uslov za „kredibilnu aplikaciju“ za članstvo u EU. Od tada EU upozorava da će ovo pitanje, ako ne bude riješeno, blokirati put zemlje ka EU.

    Najutjecajniji bosanskohercegovački političari su 1. oktobra 2013. otputovali u Brisel i dogovorili se o „principima za pronalaženje dogovora.“  Postavili su 10. oktobar kao novi rok za pronalaženje dogovora.

    Ipak, vrlo je vjerovatno da dogovora neće biti. U tom slučaju pitanje koje se postavlja pred EU je: šta je sljedeće? U ovom dokumentu ESI zagovara da je trenutna politika EU – blokiranje puta BiH ka EU zbog ovog pitanja –  i nepravedna i kontraproduktivna. Tri su razloga za ovakvu poziciju:


    Slučaj Sejdić-Finci nije pitanje institucionalnog rasizma.

    Južnoafrički apartheid je imao rasistički izborni sistem. Bosna i Hercegovina ga nema. Nemaju ga ni Belgija ni Južni Tirol, bez obzira što zakoni u obje zemlje propisuju u nekim slučajevima, kao i u BiH, obavezu izjašnjavanja pripadnosti nekoj od zajednica. Samo u BiH pripadnost određenom narodu nije zakonski definisana. Ostavljajući svakom pojedincu punu slobodu da sam odredi svoj identitet, ali i da ga u budućnosti promjeni, bosanskohercegovački sistem je puno liberalniji i od belgijskog i južnotirolskog sistema. I za razliku od Cipra, pripadnost određenom narodu u BiH nije vezana ni za jedan objektivni kriterij, kao što je religija ili pripadnost roditelja nekom narodu. Činjenica je da je EU 2004. podržala glasanje zasnovano na podjeli na zajednice i pohvalila UN-ov plan Kofija Annana za Cipar, koji je kao osnovu imao iste principe na kojim je zasnovan Ustav BiH.


    Bosna i Hercegovina ne krši temeljna ljudska prava.

    Centralno i najkomplikovanije pitanje izbora članova Predsjedništva BiH ne krši prava koja proizilaze iz Evropske konvencije o ljudskim pravima. Ono predstavlja kršenje protokola 12 Konvencije, koji proširuje primjenjivost zabrane diskriminacije sa „prava i sloboda predviđenih konvencijom“ na „sva prava određenih zakonom“. Ovaj protokol je do sada potipsalo samo 8 od 28 zemalja članica EU.

    Sejdić-Finci nije pitanje sistematskog kršenja međunarodnih obaveza od strane BiH.

    Nivo implementacije presuda Evropskog suda za ljudska prava BiH je bolji nego većine zemalja članica EU.

    Iz navedenih razloga razloga neprovođenje presude u slučaju Sejdić i Finci ne može da opravda blokadu BiH da preda aplikaciju za članstvo u EU. Same reforme koje EU očekuje od BiH nisu tražene od drugih zemalja koje su aplicirale za članstvo, a još manje od zemalja članica EU.

    Sastanak u Briselu koji će biti održan 10. oktobra bi trebao biti posljednji takve vrste. U najboljem slučaju BiH lideri će dogovoriti rješenje. Ali ako se to ne dogodi, onda EU treba preispitati svoju trenutnu politiku i zahtjevati od BiH da provede presudu Suda za ljudska prava kao dio šire reforme ustava koju će provesti tokom procesa pridruživanja. Provedba ne ne bi trebala biti preduslov. Postavljanje iste kao takve bila je pogreška.


    New: Lost in the Bosnian labyrinth Why the Sejdic-Finci case should not block an EU application

    Just finished a new ESI Report. The full report will be put online later today on the ESI website. If you want it sooner please write to me on g.knaus@esiweb.org


    Lost in the Bosnian labyrinth
    Why the Sejdic-Finci case should not block an EU application

    Executive summary

    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. Bosnia’s laws require that political candidates identify themselves as “Bosniak”, “Croat” or “Serb” in order to be able to run for president or become a member of the upper house of the state parliament. 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?

    Four years have passed since the ruling. Bosnia’s constitution and election laws have not changed. In December 2010 the Council of the EU told Bosnian leaders that the implementation of the ruling was a condition for a “credible application” for EU membership. Since then, the EU has warned that if the issue is not resolved, it will block the country’s path to the EU.

