EU Is One Step Behind Developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Adelina Marini, 17 March 2015
After long years of a standstill, at first sight, it seems that the process of European integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina is starting to come off from the deadlock. This became possible after Croatia launched an initiative last year for a stronger commitment by the EU for the European integration of BiH in response to the social unrest there in the beginning of last year. The Croatian initiative was accepted coldly in the beginning because, at the time, a much more immediate issue was Ukraine, but later it realised the seriousness of the possibility an old conflict to be reinfected in the Balkans. In the end of last year, Britain and Germany came up with an initiative of their own which was quickly approved by the Council of EU minsters and by the European Council. The condition was the political leaders in BiH to sign a written commitment that the European integration of their country will be their major priority. In exchange, the EU promised to unfreeze the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).
The written commitment was signed by the political leaders on 29 January and was approved by the parliament of BiH on 23 February during the visit of EU's High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini in Sarajevo. With this commitment the institutions at all government levels in the, may be, most complicated state in the world commit themselves to implement all the necessary reforms for BiH's progress toward full fledged EU accession. They also commit to establish an efficient mechanism for coordination between the institutions on EU affairs - something the EU has insisted for many years on. However, in the written commitment there is no specific deadline. It is written: "as soon as possible".
Among the reforms are economic and social measures in the framework of the Compact for Growth and Jobs adopted for BiH last year; creating a functioning market economy; introducing rule of law, fight against corruption and organised crime; acceleration of the reconciliation process; strengthening the administration.
And the EU was not late with the answer by adopting during the foreign ministers meeting on 16 March in Brussels the unfreezing of the SAA. It was signed on 16 June 2008 and its ratification by all EU member states was finished in February 2011. The agreement, though, never entered into force because BiH was expected to apply the ruling of the European Court for Human Rights on the Sejdic-Finci case. It is this case that has held the EU door closed for BiH. It demanded from the country to amend its Constitution to allow people from ethnic groups other than those listed in the Constitution (Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks) to participate in the governing of the country. In its written commitment BiH puts the application of the ruling on the back seat.
"The institutions of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina will, at a later stage (consequent to
the initial reform measures), make progress regarding implementation of additional reforms in order to improve the functionality and efficiency of all levels of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and direct special attention to the implementation of the ruling of the European Court for Human Rights in the case of Sejdic and Finci vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina", says the commitment.
More than a year after the EU committed seriously to unfreezing the European integration process of BiH it is clear that its actions are belated. The reason is that while the process of conclusion of the written agreement was taking place, in neighbouring Croatia the presidential elections were won by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the candidate of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which has a sister party in BiH led by Dragan Covic. In her election campaign and after taking office Ms Grabar-Kitarovic many times urged for a new international conference on the establishment of a third entity in BiH. Currently, they are only two: Republika Srpska and the Bosnia and Herzegovina federation. HDZ, however, insists on the separation of the Croats from the federation into a third entity.
The leader of the Croatian HDZ Tomislav Karamarko recently provoked severe reactions in BiH by sending a letter to the Bosnian Croatian parliament in the country supporting their demand for a renegotiation of the Dayton peace agreement. On 1 March, the Croatian people's parliament in Mostar voted a detailed declaration [in Croatian] in which it is pointed out that the construction of BiH after Dayton has not satisfied the demands of the Croatian people. According to the Bosnian Croats, the Dayton construction has "legalised the injustice caused by the military annexations and banishing of people". They also believe that the territorial organisation and the construction of the state is irrational, nonfunctional and ungovernable.
The declaration insists on a radical constitutional change to include new territorial organisation and equalisation of the rights of the three peoples in the country. The Bosnian Croatian MPs are aware that this would be really hard to achieve which is why they call, if no consensus is reached for such a deep constitutional change inside the country, to seek a solution through an international conference. "Given that we received the current Constitution at an international conference as part of the peace agreement and with the guarantee of the UN Security Council, we believe that if there is no internal consensus the most logical thing is BiH to receive a new constitution at a new international conference on BiH. A Constitution that will establish a symmetric for the three constitutional peoples federal state", the declaration reads.
And although it was voted only two weeks ago, the issue was not discussed during the EU foreign ministers meeting whose focus was Africa, a new migration strategy, Ukraine. Federica Mogherini hoped that the activation of the SAA will "keep the energy and the momentum that I found in Sarajevo last time on the reform process to get closer to the European Union". According to the Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic, the path ahead of BiH is clear - fulfilling the SAA conditions which are a preparation for the real accession negotiations. Progress will depend on how the country is implementing them. This could take 3, 6 or even 10 years. And may be more, she said, emphasising that from the very beginning no one insisted on different criteria and preferences for any country aspiring for EU membership.
Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov told this website that at the moment many ideas are circulating but first all of them need to be reviewed and only then it will be decided which is the best approach in this case. The EU's actions so far reveal the Union's striving to try and avoid a renegotiation of Dayton. There is a real danger, however, the process of European integration to again freeze because of the lack of consensus within BiH.