Why the European Commission was right
July 21, 2009 3 Comments
The decision of the EU to lift visa requirements for Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, but not Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo last week caused quite a stir.
The Greens in the European Parliament, as well as some observers called the decision unfair, “hypocritical and morally abject”, suggesting that it is penalizing Bosnian Muslims victims of war crimes. While such talk might be tempting, it is simply wrong and does little to help either the reforms or the coming to terms with the past in Serbia or elsewhere.
Anybody who is working on and in the region has for a long time felt that the visa regime of the EU is counterproductive and certainly has hurt reforms. Thus any lifting of the visa regime should be welcome.
Second, the EU has always set out clear technical requirements to be fulfilled for the visa obligations to be lifted. This is conditionality at its best, clear technical requirements which can be fulfilled with sufficient political will. Most governments in the region have been insincere in their claim to help their citizens to travel freely over the years. Efforts to introduce new passports and the necessary legislation and other measures have been far too slow, considering the interest of many citizens to travel without the humiliation in front of EU embassies. The EU has to insist on countries fulfilling the requirements it sets. It has been weak for some (which were arguably bad conditions), but if it relents just to be ‘nice’ to a country or to not leave anybody behind, why would any politician pass any necessary law anymore? Lowering conditions and requirements would hurt citizens across the region, not least in BiH–not in regard to visa free travel, but in regard to other reforms. Not including all countries at the same time does not mean leaving them behind. If Slovakia had not been lagging behind in the 1990s, there would have been no pressure to get rid of Vladimir Meciar and to begin serious reforms. Had been Slovakia given an easy ride early on, it probably would have been left behind at the end.
One argument put forth in the debate has been that it is mostly Bosniaks who would be left out from visa free travel and Croats already have Croatian passports and Serbs can or have Serbian passports. This is, however, as demagogic argument. First, Croatian passport holders are uneffected, so there is no change there. Second, there is little evidence that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports. According to a report in Danas, only 2,557 Bosnian citizens also have a Serbian passport. While this might be underestimating the real number of double citizens, there is little evidence to suggest that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports. Finally, if Serbia were to provide easy access to Bosnian Serbs, the EC could easily impose similar limitations to Serbian passport holders from Bosnia as there will be for Serbian passport holders from Kosovo.
Finally, I thus share my skepticism of the moral argument with ESI. Most importantly, I think it is important to move away from the talk of whether a country (or nation) should be ‘rewarded’ or ‘penalized’ for the war in the context of EU integration. This logic is not helpful for EU integration and runs counter the entire logic of the process. Germany was not an early participant of the integration process as a reward nor because France, Italy or Benelux were happy to integrate with a country which had barely come to terms with the past, but the logic of the integration process is to induce change through integration. Thus integration is not a ‘reward’ for having been good, but a mechanisms to prevent the reoccurred of war crimes and to reform a society so that it can come to terms with the crimes committed in its name. Translating past injustices into currency in the integration process is not only demeaning to the victims of the crimes, it also runs against the logic of EU integration. When President Kaczyński of Poland sought to increase the votes for Poland, arguing that the Poles lost in WW2 should be counted, this position was quickly criticized by all key European players as tasteless and inappropriate. What is the fundamental difference between Kaczyński‘s linking visa liberalization with war crimes? This should not be misunderstood to be a call for forgetting or ignoring the past and the crimes. However, they should not be linked to reforms and the process of EU integration.
Now it is up to Bosnian politicians to deliver, if they don’t the citizens will have an opportunity to change them in 2010…