    On 1 October 2013 Bosnia’s most influential politicians travelled to Brussels and agreed on “principles for finding an agreement”. They set a new deadline for reaching it – 10 October 2013. However, it is possible that once again no agreement will be reached. The looming question for the EU then becomes: what next? In this paper we argue that the current EU policy of blocking Bosnia and Herzegovina over this issue is unfair and counterproductive. There are three reasons why:

    –  This is not an issue of institutional “racism”.

    Apartheid South Africa had a racist electoral system. Bosnia does not. Neither does Belgium or South Tyrol, although in both countries legislation requires
    citizens to declare a community affiliation for certain purposes, similar to Bosnia. However, only in Bosnia is the ethnicity of any individual not defined in
    official documents. By leaving it up to any individual to determine how to self-identify – and allowing any individual to change this self-identification
    in the future – the Bosnian system is more liberal than either Belgium’s or South Tyrol’s. Unlike in Cyprus, it is also not tied to any objective criteria such as religion or the ethnicity of parents. In fact, in 2004 the EU endorsed community-based voting and praised the UN Annan plan for Cyprus based on the very principles that Bosnia’s constitution embraces.

    –  Bosnia is not violating fundamental human rights.

    The issue at stake in the election of the Bosnian presidency – the most complicated issue to resolve – is not a violation of any rights enumerated by the European Convention on Human Rights itself. It is a violation of Protocol 12 of the Convention, which extends the applicability of non-discrimination from “the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention” to “any right set forth by law”. This protocol has so far been ratified by only 8 out of 28 EU member states.

    –  This is not an issue of Bosnia systematically violating its international obligations.

    Bosnia’s record implementing European Court of Human Rights’ decisions is better than that of most current EU members.

    For all these reasons, non-implementation of the Sejdic-Finci decision cannot justify blocking Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for EU membership. The very reforms that the EU expects from Bosnia have not been asked of other EU applicants, much less of its own member states.

    The summit on 10 October in Brussels should be the last of its kind. The best case outcome would be that Bosnia’s leaders agree to a solution. However, if they do not, the EU should rethink its current policy and demand that Bosnia and Herzegovina implements this decision as part of wider constitutional reforms that it will undertake during the accession process itself. It should not be a precondition. Making it one was a mistake.




    Interview on the EU and the Sejdic Finci court case in Bosnia and Herzegovina

    As the news comes out from Brussels from the latest “agreement” (on principles) how to move ahead in the Bosnia and Herzegovina – EU accession talks, and on the eve of a debate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe tomorrow I gave an interview to a Bosnia paper. Here is the English version. I also discussed the issue a few days ago in another interview in Dnevni Avaz. A full ESI report analysing the issue is coming out this week.



    The goal is a Bosnia where it is normal to be a Catholic Serb, an Orthodox Bosniak, or a Muslim Croat.

    Interview with Gerald Knaus


    Political representatives of Bosnia are meeting commissioner Fule to discuss the Sejdic – Finci issue. How do you see that issue and some models of resolving it?

    This issue raises a fundamental question for the country: What does it mean to be a „Bosniak”, a „Croat“ or a „Serb“ in 21st century BiH? I do not think that the categories of Bosniak, Croat or Serb will ever disappear in Bosnia. I also do not believe the solution lies in creating a fourth millet, such as another caucus in the House of Peoples or a seat for „ostali” in the presidency. I think the very concept of „ostali” is strange and not very pleasant. The pragmatic way forward lies in changing the meaning of what is a Bosniak or a Croat or a Serb. For this you do not need foreign diplomats and political leaders finding ever more complicated formulas. It can be done by all citizens, including intellectuals and civil society – today.

    How can people change this when politicians have failed to agree for so long?

    The goal is a Bosnia where it is normal to be a Catholic Serb, an Orthodox Bosniak, or a Muslim Croat. It is normal today to be a Muslim German or a Buddhist French. The parents of David Alaba, the most prominent player on the Austrian national football team, are from the Philippines and from Nigeria. Yet he is Austrian. This is what modernity means: identities that are fluid, open to change. This is what nationalists in the past have always tried to suppress. But modern Europe has to have a place for Catholic Greeks, Christian Turks, and Muslim Austrians.

    What does this mean concretely for Dervo Sejdic and Jakob Finci? Can they become president without constitutional changes?

