A different view on BiH and the EU’s visa free regime

Florian Bieber:

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.

In a heated facebook debate started by one of my Bosnian friends in response to Bieber’s article (this friend agreed with Bieber), another Bosnian wrote:

This article states: “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” Are we talking about the same principle of conditions and requirements Turkey cannot fulfill for decades, but do not apply for Bulgaria and Romania. Second argument I find at least disturbing here is “First, Croatian passport holders are unaffected, so there is no change there.” Excuse me? That’s like saying there is no discrimination because we gave special privileges to a certain group long time ago.

What disturbs me the most is the claim that “there is little evidence that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports.” Does this person know that the Consulate of the Republic of Serbia was recently opened in Banja Luka with much publicity and the first person to receive the passport was the Prime Minister of the Republika Srpska. You do not have to be a PR expert to see that this was an open call for the citizens of Republika Srpska to stop by and get their passports. The only requirement was to declare Serbia as your homeland.

Would dropping the entry requirements for Bosnia be the least worst course of action — a way to ameliorate the feeling of injustice felt by the half of BiH’s population unable to obtain other passports, and pave the way for better relations between states in the region? Or would it put another dent in the EU’s already damaged ability to enforce  conditions evenly on states seeking accession? The latter could actually end up hurting the chances of Balkan states joining the union in the future, even if it led to short term gains, like inclusion in the visa free regime.

I’m not sure where I stand on this anymore.

One thought on “A different view on BiH and the EU’s visa free regime

  1. Dear Mr. Bieber,

    I believe that the basic principle of “Conditionality” of EU’s SOE-Policy is being exaggerated in this very issue. Why? The Visa-Policy shows the limits of this regional approach, because we have Visa-Policies to other countries of this world as well. As you know, the “technical” criterias that Mr. Rehn and Mr. Barrot pointed out not to be fullfilled on time by BiH, have not been fullfilled the very same day by several other countries that are already enjoying visa-free travel to the European Union. Croatia only introduced biometrical passports 1 July 2009, the very same day BiH started the 1st phase of biometrical passports. Switzerland will introduce biometrical passports only in spring 2010, but its citizens enjoy visa-free travel, of course. Mexico has actually a chaotic police systems with hundreds of different police organisations, but its citizens enjoy visa-free travel to the European Union. Honduras is just facing a putsch, but visa-free travel still exists. These examples show that there is a political room for manoveur in defining the criterias for visa-free travel to the European Union. The European Union should make use of that, without harming the principle of conditionality in its regional approach. So far, we are facing double standards in the visa-policy of the European Union.

    It is still unclear until which day a big part of the citizens of BiH will have to stay at home, in their country. Further, as the film directress, Jasmila Zbanic from Sarajevo, put it (http://www.deblokada.ba/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=46&Itemid=37): The European Commission is degrading the value of the passport of BiH – “one of the rare symbols of unity of today’s BiH.”

    On behalf of the initiators, I kindly invite everybody to read, distribute and to sign the following online-appeal protesting against this Visa-Policy of the European Commission:


    This call for signatures – a civil society initiative – was already signed by Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch (Former High Representative to BiH), Christian Schwarz-Schilling (Former High Representative to BiH), Hans Koschnik (Former EU-Representative to Mostar), MEP Doris Pack, MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, MdB Marieluise Beck, Hans Christian Schmid, Sasa Stanisic, Bärbel Bohley, Natasa Kandic, Nenad Popovic and many others.

    What 9 November 1989 was for the citizens of East Germany (“DDR”), 1 January 2010 should become for all citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Kosovo and Albania have to follow as well, as soon as possible.

    Tobias Bütow, Berlin

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