Interview with European Parliament Rapporteur on Visa Liberalization for the Western Balkans and member of the European Parliament Tanja Fajon
Re-introducing the visa regime is possible with the introduction of the mechanism, and only if one or more countries of the EU would ask for that and if they get the majority support of the EU authorities. That scenario is possible in these times of populist and extremist politics.
By Nevena Šarenac
The European Parliament Rapporteur on Visa Liberalization for the Western Balkans and member of the European Parliament Tanja Fajon said in an interview to ‘Sarajevo Times’ that there is significant pressure of the EU countries to accept the mechanism for suspension of the visa-free regime, which would give them the right to vote on a half-year temporary suspension. Although that scenario is possible, she hopes it will not happen, because temporary suspension would be a significant step backwards for countries of the Western Balkans. Tanja Fajon thinks that re-introducing a visa regime would have a negative impact, because euro-scepticism might increase in BiH. She added that the BiH Government must listen to Brussels and implement all the recommendations and do everything in its power to decrease the number of false asylum seekers. As a proved friend of BiH, she feels at home in our country and notes that she is saddened that BiH citizens suffer because of political failures, for they deserve only the best.
You recently said that after the summer, the mechanism for suspension of a visa-free regime of the EU with other countries might be adopted. Having in mind that the European Parliament, European Commission and EU Council are discussing this mechanism,is the re-introduction of visas to BIH citizens a plausible possibility, since in recent months the number of false asylum seekers from BiH to EU countries has decreased?
Abolishment of visas was one of the most important achievements of countries of the Western Balkans on their path to the EU. The fact is, temporary suspension would be a significant step backwards for any country of the Western Balkans, and I do hope it will not happen, because freedom of movement is the fundamental right of every European citizen. In the European Parliament, we’ve been discussing the European Commission’s proposal on suspension amendment, which concerns all countries outside the EU with a visa-free regime. I do not know when it will be adopted, but there is significant pressure from some EU countries to adopt that mechanism, which would give them the right to vote on a half-year temporary suspension of a visa-free regime in emergency situations. If you ask me how real is the threat of re-introduction of the visa regime, I have to say that it will be a possibility only if the mechanism is adopted, and even then, countries that ask for the re-introduction would have to get the majority support of the EU Government. That scenario is possible, especially in these times we live in, the times of populist and extremist politics.
The decision of the liberalisation of a visa regime for BiH citizens was adopted, primarily, because of your engagement, for which BiH citizens are immensely grateful. How will the possible re-introduction of visas influence the stance of BiH citizens towards Euro-Atlantic integration, especially having in mind that in certain parts of BiH euro-scepticism is rather obvious?
I am still convinced that that will not happen. However, if it happens, I believe that the EU would lose its credibility, but people must respect the measure and rules of freedom of movement, which is our main argument in the EU Parliament by those of us who fight for the right for the freedom of movement. Governments must listen and fulfil the recommendations of Brussels and do everything in their power to reduce the number of false asylum seekers. BiH politics has lost Brussels’ full trust. You are acquainted with criticism towards the BiH government because they lost their sense of priority concerning the European path of BiH, and because of that, citizens of BiH suffer, and it would be a disaster if everything we have done would be to no avail. Liberalisation of the visa regime is very important so that people can travel freely to Europe, and it is essential for young people to go to the EU, to study there, to have an opportunity to learn abroad. I believe that the re-introduction of the visa regime would have a negative impact, and euro-scepticism could increase in the entire country. Today, we need reforms, progress, we need politicians who work with each other and we need the trust of citizens in democratic institutions, institutions that should work efficiently.
Member of the European Parliament Doris Pack proposed the amendment to the EP to ask the Council of Europe to suspend BIH’s membership in that organisation, to suspend the Interim Trade Agreement and to suspend IPA funds for BiH, which amounts to 108 million EUR in this year. However, her amendment did not pass, but the reason for such a strict stance of the member of EP is actually the lack of progress in the implementation of the ruling Sejdić-Finci, and the lack of general progress concerning EU integrations of BIH. Do you think that this case in particular shows that Europe has enough patience for BIH, or that this case is in reality a serious warning before suspension, which would primarily affect BiH citizens?
