“Some boys think they will be paid to play soccer here”

F.D.P. politician Joachim Stamp on his new post as special representative for migration agreements, the deportation of foreigners who commit crimes and the idea of transferring asylum procedures abroad.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

This interview was first published in German by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 4 February 2023:
“Manche Jungs glauben, dass sie bei uns fürs Fußballspielen bezahlt werden

Excerpts from the interview:

Mr. Stamp, you have just taken office as the German government’s “special representative for migration agreements.” A tabloid called you “Germany’s top deportation commissioner.” Is that how you see yourself?

It’s explicitly not just about deportations, especially since the federal states are still responsible for that. It’s about a fundamentally new political approach: comprehensive agreements with the countries of origin, so-called migration agreements.

These agreements provide for a country to be granted a quota of legal immigration if it accepts back its own citizens who have committed criminal offenses in Germany or whose asylum applications have been rejected.

Such agreements would have to vary from country to country. But in principle, we agreed in the coalition agreement between the two parties to reduce irregular migration and strengthen regular migration. The idea goes back to proposals such as those made by migration researcher Gerald Knaus, with whom I am in regular contact.

In 2019, Knaus proposed concluding an agreement with The Gambia as a model: Legal immigration within a certain quota, if Gambia first takes back criminals as well as, from a cut-off date, all other nationals who come to Germany outside this quota.

This is actually a model that is very conceivable.

But the coalition agreement also says: “Not every person who comes to us can stay. We are launching a repatriation offensive to implement departures more consistently, especially the deportation of criminals and dangerous persons.” How is this to be achieved?

In the past, there were always steep announcements about deportations from certain politicians, but experience shows that nothing happens without the willingness of the countries of origin to take back their citizens who are obliged to leave the country. Some countries of origin also refuse to take back their citizens because a strong diaspora in Germany is economically important to them through remittances. Such transfer payments are often much higher than German development aid, which is why threatening to cancel them makes little impression. We have to convey to these countries that it is better for them if their people do not live here in illegality but in a regular way, because then they are of course much stronger financially and can better support their home country. For this, we can offer a certain number of regular visas to study here, to do an apprenticeship or to go directly into the labour market. Through the newly created right of opportunity to stay, we also offer those who are already here and who have a job here a prospect of legalizing their status. But we also have a clear expectation: in order to provide the integrated majority with a regular status, countries must take back their citizens who are considered criminals and dangerous persons here – and, from a certain date, all other of their citizens who still come to Germany irregularly.

The 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey was based on a similar model. However, it has failed.

Initially, the agreement helped to greatly reduce migration flows on the Balkan route. This was also because Turkey was given the means to integrate millions of refugees from Syria, who then did not even make their way to Europe. The fact that this later developed differently due to the policies of Turkish President Erdoğan is another matter.

Some EU states have other ideas for controlling the so-called Balkan route than migration agreements. Vienna, Budapest or Athens, for example, are calling for EU funds to further expand Greece’s and Bulgaria’s border fences with Turkey.

I am sceptical about this. Of course, Europe’s external borders must be protected. But barbed wire and fences alone are not enough to stop irregular migration. Instead, agreements with the countries of origin can ensure that people don’t venture into the desert in the first place, don’t board unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean, and don’t climb over barbed-wire fences only to end up here in an asylum system where they don’t belong because they are not persecuted in their countries. We want to create opportunities for a limited and contingent number to apply regularly for the German labour market, provided that those who try to do so on their own and who have no right of asylum here are readmitted by their countries of origin without further ado. We have had good experience with the Western Balkans arrangement. While the circumstances are somewhat different in this case, we want to extend the principle similarly to other countries and regions of the world. Of course, there are countries with which we cannot reach agreements at present for fundamental reasons, such as Syria or Afghanistan. But we will seek dialog with many other countries.

Your title “Special Representative of the Federal Government” sounds solemn, but you are a king without a country, since you have no real powers. Who are your most important partners?

That remains to be seen. We have excellent civil servants in the ministries, but there has been a lack of a body to bundle the initiatives of the various ministries into a strategy. That is also my task. If, for example, the Ministry of Labor wants to recruit workers in a particular country, this should be coordinated not only with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Development, but also with the Ministry of the Interior in such a way that the obligation to leave the country for people without the right of residence is also integrated into the agreements from the outset. We also need to bring practitioners together, even beyond the usual hierarchies. In my years as Integration Minister in North Rhine-Westphalia, I often experienced criticism from the federal police to the municipalities and from the municipalities to the federal police because there was a lack of agreements. There continue to be errors and gaps in logistics that repeatedly lead to delays or cancellations of deportations. Practitioners from all agencies involved can certainly achieve many improvements by talking directly with each other.

Many companies that have found workers abroad and can present signed employment contracts complain that this is not the case.

This has been a problem for a long time. In my time as minister, companies complained about this time and again. We need to make greater use of digitization here, and we also need to increase the number of staff in the relevant departments. We also need to become more flexible in the recognition of educational and vocational qualifications if we want to manage labor immigration well. However, I would caution against exaggerated expectations. None of this will bring quick results overnight. What is important is that we start down this new path and network the work between the ministries more closely.

According to the coalition agreement, the traffic lights also want to examine whether asylum procedures can be relocated to third countries. What does that mean exactly?

That we want to examine whether asylum procedures can be carried out in third countries, for example under the umbrella of the UNHCR, in compliance with the Geneva Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. Then people rescued on the Mediterranean would be brought to North Africa for their proceedings. But that requires a great deal of diplomacy and a long lead time. And it is clear that a country like Libya, for example, cannot be a partner for this in its current state. We need to take a close look at developments in potential partner countries. We are not talking about a quick fix, as former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson did with Rwanda.

