September 29, 2009
Dear friends of ESI,
Today, as the debate on the future and prospects of the
international intervention in Afghanistan heats up in NATO capitals,
it is striking to recall a period when the situation in the Balkans
appeared comparable to that in Central Asia.
How things change: Bosnia's professional army as
peace-keepers in Afghanistan
Images and fences
In 1992 Irish writer Conor Cruise O'Brien asserted that
"There are places where a lot of men prefer war, and the
looting and raping and domineering that go with it, to any sort
of peacetime occupation. One such place is Afghanistan. Another
is Yugoslavia, after the collapse of the centralizing Communist
Throughout the 1990s many regarded the Balkans as a region
inhabited by people of innate ferocity. In 1993 Peter Galbraith (then
US ambassador to Croatia, today deputy head of the UN mission in
Kabul) told journalist
that fighting in Bosnia might go on indefinitely: "Beirut
lasted seventeen years." A Belgian paratrooper told Rieff:
"If it were up to me I'd put a fence around this whole
damn country and let the last survivor give the UN a call when
it was all over."
Of course, recent years have seen Bosnia and the whole Balkan
region change in ways that today's state builders in Afghanistan can
only dream of. The period since 1999 saw the remarkable (and by now
return of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons of
all ethnic groups, including more than 400,000 minority returns.
It saw a dramatic improvement in the security situation (see
ESI discussion paper The Worst In Class, November 2007).
There has been a succession of free and fair elections. There have
been peaceful rotations of parties and coalitions in power at all
levels of government. There has also been dramatic geopolitical
change in the region: Croatia and Albania have joined NATO. Croatia
is about to join the European Union.
Milosevic has died. Karadžić stands trial in The Hague. And yet
recent piece in
Foreign Affairs, two US academics
assert – without offering any evidence – that Bosnia is today "on
the brink of collapse", "may not remain peaceful for long", and that
current trends "will almost certainly lead to a resumption of
violence." It is an enduring stereotype: a country too dysfunctional,
its leaders too venal, its voters too irrational (since they keep on
voting for venal leaders) to ever become a normal European state.
Therefore, the argument runs, Bosnia cannot be treated in the same
manner as other Balkan nations. The Balkans and Bosnia as an
irrational universe to be contained or controlled by
enlightened imperialism: this ima ge has – until recently –
shaped international policy.
Distrust in Bosnians' ability to govern their own country blocks
becoming an official EU candidate for accession. And the EU visa
fence remains in place for Bosnian citizens even 14 years after the
end of the war.
Alifakovac Cemetery in Sarajevo. Photo: Alan Grant
Bosnia's visa breakthrough
It is ironic that at the very moment that the Foreign Affairs
article castigates "a misguided effort to let the Bosnians rule
themselves" Bosnia's politicians produce a dramatic breakthrough.
Those who want to
prolong the Bosnian protectorate maintain that "almost every
important issue at the central-government level is deadlocked." It
is time for a reality check.
A few months ago, in May 2009, Bosnia found itself
all five Western Balkan countries when it came to meeting the long
list of difficult conditions necessary to qualify for visa-free
travel to the EU. In response to the Commission's assessment some of
Bosnia's friends abroad made the case that it was unfair to hold
Bosnia to the same standards as the rest of the region. When the
European Commission decided not to offer visa-free travel to Bosnia
others suggested that Bosnia was being discriminated against because
of its Muslim population. Some speculated that Bosnian Serbs
were blocking visa free travel for Bosnian passport holders.
In fact, Bosnian voters of all ethnic groups very much wanted
Bosnia to be on the White Schengen List. So did Bosnian politicians.
As Bosnian Prime Minister Nikola Spiric (an ethnic Serb) told ESI a
few weeks ago:
"The political situation in Bosnia is difficult.
Everybody is only pointing at things that don't work. The
assumption is that there cannot be success in BiH… We need a new
optimism. Success in visa liberalisation will show that we can
have success in other reforms too, including that of the
constitution. Therefore my goal, the goal of the Council of
Ministers, has been to be successful in visa liberalisation. All
efforts in BiH have been put into that. Succeeding will mean
that we can also solve all outstanding issues, fulfil reforms
deriving from the SAA and the European Partnership. If we fail ,
we will fail in other areas, too."