    Yes, of course. I hope they run for president in the next elections. I hope they redefine what it means to be Croat or Bosniak. If Jakob Finci would say, „Look, I do not feel Bosniak today, but in the Bosnia of the future a Jewish, secular, European Bosniak should be normal … and I contribute to this now.” There are German Roma, French Roma, Italian Roma, etcetera. There should be Croat Roma, and Serb Roma. This would implement Sejdic-Finci, transform the country and give hope to others who feel uncomfortable about narrow ethnic categories. And I would hope that many people vote for them.

    Is the EU’s approach to Sejdic-Finci right or wrong?

    I have heard some Europeans suggest that it only takes “a little bit of political will” to implement Sejdić and Finci. Have they forgotten how politics works in Belgium? Or in South Tyrol, where you declare officially whether you are part of the German, Ladino or Italian speaking community? Identity questions are always hard. People care about their identity, and to consider them and the politicians they elect backward or incompetent is a sign of arrogance.

    Are there specific issues where the EU is not treating Bosnia fairly?

    Let me be concrete. The Sejdic-Finci judgement on the presidency relies on the fact that Bosnia ratified Protocol 12 against all forms of discrimination in 2002. You know how many EU members have ratified the same protocol? Eight. The EU also says that it will sanction Bosnia because it has not implemented a particular ECHR judgement. I checked the situation at the end of 2011. Do you know how many court decisions Italy had not yet implemented? 2,500. Bulgaria? 340. Bosnia? 17. What the EU should do is find ways to encourage Bosnia to accommodate all its different identities. The best way to do this is to open accession talks as soon as possible, and integrate Bosnia into Europe.

    Recently you pointed out that there are some countries in the EU that have an even more flawed constitutional structure then Bosnia. If that is so, why do the EU and the Council of Europe insist on the Sejdic-Finci issue in case of Bosnia?

    Look at Cyprus. It is an EU member. There are also Muslim Roma in Cyprus. Now imagine that Dervo Sejdic had been born there in 1956. Under the constitution of 1960 every citizen of Cyprus belongs to one of two national groups, the Greeks or the Turks. On account of his religion, Sejdic would have been placed on the electoral roll of the Turkish community. His family would have had no choice. But after 1963 members of the Turkish community were no longer able to vote in the Republic. So for his whole adult life Dervo Sejdic, a Cypriot, would not have been allowed to stand for office or even to vote.

    And what did the EU do? It opened accession talks with Cyprus in 1997, and accepted it as a member in 2004. The European Parliament praised the Annan Plan, which included the same ethnic principles as the Cypriot constitution. It even suggested it as a model for other countries. And one month after Cyprus joined the EU the ECHR issued a judgement saying it was unacceptable for Muslim citizens of the Republic to be unable to vote! Bosnia today is already better than Cyprus, because in Bosnia you can freely chose your identity at eachelection. This is crucial, this gives this country the potential to move away from the Ottoman millet tradition and towards a modern society.

    Nonetheless, the EU and the CoE are sending messages on their readiness to cut or curb relations with Bosnia if Sejdic-Finci is not resolved soon.

    These threats are very unfortunate. A visa ban for Bosnian politicians? For all politicians, for all party leaders, for all parliamentarians who have not yet voted for constitutional changes? I find it hard to understand the logic behind these threats. Why should the Council of Europe punish Bosnia, but not Russia or Azerbaijan, which have dozens of political prisoners and no free elections?

    The EU has to accept that identity issues are hard to resolve always and everywhere. In Belgium. In Northern Ireland. In South Tyrol. In Cyprus. ESI is publishing a new report on how the EU missed a step in Bosnia this week, and where we argue in favour of a different, more promising approach than empty threats.

    Is it a time for a new EU approach to Bosnia? More engaged, less demanding?

    To become a modern country that can join the EU Bosnia needs to fundamentally change its economy, its institutions, everything from schools to environmental policy. It also needs to respect all identities and be open to change. But the way to achieve this is to demand from Bosnia what the EU has demanded from other countries that wanted to join. I wish Bosnian politicians, when they are in Brussels next time, take time to go to a bar and decide that – whatever else they disagree on – they will submit an application for EU accession immediately, now, in 2013. I hope they tell the EU, with one voice: “If Serbia is ready for candidate status, if Cyprus is a member, if Turkey is having accession talks, then Bosnia is ready to submit an application.” And then, when they come home, I hope they prepare for a serious accession process to start next year.