Bosnia’s EU enlargement leader works to prevent crisis from spilling over – EURACTIV.com
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi travels to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday and Thursday (24-25 November) to try to defuse the current political crisis in the country which is cracking again along ethnic lines after a bloody war from 1992-95.
Asked by EURACTIV whether tangible results are expected from the visit, a European Commission spokesperson said they “cannot prejudge discussions”.
The divided country crisis escalated last summer when the leaders of Republika Srpska, one of the two entities of post-war Bosnia, announced a boycott of the common central institutions that have held the country together ever since. the Dayton Peace Accord in 1995.
The move was a response to outgoing international envoy Valentin Inzko’s decision on July 23 to ban denial of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, which Serbian leaders found unacceptable.
The Office of the High Representative (OHR), which is responsible for the civilian implementation of the peace agreement, has the power to impose decisions or dismiss officials.
Inzko’s successor, Christian Schmidt, has since warned of a deterioration in the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, underscored by promises by Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik of secession and the creation of a separate army of the joint state forces.
The cowardly central institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina keep the Republika Srpska in a difficult state alliance with the other entity, the Bosnian-Croat federation.
Any political solution will have to take into account the demands of the HDZ, the largest Croatian party, and of its leader, Dragan Čović, who, despite the support of the majority of Croats, is not the current member of the country’s tripartite presidency. representing Bosnians, Croats and Serbs.
The HDZ refuses to recognize the current Croatian representative, Željko Komšić, claiming that he was elected thanks to the Bosnian votes.
Čović and the HDZ are calling for an overhaul of the electoral law in order to strengthen the position of Croats in the elections in the Federation, where Bosnians represent a large majority.
The question of whether to recognize the demands of the HDZ has also divided political groups in the European Parliament.
Speaking on behalf of the European Christian-Conservative People’s Party (EPP), the greatest force in the European Parliament, MEP Andrey Kovachev said: “In order to ensure peace and stability, the three communities must be represented as fair manner ”.
“This is why changes in the electoral law are in great demand to give the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina the possibility of being on an equal footing in terms of representations with the other two communities,” he said. Tuesday in plenary session of Parliament in Strasbourg (23 November).
Meanwhile, the much smaller Greens have called for the phasing out of ethnicity-based logic.
“I urge the EU and the entire international community not to compromise on the democratic reforms that are so necessary and to finally move away from ethnic dividing lines,” said MEP Tineke Strik.
To sanction or not to sanction?
Slovenian Foreign Minister Anže Logar, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, said that “the recent blockage of state institutions is unacceptable”.
“The political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina must resolve the deadlock as a matter of priority and re-focus on joint efforts to go further with reforms, which will allow the country to move forward on the path of the EU”, he told lawmakers during Tuesday’s debate. .
The EU has so far been heavily criticized for its poor response to the crisis and Washington, which largely abandoned the region after the war, seems much more keen to take an active role now.
At their meeting (15 November) in Brussels, EU foreign ministers discussed the situation in Bosnia but without tangible results.
The question of whether to slap Dodik with sanctions also divided the bloc, but only Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and the Czech Republic supported the idea, well below the 15 EU countries needed.
On the other hand, the United States has played a more assertive role, the American special envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, accusing Dodik of provoking a new crisis to “protect his power and his money”, in a recent interview with Radio Free Europe.
However, the division between EU countries over sanctions is also reflected in the European Parliament, where the EPP made no mention of sanctions in Tuesday’s debate.
The Greens, strong supporters of the sanctions, also backed by the Social Democrats and the Liberals, failed to put a resolution on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the agenda for this week’s plenary session.
“The European Union cannot remain silent,” Social Democratic MP Pedro Marques said during Parliament’s debate on Bosnia.
“It must play a much stronger role with all the instruments at its disposal, including pressures and even sanctions to preserve the territorial integrity, unity and peace of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he said. added.
Klemen Grošelj, Slovenian MEP from the liberal Renew group, echoed this: “Our Euro-Atlantic friends and the EU must act immediately, including sanctions. Sanctions should also be on the table ”.
Another way to put financial pressure on Dodik would be to cut EU financial aid to countries waiting to join the club.
However, this would require a political push from the cabinet of Commissioner Várhelyi, who in turn has been accused of favoring Serbia’s EU candidacy, Dodik’s ally, and playing down democracy problems in Belgrade.
Unlike Serbia, which is already in negotiations for EU membership, Bosnia and Herzegovina has applied but is not yet officially a candidate.
After a recent trip to Bosnia, MEP Strik told reporters that Várhelyi refused to blame Milorad Dodik for the crisis.
“He said, ‘listen, I think it’s the EU actually that’s the cause of all of this because we’re not giving any perspective and so we should be opening new ones. [negotiating] clusters for Serbia, ”said the Green MEP during her recent meeting with the Commissioner.
She added that Várhely is in fact “one of the people supporting Dodik and the Serbs”.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]