ESI, led by
Alex Stiglmayer, and
Populari, led by
Alida Vracic, have spent the period since May researching how
Bosnia has performed in relation to each of the outstanding
requirements from the roadmap. The
result shows phenomenal progress in a short period of time: by now
Bosnia has almost caught up with its more successful neighbours
(Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) to whom the Commission has
already proposed visa-free travel! This required a summer of hard
work on the part of Bosnia's leaders – and a series of compromises
between Bosnia's political parties in the sensitive area of securit
The results are remarkable. In May when the Commission issued its
assessments of visa progress, many important laws had not yet been
adopted: on border control, control of weapons and military
equipment, international legal aid in criminal matters and
prevention of money laundering and financing of terrorist
activities. Two of these laws had been before parliament for over a
year. In June, the Bosnian parliament adopted, in urgent procedure,
all four laws. The parties also agreed to harmonized entity
legislation as regards laws on weapons and on transportation of
In May this year, Bosnia was planning to introduce the new
biometric passport only in January 2010. Since then, Bosnia has
accelerated the process.
New machine-readable biometric passports will now be available
in October 2009; and since 1 July 2009, a new secure system to
personalise and distribute passports has been used, which meets the
In May, data on lost and stolen Bosnian passports was still
uploaded into Interpol's database manually and was often
incomplete. Since then a new automated system has been put in place
to forward this information immediately to Interpol, once a theft or
loss is reported.
Before May, coordination among the various agencies stationed at
Bosnia's borders lacked formal mechanisms. On 23 September 2009,
involved in the Integrated Management of Bosnia's Border, from
the border police to the phyto-sanitary service, signed an Agreement
on Mutual Cooperation, covering matters from data exchange to
procurement to joint operations.
In May there was intense inter-entity disagreement on the
creation of an independent anti-corruption body. On 24 September
2009, the law establishing the
anti-corruption body was adopted by the government and sent to
As a result of these reforms by the end of 2009, some 65,000
biometric passports will have been issued. Bosnia has formalized
cooperation with Eurojust,
Frontex, and with EU member states and neighbouring countries.
For years, police work in Bosnia was hampered by inadequate exchange
of data, such as of criminal records, fingerprints and registered
firearms. Now there is agreement which types of data to exchange. An
exchange server connects all police stations to enable
instant access to the information.
Bosnia's law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities are
making progress in investigating and prosecuting organized crime and
corruption. Bosnia has also begun
to seriously deal with migration issues. It has modern data
protection legislation and a very capable supervisory authority.
These are just some of the many reforms that have taken place
recently (detailed up-to-date analysis of every single roadmap
condition implementation in Bosnia can be found on the
This record challenges the image of a dysfunctional country
dominated by elites incapable of compromise. It underlines the force
of EU soft power, if used in the right way. Recent months have shown
that when there is a real incentive and credible conditionality,
based on European standards, things can move forward surprisingly
quickly. 2009 might yet see a fundamental turning point in Bosnia's
history: the end of the international protectorate (and of the
mandate of the Office of the High Representative) and the
promise to overcome the visa fence that continues to isolate the
In May 2009 the European Commission was strict. Now that Bosnia
has delivered on its commitment, will European institutions be fair?
The European Parliament is debating the report by EMP Tanja
Strict but fair
in the European Parliament
The debate about visa liberalization for the Western Balkans has
following the proposal from the European Commission, moved to
the European Parliament.
There is a b emerging consensus to accept the Commission proposal
Montenegro to the Schengen White List. The most important
unresolved questions concern
June 2009 ESI had proposed to move all countries, including
Bosnia and Albania, to the "white" Schengen list – "but, in doing
so, to stipulate that visa-free travel for Albania and Bosnia will
remain pending until all conditions are met. The proposal should
also include a specific date for a new assessment to be conducted by
the Commission and EU national experts in early 2010."
This approach would fully maintain conditionality – no visa-free
travel without fulfilment of the criteria -, but acknowledge
Bosnia's achievement. It would also send a b political signal by
shortening the lengthy EU decision-making process, which otherwise
requires a new Commission proposal, a new Parliament opinion and a
new vote by EU member states.