Whereas British courts have ruled that Johnson’s move to transfer British asylum procedures to Rwanda is compatible with the UN Refugee Convention.

It is important that the standards of international law are upheld; anything less is out of the question. But on this basis, we actually want to think about it.

You will certainly get applause for this from parts of your party – but will the Greens go along with it?

It is crucial that we both end the deaths in the Mediterranean and the pushbacks at the EU’s external borders and reduce irregular migration. To do this, we need to remove the motivation for people to embark on the life-threatening crossing in the first place. This can be accomplished by providing regular alternatives to entry for a select group, if all others without asylum rights are consistently deported. Another case is those who entered irregularly, but who have abided by all the rules here for years. People who are integrated into the labour market and learn the language, whose children go to school, who have become a natural part of our society. We want to make it possible for them to stay permanently. On the other hand, we want to put all our concentration into getting rid of those who don’t play by the rules.

Those who only talk about deportation are missing the point

Never before has Germany taken in so many refugees as last year. To cope with this task, more than cheap promises is needed.

This article was published in Die Zeit in German on 9 February 2023:
Wer nur von Abschiebung spricht, der blendet

A guest article by Gerald Knaus

Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative (ESI) is one of Europe’s most influential experts on refugee policy. He helped develop the EU-Turkey Statement and wrote the books “Welche Grenzen brauchen wir?”(What Borders Do We Need?) and “Wir und die Flüchtlinge”(Us and the Refugees).

Since the founding of the Federal Republic, Germany has not taken in as many refugees in any year as it did in 2022. Last year, protection was granted to one million Ukrainians who fled to Germany after the Russian aggression and from the bloodiest war in Europe since the 1940s. In addition, about 100,000 asylum seekers, including more than 75,000 from Syria and Afghanistan, were also granted protection at first instance in 2022. Still others were granted protection by courts in the second instance and for 30,000 people, most of them Afghans, deportation was suspended in 2022.

Germany was thus a pillar of international refugee protection in 2022. But the practical challenges this entails are great. The most important reasons for the historic refugee year of 2022 are named quickly: above all Russia, then Syria and Afghanistan. Or: Putin, Assad, and the Taliban. Their actions were the cause of mass flight.

If you now add up these figures, you also immediately realise how misleading the current debate about speeding up deportations from Germany is. The vast majority of people who applied for asylum in Germany last year and in the years before were granted asylum or came from countries to which all European countries hardly ever deport – regardless of whether Thomas de Maizière, Horst Seehofer or Nancy Faeser headed the Ministry of the Interior in Berlin. This is because the vast majority of asylum applications, more than 80 per cent, were filed in Germany in recent years by citizens from ten countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, Georgia, Somalia, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria and Russia. Refugees from Ukraine do not have to apply for asylum, they usually receive temporary protection status without red tape.

Deportations are necessary, but one must remain realistic

In 2021, 120,000 people from these ten countries submitted one of the 150,000 asylum applications in Germany. In 2022, they accounted for 180,000 out of 220,000 applications. The increase in applications between 2021 and 2022 can almost entirely be explained by the growth in asylum applications from these ten countries.

At the same time, however, there were and are almost no deportations to these countries. The only exception is Georgia, with good reason. The country, which benefits from visa-free travel to the EU for its citizens, cooperates very well in taking back its citizens. There were just over 1,000 deportations to Georgia in 2021. To the other nine countries, there were just as many in total.

But what does the political promise of a “deportation offensive” mean? That in 2023 not 52 people would be deported to Iraq as in 2021, but 152? That the number of deportations to Somalia would increase from 13 (2021) to 130 (2023)? In 2021, there were still a few controversial deportations to Afghanistan: 167. But these have also ended since the Taliban seized power. The same applies to deportations to Russia since the war on Ukraine.

Even a fivefold increase in deportations to these most important asylum-seeking countries would only be a few thousand people per year. In view of the large number of those who would receive protection in Germany in 2022, especially from Ukraine, this would hardly relieve German municipalities of the burden of receiving them. Those who promise this are missing the point.

Now, on the one hand, an asylum system in which final asylum decisions have no consequences does not make sense: in that case, one could dispense with procedures, as the EU did with the Ukrainians in 2022 for good reason. However, at the external borders this would have the foreseeable consequence of reinforcing already existing systematic pushbacks – as is the case today in Poland or Greece. Deportations are necessary, but those who demand them must remain realists.

The strongest argument in favour of strategic deportations is therefore that – within the framework of migration agreements limited to the deportation of convicted criminals or new arrivals according to cut-off dates – these could reduce life-threatening irregular migration across the sea and thus also save lives without relying on human rights violations. Negotiating migration agreements, which the new Special Envoy Joachim Stamp is supposed to tackle, is therefore about specifically getting convicted criminals out of the country, and reducing future irregular migration, for example across the Mediterranean. However, this would not change the fact that in 2023, as in 2022, most of the people seeking protection in Germany would again come from Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan, would receive protection and would not be affected by deportations.

A pilot project also for others

Thus, in the face of a record number of refugees in Germany as well as in Europe, the current discussions are helpless and devoid of strategy. The EU agreed on visa sanctions against the smallest country in Africa, Gambia, a young democracy and one of the poorest countries in the world, which does not even have a Schengen consulate. Incidentally, most Gambians in Europe who are obliged to leave the country live in Baden-Württemberg. Germany would be well advised to take the opposite course to achieve results and not destabilise countries: To make offers to strategically focus on the deportation of criminals and those who arrive after a cut-off date, and to allow the country quotas of legal migration in exchange. As a pilot project for others as well.

