The power of two courts – the Strasbourg court and Bosnia – the ECJ and Turkey
Croatia recently joined the EU. Serbia obtained candidate status and stands on the verge of opening accession talks. Montenegro has already done so. Albania may now move forward as well. And yet one country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is lingering at the end of the queue. How much longer?
In a new report published today ESI examines how this came about – and how to move forward:
The European Court of Human Rights and Bosnia
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.
Four years have passed since the ruling. Bosnia's constitution and election laws have not changed. The EU has warned that if the issue is not resolved, it will block the country's path to the EU. Behind this 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?
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?
Belgium, Italy, Cyprus … and Bosnia
Brussels – South Tyrol – Cyprus
In our new report we argue that the current EU policy of blocking Bosnia over this issue is counterproductive. There are three reasons why:
This is not an issue of "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. In fact the Bosnian system is more liberal than either Belgium's or South Tyrol's or the constitution of Cyprus.
Bosnia is not violating fundamental human rights. The issue at stake in the election of the Bosnian presidency is not a violation of the rights enumerated by the European Convention on Human Rights itself. It is a violation of Protocol 12 of the Convention. 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, although regrettable, does not justify blocking Bosnia and Herzegovina's application for EU membership.
For more information on the numerous efforts to resolve this issue until now see also the chronology put together by our new ESI fellow Adnan Cerimagic:
The European Court of Justice and Turkey
Leyla Ecem Demirkan – European Court of Justice
On 24 September 2013 the Court of Justice of the European Union (or European Court of Justice) delivered a judgement in one of the most important cases of this year.
The issue at stake was visa-free access to EU countries for Turkish citizens. At the centre of this court case was Leyla Demirkan, a 20-year old Turkish woman who asked the German consulate in Ankara for a visa in October 2007. Her request was denied.
She went to court, arguing that Germany's visa requirement for Turkish citizens is illegal. The case reached the ECJ, which rejected her claim.
For more on this case and its consequences for visa liberalisation please see the new ESI report:
What now? How can the Turkish government reach its goal of visa-free access to the EU?
The abolition of the visa requirement will not be achieved through court rulings. The ruling on 24 September makes it all the more imperative that the Turkish government takes action now where it has hesitated so far. On the day of the judgment we also published a call to action:
EU, the East and Visa Liberalisation
On 1 October ESI's Alexandra Stiglmayer and Gerald Knaus spoke in Tbilisi at a round table on "Prospects and Challenges of the Visa Liberalization Process in Georgia" organised by the Georgian Institute for Strategic Studies (GISS). The workshop was attended by high-level officials from the Georgian Government, Parliament and the EU Delegation. Alex and Gerald talked about the experience of other countries in the EU's visa liberalisation process. (For more information see here the Workshop agenda and Participants list)
On 2 October 2013 Alexandra spoke at a hearing of the European Parliament on the EU - Eastern Partnership cooperation in the area of migration and mobility.
Alexandra talked about lessons learned from the Balkans visa liberalisation process. Other speakers include numerous MEPs, the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, and senior EU Commission officials.
At this year's Visby conference on 5-6 October on Gotland island Gerald Knaus also addressed visa issues and political prisoners in Europe's East. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt had invited senior policy makers from the Baltic region, Russia, Ukraine and Scandinavia to this Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation event to discuss the "Road to Authoritarianism – Political Trends in the Eastern Neighbourhood".
Meanwhile ESI's Kristof Bender discussed lessons from Croatia for Montenegro in Podgorica with Slaven Radunovic, the president of the Committee for European Integration of the Parliament of Montenegro, and Snezana Radovic, the General Director of European Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration.
This followed a screening of the ESI Croatia documentary funded by ERSTE Stiftung, co-organised by the Centre for civic education. Kristof also spoke at the 4th Budva Strategic Planning Seminar organised by the Montenegrin Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration.
Many best regards,