Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Republika Srpska drops controversial referendum plan after EU intervention

Evelina Topalova, May 16, 2011

Bosnian Serbs have given up their plan to hold a referendum on the work of the Bosnia and Herzegovina's (BiH) Court and Prosecutor's Office after the intervention of the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. She arrived unexpectedly in Banja Luka to discuss the situation with local leaders and the news came after her meeting with Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik on May 13th.

Dodik announced at a news conference that a referendum was not necessary for now as the EU has agreed to launch high-level dialogue on the functioning of the judiciary in Bosnia. Ashton had promised that a EU commission would be set up on the restructuring of the judicial institutions in the country. This commission will analyse the shortcomings in the work of the two institutions and will come up with recommendations.

The dialogue is expected to start in June in Banja Luka and will be chaired by EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule.

Ashton reaffirmed in Banja Luka that Bosnia has a European perspective and voiced EU's readiness to help the country's EU membership efforts. "This visit today is just one more proof that EU cares about BiH and its problems. In this sense, opening a structured dialogue on the functioning and work of judiciary is a mechanism that the EU will activate as a response on these dilemmas," the EU high representative said.

Bosnian Serbs say the BiH Court and the Prosecutor's Office, that have been created under laws imposed by the high international representative in the country, are applying selective justice and do not prosecute war crimes against representatives of their ethnicity.

Commenting on the news, the former judge from the Constitutional Court, Krstan Simic, told Srna news agency that Bosnian Serbs had met their goal despite the fact that a referendum would not take place as they managed to attract the attention of the bloc on the problems in the judiciary.

In fact, Ashton's interference shows something very important - namely that the EU is striving to strengthen its presence in Bosnia and to become a key factor in determining the country's future. Brussels, not Washington, this time played a key role in averting the crisis which was labelled by many as the most serious crisis since the end of the war in 1995.

The risk of imposing sanctions against Bosnian Serb politicians was thwarted, thus avoiding deeper crisis. The High Representative in Bosnia Valentin Inzko, who is also an EU Special Representative, saw Ashton's initiative as a clear signal for the Union's determination to guarantee the respect of the Dayton Peace Agreement.

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