Equally unhelpful and pointless are considerations in Europe to once again close the so-called Balkan route in this crisis, as Viktor Orbán and Sebastian Kurz did once before in 2016. In these plans, the EU agency Frontex is to be sent to the borders of the Western Balkans to stop migrants there. This is all the more absurd because almost everyone in the EU is counting on Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen area as soon as possible, which will mean that there will no longer be any border controls between Greece and Germany. But then what are bored Frontex officials on the green border between northern Macedonia and Serbia supposed to do when there are no more borders around the EU-enclosed Western Balkans? Here, too, the opposite strategy would be more promising: to concentrate on the EU’s actual external border with Turkey, to negotiate agreements there through migration diplomacy and to present the Western Balkan states with a roadmap for joining the Schengen area soon, after reforms. And in this way, also in the interest of peace, to make disputed borders such as between Serbia and Kosovo more invisible.

But anyone who suggests today that more deportations would relieve the burden on municipalities in a situation in which nine out of ten refugees admitted in 2022 came legally from Ukraine is raising expectations that can never become reality. And thus does the business of populists who are already driven by fear and anger against allegedly traitorous elites. No democratic party in Germany can want that.

80 per cent a consequence of Putin’s war

What would be needed? A message that helps centrist politicians arm themselves against populists. Three measures that could also help the municipalities. And a concrete vision for the future, as also contained in the German coalition agreement.

The most important message: this historic refugee crisis in Germany and Europe is 80 percent a result of Putin’s war. The only way to prevent this crisis from getting worse is therefore to support Ukraine. So that Ukrainians are no longer forced to flee in even greater numbers in the future.

An important measure would therefore also be a better distribution of Ukrainian refugees still to come. Instead of Brussels being preoccupied with sanctioning little Gambia, an EU migration summit should discuss how countries that have taken in only a few Ukrainians so far could make a fair contribution. Currently, Baden-Württemberg has taken in more Ukrainians than the whole of France. The Czech Republic alone has taken in more people than France, Spain and Italy combined.

One way to change this would be to support families in France, Spain, Italy and elsewhere in taking in refugees and accommodating them privately, as is already being done in Ireland and the UK, by giving them a monthly thank you payment (of around 500 euros). Germany should lobby for this, starting with the Chancellor, at the EU migration summit to launch a Europe-wide initiative of mobilising private, state-supported reception with the French President. The goal: by the end of 2023, at least as many Ukrainians should have been admitted to France, Spain, and Italy respectively (half a million) as have been admitted to the Czech Republic today. This would also relieve the burden on Germany.

A second measure: the acceleration of asylum procedures for all those who have hardly any chance of asylum anyway and whose countries of origin have an incentive to immediately take back citizens from Germany who are obliged to leave the country, such as Georgia and Moldova, due to the existing visa-free regime. Germany can also take its cue from countries like Austria. The goal: There should be hardly any asylum applications from these countries by the end of 2023. 

A third measure would be to make attractive offers to the most important transit countries at the European border, Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey, to motivate them to take back asylum seekers arriving irregularly via the Mediterranean Sea. The UNHCR could carry out the procedures for those sent back. This would reduce life-threatening irregular migration. In parallel, legal mobility and the admission of refugees through resettlement should be expanded, as envisaged in the German coalition agreement.

A vision for the future is also outlined in the coalition agreement: not only to reduce irregular migration, but also to promote legal migration. Germany should work to expand legal mobility with African countries in the framework of new migration agreements. Instead of pushing them into the asylum system, the EU should allow Ukrainians – after the end of temporary protection – to transition to full freedom of movement, as it does for people from the Western Balkans, Moldova, and Georgia. This would also be a measure against the lack of labour force (“Arbeiterlosigkeit”). More controlled and legal mobility from partner countries in Africa would make geopolitical sense and would strengthen the common interest in reducing irregular migration in return.

Today, in the face of record numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in Germany and elsewhere in the EU, deportations are a very blunt instrument. If we want to solve problems, restore the rule of law at the EU’s external borders and not provide populists with further ammunition, we need migration summits that propose practicable solutions based on facts. This requires a grand coalition of reason for humane control, in Germany as well as in the EU. And no more political posturing.

DGAP akcioni plan: Kako Nemačka može da doprinese trajnom miru na Balkanu

This is a translation of the action plan “Westlicher Balkan und EU-Nachbarschaft” I wrote for the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). It was part of the DGAP project “Action Plans Structures German Foreign Policy,” a ten-month process of reflection and strategy resulting in ten concrete action plans.

Of those I contributed two (English translations will be available in November):

Nemačko Društvo za Spoljnu Politiku (DGAP)

Akcioni plan Zapadni Balkan i EU-Susedstvo

Kako Nemačka može da doprinese trajnom miru na Balkanu

Više od dve decenije nemačka spoljna politika posvećena je sprečavanju obnove tenzija, unutrašnjo-političkih ili čak oružanih sukoba na Zapadnom Balkanu. Da je ovo uspelo od 1999. godine takođe je uspeh nemačke politike.


