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Ire over Bosnia and Herzegovina's plan for EU membership

Zdravko Ljubas, Sarajevo
February 11, 2016

The Balkan country wants to negotiate with Brussels about joining the 28-member bloc. But, with its complex political structure, some lawmakers are crying foul. Zdravko Ljubas reports from Sarajevo.

Belgien, Gebäude der EU-Kommision in Brüssel
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Kjer

In Sarajevo on Wednesday, Council of Ministers Chairman Denis Zvizdic said Bosnia-Herzegovnia had adopted the necessary coordination requirements for EU membership talks.

"The most important thing is that we have passed the core precondition for a credible application by adopting the coordination mechanism," Zvizdic said.

The coordination mechanism is the set of rules by which Bosnia-Herzegovina will negotiate with EU institutions. According to its guidelines, there is full respect for the constitutional structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It also foresees an increase of efficiency and responsibility of all levels of the authority and underlines the importance of timely implementation of tasks set by the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, which entered into force in June 2015.

The set of negotiation rules was implemented to streamline the country's complex authority structure. After war ended in 1995, Bosnia-Herzegovina was politically partitioned into the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska. Each entity has its own president, government and parliament, while the state-related affairs are in hands of the state's tripartite presidency, the Council of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, consisting of representatives of three of Bosnia's constituent peoples - Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.

Prime Minister: Bosnia is ready

Bosnien und Herzegowina Denis Zvizdic
Denis Zvizdic, Bosnia and Herzegovina's Prime Minister, is a strong supporter of joining the EUImage: DW/Z. Ljubas

Zvizdic praised his government, stressing that in just six months it had managed to pass over half - or 17 out of 33 - of the measures defined by the action plan of Bosnia and Herzegovina's economic reform agenda. These ranged from fiscal sustainability, to the labor market, to social security reforms. The Council of Ministers also adopted numerous strategies aimed at reforming the justice system, the fight against terrorism and integrated border control.

However, the prime minister's enthusiasm was spoiled by the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina's central government, the Council of Ministers, passed the measures secretly, keeping both the public and the country's lawmakers in the dark. Not only did the prime minister fail to mention its passage - which occurred on January 26 - but he also declined to explain to the media why it was kept secret.

Allegations of treason

Soon after the announcement in Sarajevo, sharp reactions came from the Republika Srpska (RS).

Although Zvizdic said he had the consent of the authorities of both of Bosnia's ethnic entities to proceed with the EU membership application, Republika Srpska's government claimed it had been deceived. The government in Banja Luka explained that it had been asked to send objections, comments and suggestions to the proposal by January 30, four days after the measures were adopted.

Zeljka Cvijanovic bei Conflict Zone
Zeljka Cvijanovic, Prime Minister of the Srpska Republic, Bosnia's Serb-run says the measures were adopted behind their backsImage: DW

"The Republika Srpska strongly supports Bosnia's European path ... but will never accept that anyone, even the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, misuses his authority, deceiving the public and the EU authorities," the statement read.

Zeljka Cvijanovic, Prime Minister of the Republika Srpska, also issued her own statement, saying that the RS government would "soon take an official position toward the decision and behavior of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Council of Ministers for solely creating the decisions in matters in which the RS was given a clear constitutional role."

For RS President Milorad Dodik the document from Sarajevo was completely unacceptable and therefore did not have the support of the RS and its institutions.

"This is a high treason, the biggest since the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed," Dodik said in a statement.

President optimistic

Despite the confusion provoked by the announcement, the Chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina's tripartite state Presidency, Dragan Covic, who is a Bosnian Croat, remains optimistic. "By the middle of next year, Bosnia and Herzegovina could be granted candidate status," Covic told reporters in Sarajevo.

Bosnien und Herzegowina Dragan Covic
Chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Presidency Dragan Covic, believes the country will be given EU candidate status by mid-2017Image: DW/Z. Ljubas

He told journalists that Bosnia's Presidency had already approved the decision of the Council of Ministers on the negotiations with the EU on the membership in the European family. Commenting on Bosnia's position in negotiations, Covic admitted that Bosnia and Herzegovina could not set its own conditions for EU talks, since the country's authorities so far failed to conduct necessary reforms to improve domestic production. "However, we will try to do that during the negotiations, as much as possible, especially when it is about the dairy and meat products," said Covic. Due to unfavorable milk and meat quotas, "Bosnia and Herzegovina has been suffering some 40-million-euro ($45-million) damage from the EU funds."

Covic is set to lead Bosnia and Herzegovina's delegation to submit the country's official application for EU membership in Brussels on February 15. Though the chances are slim, he said he was optimistic about a good outcome.

The Balkan country of four million still suffers the consequences of the 1992-95 war, coping with ethnic divisions

Zeljka Cvijanovic on Conflict Zone

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