I voted against the proposal of Doris Pack for various reasons, primarily because I thought that that amendment would punish the people and not the government. It was indeed a serious warning, and I am convinced that it was not the last one. We are seriously worried about the political situation in BiH. In Brussels, we constantly hear the same story, the same promises of BiH politicians. There were many deadlines and many words. Unfortunately, obligations towards the European agenda were not implemented. BiH elites are more concerned with internal politics, gaining political points the in short term, creating permanent political shocks and crises, instead of putting the EU agenda in the first plan, including reforms that must be implemented, not because of Brussels, but because of BiH and its citizens and that would ensure the progress. As you can see in the examples of Montenegro, Croatia, and soon Serbia, the EU rewards the progress, but it can also reprimand the stagnation. Brussels is definitely losing patience and trust. The European Commission has mechanisms to suspend help and dialogue with BiH until the country fulfils all necessary preconditions, and because of that I must reiterate that the amendment of Doris Pack was a serious warning and a message to BiH elites.If nothing changes in BiH, I am afraid that next time the decision will different.
The European Commission plans a certain revision of the current Instrument of Pre-Accession Aid. In other words, they are preparing a new Instrument of Pre-Accession Aid or IPA II for the period 2014-2020. With the proposal of the new Regulation on Establishing the IPA II, previous division on 5 components will be abolished, and policies through which various interventions will be made will be instituted. Financial aid will be available to all policies, whether the country has a candidate status or potential candidate status. Having in mind that BiH has the status of a potential candidate, what are the conditions our country must meet in order to get IPA II funds? Which fields will be financed from those funds and what will be the concrete benefit to BiH citizens if these funds are to be approved to our country?
The Instrument of Pre-Accession Aid is an instrument of the EU that gives financial and technical support to reforms, and through that fund, the EU gives support to countries to implement political, economic and institutional reforms. Of course, with those funds and with reforms, the EU tries to prepare countries for EU membership, which includes rights and obligations that EU membership brings. I hope I have clarified what are the conditions of using the pre-accession funds. Progress is necessary, because using the funds and not achieving progress must not happen, and projects that want to get the funds must be good.
Because of the IPA funds, citizens in the enlargement region can have better opportunities. BiH and countries of the region can start developing standards that are similar with those in the EU at all levels of social life, through economic to institutional level. It is indeed a big advantage, because the money can be used to develop infrastructure, which creates new jobs. The aim of the IPA funds is that citizens feel the improvement in quality and standard of life.
With your passionate commitment to visa regime abolishment for BiH, you’ve become quite popular with BiH citizens. On several occasions during your visit to our country, you have said that you have many friends in BiH. How do you personally see BiH?
I do like BiH a lot. I come here frequently, both on business and privately. People here are very hospitable and kind, and I like the atmosphere here and I do feel like at home. I am saddened that BiH citizens suffer because of political failures, for they do deserve the best. I am also saddened to see young people who create nationalistic borders in their heads, because they were taught to think that way in schools and in everyday life. Because of that I believe that the only right path for BiH is the European path; freedom of movement of goods, people, money. I find it hard to understand the political situation in BiH, especially because I see it through the prism of citizens, and of what they are deprived of, because the country goes from one political crisis to another for years now, and that makes me very sad. I understand that wounds from the past are still very sensitive, and that the political situation, mixed with all those ethnic issues, is indeed very complex, but older generations should not poison and burden younger generations, who have their entire lives ahead, and whose perspectives are becoming very limited. Everyone must participate, because that is the only way to progress. I will continue to support the country in European institutions and I wish that the BiH path to the EU becomes shorter and more successful than ever.