Poslednjih godina se povećao rizik od neuspeha stabilizacione politike EU i Nemačke na Balkanu. U Srbiji, najmoćnijoj zemlji u regionu, vodeći članovi vlade ponovo otvoreno govore o mogućim oružanim sukobima i dovode u pitanje granice na Zapadnom Balkanu. Osuda bivšeg generala Ratka Mladića za genocid u Srebrenici, u proljeće 2021. dovela je do ekstremno nacionalističkih reakcija vlasti i medija bliskih vladi. Godinama rastući izdaci za vojnu potrošnju takođe jasno stavljaju do znanja da bi destabilizirajuća politika prema susednim državama, poput Bosne i Hercegovine i Kosova, bila ne samo zamisliva, već čak i verovatna da nema stabilizacijske kontra-strategije Nemačke i njenih saveznika.

Kosovski sukob tek što je bio okončan kada su u julu 1999. godine nemački kancelar Gerhard Schröder, američki predsednik Bill Clinton i šefovi vlada svih članica EU došli na veliki balkanski samit u Sarajevu. Na Kosovu, u četvrtom balkanskom ratu za manje od jedne decenije, skoro milion Albanaca je bilo proterano u susedne zemlje. Političare, koji su se tada sastali u Sarajevu, spajalo je gnušanje prema nacionalizmu, koji je u kratkom vremenskom periodu koštao toliko života. Oni su se obavezali da će „sarađivati na očuvanju multinacionalne i multietničke raznolikosti zemalja u regionu i u zaštiti manjina“. Svečano su izjavili: „Zajedno ćemo raditi na integraciji Jugoistočne Evrope u kontinent na kojem granice ostaju nepovredive, ali više ne znače podelu te nude mogućnost kontakta i saradnje.“ Obećali su evropski mir, postmoderni “Pax Europeana”. Nemačka je imala vodeću ulogu u formulisanju ovog cilja.

Dve decenije mira

Dok su u drugoj polovini devedesetih pre svega USA imale vodeću ulogu u stabilizaciji regiona -nakon završetka ratova u Bosni (1995.) i na Kosovu (1999.)- to se promenilo od 2000. nadalje. EU je postala vodeća igrač, a unutar EU je Nemačka igrala glavnu ulogu: sa sve većim uticajem. Zapadni Balkan je tako postao prvi i do danas najuspešniji test zajedničke evropske spoljne politike, pri čemu je EU i njenim državama članicama uspelo geopolitičko čudo demokratske stabilizacije.

Crna Gora je svoju nezavisnost postigla mirnim putem, uz podršku široke multietničke koalicije. Danas u bosanskoj “Republici Srpskoj” ponovo živi više od 220.000 Ne-Srba, proteranih sa srbske teritorije tokom rata 1992-1995. Severna Makedonija ima osnovne škole na četiri jezika, a albanski je službeni jezik u celoj zemlji. Većina kosovskih Srba koji su živeli na Kosovu pre 1999. godine ostali su tamo i posle 1999. godine. Srpski je službeni jezik na Kosovu. U celom regionu vlada mir već dve decenije.

Poslednjih nekoliko godina oko EU vidimo ratove i izbijanja nasilja: u Gruziji, Iraku, Siriji, Ukrajini, Libiji i na Kavkazu. U mnogim istočnoevropskim državama, članicama Saveta Evrope, sada ponovo ima političkih zatvorenika. Zapadni Balkan je, s druge strane, ostao miran. Danas nema političkih zatvorenika ili sistematskih kršenja ljudskih prava ni u jednoj zemlji u regionu. Nemačka je povukla svoje vojnike iz Bosne i Hercegovine, ne brinući da bi zbog toga moglo doći do izbijanja novih borbi. Samo na Kosovu je trenutno stacioniran mali kontingent od oko 80 vojnika nemačkog Bundeswehra.


Ne samo na Zapadnom Balkanu već i u evropskom susedstvu uticaj Nemačke na unutrašnjo- i spoljnopolitičke razvoje više od dve decenije je tesno povezan sa verodostojnošću evropske integracione perspektive. Tamo gde ona postoji, Nemačka ima veliki uticaj, bilateralno i preko Evropske Unije, te može da realizuje svoje interese. Izručenje traženih ratnih zločinaca koje traži Njemačka, modalitet za referendum o nezavisnosti Crne Gore, prvi koraci u procesu normalizacije između Srbije i Kosova, kompromis sa Grčkom oko imena države Severna Makedonija, dalekosežne pravosudne reforme u Albaniji i druge teške odluke su sprovedene u regionu, jer su elite smatrale da je to neophodno kako bi se napredovalo ka evropskim integracijama: koje su želele i smatrale realnim.

Tamo gde ta „evropska perspektiva“ nestaje, reducira se brzo i nemački uticaj u regionu. Razvoj odnosa Turske i EU jasno je upozorenje šta se u bliskoj budućnosti može desiti i na Zapadnom Balkanu. U Turskoj je postojao period rastućeg uticaja Nemačke i EU posle 2000. Ali onda su pregovori o pristupanju EU sa Turskom iz različitih razloga izgubili svaki kredibilitet i na kraju su zamrznuti. U isto vreme rasle su napetosti između Turske s jedne strane i Nemačke i drugih zemalja EU s druge – sve do vojnih pretnji Ankare Grčkoj i Kipru. Nemačka i EU su se pokazele nemoćnima glede demontaže turske pravne države i kršenja osnovnih ljudskih prava.