We are happy to see that the European Parliament's rapporteur,
Tanja Fajon makes the same proposal. She suggests that "the
former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia … and
Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina … should be transferred" to the
Schengen White List. She also notes:
"as regards Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the
exemption from the visa requirement should apply without delay
immediately after the assessment by the Commission that each of
those countries meets all the benchmarks set in the roadmap for
visa liberalisation and a notice about the assessment is
published in the Official Journal."
In fact, given Bosnia's recent breakthrough, this should open the
way for the Commission to assess immediately if Bosnia now
meets all the benchmarks.
ESI's analysis shows that it does! If the Commission comes to
the same conclusion, Bosnia should be included in the current
Commission proposal, which EU member states will not vote on before
30 November/1 December.
This is not a political issue. It is a technical one. Bosnia does
not need pity based on its recent history. It needs fairness and
objectivity based on its current performance. Fairness implies that
if both Serbia and Montenegro – with a worse performance record in
May 2009 than Bosnia has today – were promised visa free travel at
the time then Bosnia should be treated in the same way today.
Albania, Kosovo and conditionality
Due to the June elections, Albania has not (yet) achieved the
same recent progress as Bosnia. The Albanian government adopted a
new action plan on 29 July 2009, with ambitious but still realistic
deadlines to meet the remaining conditions. The new government
pledged on 16 September to achieve "free movement of Albanians in
the Schengen area within the first year of the government mandate".
For Albania, ESI's und the European Parliament's rapporteur's demand
to include it in the Commission proposal with visa-free travel
suspended until all conditions are met still stands. ESI and its
partner organization (the European Movement in Albania) are
currently assessing in detail the state of implementation.
Concerning Kosovo the rapporteur Tanja Fajon also proposes that
"the Commission, should start a visa liberalisation
dialogue with Kosovo and establish a roadmap for visa
liberalisation similar to the roadmaps established with other
Western Balkan countries. This is without prejudice to the
status of Kosovo."
ESI believes it is vital that the European Parliament and EU
member states follow this recommendation. Again, this would not
be a gift to Kosovo. It would apply the same strict conditionality
as elsewhere in the region, without being prejudicial of Kosovo's
It would reinforce the EU’s Rule of Law mission in Kosovo. This
is the largest such mission in the EU's history. It has seen serious
challenges to its legitimacy in recent months. Demonstrating that
the EU extends "strict but fair" conditionality to Kosovo would send
a b response to those in Kosovo who increasingly regard the EU
mission as a quasi-colonial structure meant to control, rather than
help, Kosovo’s Europeanisation. It would strengthen all those in
Pristina, including senior officials in the Interior Ministry, who
have argued for following EU standards with the same energy as other
Western Balkan countries.
Kosovo has already unilaterally adopted "its" unofficial EU
roadmap and sent it to the Commission Delegation. Any efforts made
to strengthen the capacity of Kosovo institutions to fight organised
crime and illegal migration will benefit its neighbours and
the EU as a whole. Member states who oppose a roadmap for Kosovo, on
the other hand, make the job of the EU mission in Kosovo
significantly more difficult. It is hard to see any argument why the
EU would refuse to deploy one of its most powerful tools to
encourage reforms in the field of rule of law - reforms that are in
the interest of its own citizens - and risk a serious crisis of
The evidence from recent months is clear: far from being
exhausted, the EU's soft power and conditionality remains a powerful
tool to bring about far-reaching changes that are in the interests
of citizens across Europe. It remains true, as
once put it, that "Europe doesn't change countries by
threatening to invade them: its biggest threat is having nothing to
do with them at all."
PS: ESI is grateful to the
Robert Bosch Stiftung
for supporting the Schengen White List Project. Robert Bosch
Stiftung also directly
supports hundreds of young people from the Balkans every year to
experience the pleasure of travel (with a budget, a visa and an
inter-rail ticket) inside the European Union.
For further information please contact
ESI Senior Analyst in Brussels and
Goran Tirak or
Alida Vracic, Populari in