Sada i na Zapadnom Balkanu perspektiva integracije -koja je bila toliko moćna pre nekoliko godina- gubi kredibilnost za političke elite i društva. U važnim državama članicama EU, poput Francuske ali i Holandije, postoji veliki skepticizam u pogledu bilo kakve dalje runde proširenja. Stoga je novo učlanjenje u EU postalo malo verovatno a proces proširenja već godinama u zastoju. Trenutno su samo dve od šest zemalja u regionu stvarno uključene u pregovore o pristupanju: Srbija i Crna Gora. Međutim, pregovori ove dve države o pristupanju -i reforme u njima- se ne pomeraju sa mesta već godinama. Albanija i Severna Makedonija godinama čekaju na početak pregovora. Bosna i Hercegovina nije čak ni zvanični kandidat za članstvo. Neke zemlje članice EU ne priznaju Kosovo kao nezavisnu državu i stoga se Kosovo ne može ni kandidovati za pridruživanje EU.

Uloga Nemačke

U decembru 2003. EU je usvojila prvu evropsku bezbednosnu strategiju koja je sadržala upozorenje: „Izbijanje sukoba na Balkanu nas je podsetilo da rat nije nestao sa našeg kontinenta.“ EU je povezala budućnost vanjske politike EU sa sopstvenim uspehom u Jugoistočnoj Evropi: „Kredibilitet naše spoljne politike zavisi od učvršćivanja naših tamošnjih postignuća.”

To i dalje važi. Od Beograda do Tirane, od Sarajeva do Prištine, Njemačka je danas najpriznatiji i najvažniji evropski partner. Realno: Zapadni Balkan bi u narednih pet godina mogao postati spoljnopolitička priča o uspehu Nemačke i EU ako bi se perspektiva integracije ponovo učinila verodostojnom. Tada bi bilo moguće upotrebiti mudru diplomatiju kako bi se otvorena spoljnopolitička pitanja približila finalnom rešavanju: od dijaloga između Srbije i Kosova do trajne stabilizacije multietničkih demokratija u Severnoj Makedoniji, Bosni i Hercegovini i Crnoj Gori. U regionu u kojem se sve države orijentišu prema EU, njenim standardima i vrednostima, ali i njenim pravilima i institucijama, pitanja statusa bi takođe bila rešiva.

I naredna nemačka vlada takođe ima veliki interes za stabilnost u regionu koji je, sa četiri rata i genocidom, svojevremeno bio najkrvaviji konfliktni region na svetu a devedesetih godina prošlog veka prouzrokovao veliki pokret izbeglica. Da bi se eliminisao rizik povratka u nestabilnost nije dovoljno pustiti da se trenutni proces nastavi. Potrebna je nemačka inicijativa.

Preporuke za obnovljenu nemačku Zapadnobalkansku Politiku

Poslednjih godina vlade u Beogradu, Podgorici, Prištini, Sarajevu, Skoplju i Tirani ispunile su mnoge zahteve Nemačke i EU te poboljšale odnose između etničkih grupa i sa svojim susedima. Političari u Crnoj Gori (pre i neposredno nakon početka pristupnih pregovora 2012.), Srbije (između 2010. i 2014.), Severne Makedonije (2004.-2005., kad se zemlja nadala statusu kandidata te ponovo između 2017. i danas) te Albanije iznova i iznova su sprovodili politički zahtevne reforme, imajući na umu konkretan i atraktivan cilj. Danas u regionu nedostaju slični mobilizirajući ciljevi. U nemačkom je interesu da se to promeni. Ali to može uspeti samo ako Berlin ozbiljno shvati zabrinutost svojih partnera u EU.

Inicijativa Nemačke trebalo bi da se zasniva na predlogu koji je Francuska predstavila krajem 2019. godine, a koji predviđa različite faze integracije balkanskih zemalja. Ova ideja se može pojednostaviti kako bi bila kredibilna u EU a istovremeno definisala atraktivan cilj za elite regiona u narednih nekoliko godina. Ovako bi to moglo da funkcioniše:

1) Predlaže se pristupni proces u dve faze. Cilj pregovora sa svih šest država u regionu ostaje punopravno pridruživanje, ali se nudi novi i konkretan posredni cilj: potpuni pristup evropskom unutrašnjem tržištu.

2) U prvoj fazi, svaka država u regionu koja ispunjava neophodne uslove trebalo bi da pristupi unutrašnjem tržištu, poput Finske, Švedske i Austrije 1994. Ostvarivanje ovog pristupa do 2030. bio bi realan cilj za sve zemlje na Zapadnom Balkanu. Oni bi uživali u četiri slobode – slobodnom kretanju robe, kapitala, usluga i radne snage – baš kao što to rade Norveška i Island danas. U tom cilju, EU bi trebala stvoriti okvir Ekonomskog Prostora Jugoistočne Evrope (EPJE). Nemačke institucije: Ured Saveznog Kancelara, MIP i druga ministarstva izradili bi poseban predlog i založili se za njega u EU.

3) Jačanje vladavine prava u regionu pri tome ostaje centralna komponenta procesa integracija, jer svi uslovi za vezani za demokratiju, vladavinu prava i ljudska prava moraju biti u potpunosti ispunjeni da bi se zemlja mogla pridružiti unutrašnjem tržištu i Ekonomskom Prostoru Jugoistočne Evrope. Sledeća nemačka savezna vlada trebalo bi da se založi za  proširenje redovnih izveštaja o vladavini prava u EU na zemlje Zapadnog Balkana.

4) Istovremeno, Nemačka bi trebalo da se založi i za jačanje Saveta Evrope – kojem pripada pet od šest zemalja u regionu – i da promoviše brzi prijem Kosova u njega. Važno je da implementacija presuda Evropskog Suda za Ljudska Prava u čitavom regionu postane centralni uslov za integraciju u EU.

5) U tu svrhu, EU bi trebala još pomnije da prati važne sudske procese u svih šest zemalja kako bi mogla utvrditi da li pravosuđe radi nezavisno. Evropska Komisija treba da izradi detaljne izveštaje o korupciji za Zapadni Balkan, koristeći istu metodologiju koja se koristila za izveštaje o korupciji u državama članicama EU 2014. godine. Novi izveštaj svake dve godine mogao bi osigurati uporedivost među zemljama.

6) U tom kontekstu bi približavanje i normalizacija odnosa između Kosova i Srbije već u naredne četiri godine bilo realna. Usvajanjem istih pravila EU, državne granice bi postale manje važne. Pre nego što se pridruži zajedničkom tržištu, Srbija bi takođe morala da prihvati sadašnje granice Kosova. Opšti cilj bi bio da granice između balkanskih zemalja budu isto tako nevidive, kao što je danas norveško-švedska granica.

Pristupanje unutrašnjem tržištu EU, u okviru EEA EU-a i Zapadnog Balkana do 2030., ambiciozan je ali ostvariv cilj za sve zemlje Zapadnog Balkana. Realna perspektiva uživanja četiri slobode – za robu, kapital, usluge i rad (sa prelaznim periodima, kad EU smatra da je to neophodno) – u roku od nekoliko godina mobiliziralo bi društvo u celini te stvorio novu ekonomsku dinamiku.

Cilj je region, koji je ekonomski tako blisko povezan sa EU kao Norveška i Island danas. Jaz u blagostanju sa ostatkom Evrope trebalo bi brzo da se smanji, baš kao što su Rumunija ili baltičke zemlje to tako spektakularno postigle od 2000. Vladavinu prava i zaštitu manjina treba ojačati. Slično unutrašnjim granicama EU u šengenskom sistemu, granice između balkanskih zemalja takođe bi trebale postati nevidive, kako bi se ublažio politički spor oko njih.

Ovaj cilj se može postići bez previše napora i bez rizika za Nemačku i EU. To bi bio nemački i evropski spoljnopolitički uspeh. I to bi bio signal drugim zemljama u susedstvu da se dobri odnosi i posvećenost funkcionalnoj integraciji sa EU politički isplate i bivaju realnost.

Višestruki interesi Nemačke u regionu još uvek se najbolje mogu realizovati u okviru koherentne politike EU prema Balkanu. U poslednje dve decenije, moć Nemačke na Zapadnom Balkanu zasnovana je prvenstveno na realističnoj utopiji: verodostojnom obećanju bolje budućnosti kroz integraciju u stabilnu i prosperitetnu EU, koja omogućava sličan mir na Zapadnom Balkanu kakav je proteklih decenija u EU postojao: „Bezbednost kroz transparentnost i transparentnost kroz međuzavisnost.“ 

Ovaj „postmoderni mir“ u EU, koji je opisao Robert Cooper, učinio je vekovnu politiku alijansi i balansiranja moći suvišnom. Članice EU, rekao je Cooper, ne razmišljaju o tome da naprave invazije jedna na drugu. Izazov na Zapadnom Balkanu je postizanje sličnog trajnog mira u kom granice gube na značaju, vojske više ne služe za zastrašivanje, a manjine žive sigurno.

Oružani sukob bio bi onda nezamisliv na Zapadnom Balkanu kao što je to danas među članicama Evropske Unije. Ako sledeća nemačka savezna vlada može pomoći u implementaciji takve “Pax Europeana” na Zapadnom Balkanu, ona će nastaviti nemačku i evropsku priču o uspehu, priču u kojoj se mir obezbeđuje integracijom i umrežavanjem.

A Balkan, od bureta baruta postaje region stabilnosti za narednu generaciju.

Autor: Gerald Knaus, predsednik European Stability Initiative (ESI)
Prevod: Mirko Vuletić

22 years of ESI

22 years ago in 1999 we created ESI in a Sarajevo garden. We had no funding, but a mission: that ideas and research can protect democracy and preserve peace in wider Europe. Since then we wrote thousands of pages; made 15 documentaries; gave many interviews.

Here is a short and incomplete overview of the first few years and what we tried:


22 years ago, in 1999, we created ESI in a Sarajevo garden. We had no funding, but a mission: that ideas and research can protect democracy and preserve peace in wider Europe. Since then we wrote thousands of pages; made 15 documentaries; gave many interviews.

Here is a short and incomplete overview of the first few years and what we tried:


The world and the European Union have changed since 1999.

States who joined the EU have enjoyed democratic peace. Around the EU there has since been more violence and war: from Belarus to Ukraine, Syria to Libya, Iraq to the Caucasus. In the EU there are new challenges to the rule of law and human rights.


Some highlights from 22 years:

Our first reports in 1999 was on how to support a multiethnic and democratic Bosnia and Herzegovina:


In 2001 we wrote a big report – in cooperation with Martti Ahtisaari – recommending that the Balkan Stability Pact focus on regional energy integration; on creating a common market with the EU; and on visa liberalization for all Balkan citizens.

Democracy, Security And The Future Of The Stability Pact For South Eastern Europe


We teamed up with former EU interior ministers to persuade the EU to offer visa free travel to the Balkans, Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, and Turkey.

It was a great if incomplete success (Kosovo and Turkey still missing).

The Schengen White List Project Compendium


We carried out field research into causes of underdevelopment.

In Bosnia: Protests and Illusions – How Bosnia and Herzegovina lost a decade

In Kosovo: Cutting the lifeline – Migration, Families and the Future of Kosovo

In Serbia: Discussion Paper: The cost of non-Europe – Textile towns and the future of Serbia

In Macedonia: Ahmeti’s Village – The Political Economy Of Interethnic Relations In Macedonia

And pushed since 2002 to extend EU cohesion policies to the Balkans: Assistance, Cohesion And The New Boundaries Of Europe – A Call for Policy Reform


We worked on Jacobins and Libertarians in Georgia and on reconciliation and the debate on genocide and Armenia-Turkey.

Georgia: Georgia’s Libertarian Revolution – Part one: Georgia as a model

Armenia and Turkey: Noah’s Dove Returns – Armenia, Turkey and the Debate on Genocide


And we worked on growing repression of civil society in Azerbaijan: Oslo abuse debate – Mr Jagland goes to Baku – June 2 Berlin event – a tradition of dissent


We wrote scripts and made interviews for 12 documentary films for ORF, 3sat, and ERSTE Stiftung: Return to Europe

Macedonia: Macedonian Wedding

Serbia: Serbia – Exit Europe

Romania: Romania – timisoara.com

Moldova: Moldova – Lost in Transition

Croatia: Twilight of Heroes – Croatia, Europe and the International Tribunal


And how to save the Council of Europe in the face of the biggest threat in its history: to be captured and bought by autocracies: The strangest love affair – autocrats and parliamentarians, from Berlin to Strasbourg

And a few more things here: esiweb.org

Thanks for your interest!


People shaping 22 years of ESI:

More: Where new ideas are born – ESI Anniversary Conference Story


If YOU want to join us as ESI junior fellow or know someone who does: How to become an ESI Junior Fellow

More: Junior Fellows

Conversation on European policy and borders with Jean Asselborn

Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn and I gave an interview to The European Security and Defence Union.

Jean Asselborn in Cologne on 31 May 2021

It is an encouraging message from this veteran European:

„Jean Asselborn: I admit that Mr Knaus’ pragmatism offers a refreshing and informed perspective on the issues that institutional actors seem unable or unwilling to adopt. I agree with many of the solutions offered in the book. However, the political reality in Europe today is that some Member States have adopted a very cynical attitude towards asylum.“

We will not give up. Cynicism is never a good answer.

Read the full interview: The EU needs humane border control through better cooperation – Migration, border security and asylum

Read review of “Welche Grenzen brauchen wir? Zwischen Empathie und Angst – Flucht, Migration und die Zukunft von Asyl”

Cologne – ESI at panel discussion with Jean Asselborn on how to get to a humane refugee and migration policy (31 May 2021)

The book: www.grenzen.eu – more: https://www.esiweb.org/proposals/humane-borders

“Aserbaidschan Connection” debate with Frank Schwabe

What is the Azerbaijan Connection and what is happening now? And what do we have to do to avoid corruption in the Bundestag and in the Council of Europe?

German SPD MP Frank Schwabe organised a Facebook debate (in German) with

Gerald Knaus, European Stability Initiative
Timo Lange, LobbyControl
Ádám Földes, Transparency International

It was moderated by  journalist Ann-Kathrin Krügel.

Der Spiegel: The case of Alexei Navalny – How Russia is destroying the Council of Europe

Navalny’s health is deteriorating rapidly. Is Russia’s president letting his most important opponent die in custody? If the Council of Europe does not act now, it will make itself superfluous.

Hardly anyone shaped post-war Europe as much as the Frenchman Pierre-Henri Teitgen. And hardly anyoneis so forgotten today.

Teitgen fought in the resistance against Hitler. He was arrested by the Gestapo and narrowly escaped the concentration camps. After 1945, he rose to become France’s Minister of Information and Justice under de Gaulle and helped found the daily newspaper “Le Monde”.

Above all, Teitgen was one of the initiators of the Council of Europe, an association of European states whose most important body is the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

A question of life and death

The Holocaust was on Teitgen’s mind all his life. “Democracies do not become Nazi states overnight,” he said. “Evil spreads cunningly. Step by step, freedoms are suppressed.”

Teitgen and his comrades-in-arms wanted to ensure that such a catastrophe would not happen again in Europe. The Council of Europe was supposed to prevent democracies from turning into dictatorships. It is one of the great achievements of the post-war period. Now, however, it is about to become irrelevant.

Although the number of members in the Council of Europe has grown from ten to 47 in recent decades, many states no longer feel bound by its word. Russia, in particular, is systematically undermining the body.

The Kremlin, like all other Council members, has officially committed itself to implementing ECHR rulings. In reality, however, it mostly ignores them. For a long time, this was a nuisance for the Council of Europe. Now it is a matter of life and death.

Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, has repeatedly appealed to the ECHR, a total of twenty times, more than any other citizen. As recently as February, the ECHR ordered that Navalny be immediately released from prison in Russia. However, the Russian regime has defied this ruling as well.

Everything depends on Germany

Navalny, who only last summer narrowly survived a poisoning by the Russian secret service, has since gone on hunger strike. His health has deteriorated dramatically. His lawyers warn that he could die any day.

The Europeans have a number of options to influence Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. They could impose sanctions against his regime, Germany could stop the construction of the Nord Stream pipeline.

But the Council of Europe in particular has seldom been so challenged. It must exert pressure on Moscow. The „European Stability Initiative“ (ESI), a think tank based in Berlin, shows how.

In a recent paper, Gerald Knaus’s experts at ESI argue that the Council of Europe could issue an ultimatum to Russia with a two-thirds majority in the Committee of Ministers. If the Kremlin does not release Navalny, Russia could be temporarily expelled from the Council of Europe. It would be a sign that Europeans are not willing to accept Russia’s internal and external aggression without further action.

Germany is now likely to be the main player in the dispute with Moscow. The German government still holds the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe until the end of May. In a speech to the Council of Europe on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to stand up for Navalny. „We are very worried,“ she said.

Interview in Die Welt: “Moscow wants to show that everything can be bought”

This interview originally appeared in German in Die Welt: „Moskau will zeigen, dass alles käuflich ist“.

Migration researcher and rule of law expert Gerald Knaus calls for Russia to be expelled from the Council of Europe over Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment if the opposition leader is not released. In an interview, he explains what Europe must do in its dealings with Russia.

Gerald Knaus is best known as the “architect” of the refugee agreement between the EU and Turkey. However, the chairman of the Berlin think tank European Stability Initiative (ESI) has for years also been writing about deficits in the rule of law in Eastern Europe, for example in Poland and Hungary. For him, Russia is an extreme case of the departure from democratic values that can also be observed in other European countries. He calls for “drawing a red line” in dealing with Russia in order to stand up for the credibility of the European Convention on Human Rights’ values.

WELT: Mr Knaus, Russia has massed its troops on the Ukrainian border, put opposition activist Alexei Navalny in a penal colony, and denied him medical treatment. Washington has threatened Moscow with consequences, but Brussels and European capitals have contented themselves with admonitions. These excesses on their own doorstep seem to interest Europeans little. Why is that?

Gerald Knaus: The EU is divided. Some governments see Russian threats to their European neighbours as too unimportant to affect their own interests. So threats are played down, even the massing of troops to intimidate a neighbour. Other EU governments perceive themselves as powerless. This alleged powerlessness is fast becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are responsible options for action, even now.

WELT: There are already EU sanctions against Russia because of the Ukraine War. You suggest threatening Moscow with expulsion from the Council of Europe because of the Navalny affair. Do you think Putin will be impressed by that?

Knaus: The first priority is to try saving Navalny’s life. In addition, no other European has turned to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg as often as he has, 20 times in ten years. The court has also repeatedly condemned Russia, but the effect of these judgements has been damning. Moscow systematically ignored them. Those who think the Council of Europe is pointless may accept that. But those who believe in the idea behind the oldest human rights organisation in Europe cannot want it to become a European UN, where even North Korea remains a member, no matter how it behaves.

WELT: That seems to be Moscow’s view of things. Wouldn’t a possible expulsion be more than a symbolic step?

Knaus: First of all, the Council of Europe should now make clear that if Navalny is not released within days, as the Court demanded, Russia’s membership will be suspended. Yes, this is also about symbols like those that once inspired dissidents like Sakharov and Havel, who repeatedly pointed out the gap between the human rights rhetoric of their regimes and their reality.

That is precisely what Russia wants to prevent in the Council of Europe. Moscow wants to show that these values, to which one could appeal, do not exist at all, that everything is for sale. For example, the Russian state has paid Navalny around 120,000 euros in compensation after ECHR rulings, but has not changed its policy. So, as a state, can you buy your way out of constant violations of fundamental rights, up to and including the assassination attempt by the secret service last summer? Or is there any behaviour where the credibility of the Council of Europe, the Human Rights Court, and the values behind it are at stake?

WELT: You rightly said that Europe is divided in its relationship with Russia. How can you convince Russia-friendly countries like Hungary or Austria to become more critical with Moscow?

Knaus: The EU can and will always have economic relations with states like Russia, Egypt, or China, and cooperate on foreign policy where there are common interests. But the Council of Europe is about fundamental values, not economic relations. According to its statutes, it is a club of democracies that remember their human rights obligations. Why are we allowing this institution to be destroyed by authoritarian countries exerting illegitimate influence there? Little Azerbaijan is doing it, as the recent affair of some in the CDU shows. We have to protect our institutions, show that we take their rules seriously. Otherwise we show that we are ready to sell our souls.

WELT: What do you think should happen with Nord Stream 2? This often criticised project defended by Germany is the prime example of the separation of the economy and human rights.

Knaus: Months ago, I pleaded with members of the Bundestag to use the pipeline to put pressure on Russia in consultation with neighbours like Poland or the Baltic states. For example, to say that the almost completed pipeline will only be finished if Moscow is prepared to join the EU in pressing for new elections in Belarus. But perhaps it is already too late for that. However, the idea of simply continuing to build the pipeline in view of the Kremlin’s actions in Belarus and now in Ukraine, as if nothing had happened, is another fatal signal from Berlin.

WELT: Russia keeps complaining that they want to build the common European home from Lisbon to Vladivostok, only the Europeans are opposed to it. How credible are such accusations?

Knaus: Of course Russia is a European country. Italy under Mussolini, Spain under Franco were also European but they would not have been admitted to the Council of Europe. There are states in Europe today that suspend human rights, the rights of minorities, the political opposition, the right to demonstrate. In the 1950s, however, there was no question of fascist Spain or the GDR joining the Council of Europe. It was known that elections in a democracy could not be equated with elections in the Soviet Union. Today, Russia in particular is trying to blur these differences. A strong Council of Europe with its court would stand in the way. Even the Soviet Union could join today’s Council of Europe.

WELT: What needs to happen for relations between Russia and Europe to improve?

Gerald Knaus: The first prerequisite is that Russia renounces foreign policy aggression. To this end, we must never give up the hope that great dissidents like Andrei Sakharov had even in the Soviet Union: that their country too will one day respect the values of the 1950 Human Rights Convention. For this to happen, however, we must protect the Convention now.