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Bosnia - the Big Disappointment in the Enlargement Package

Published on , , Zagreb

On March 14th EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said that 2012 would be a crucial year for Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress on its path toward European integration. This happened a little after the long awaited news for the formation of a government, after 18 months statelessness after the 2010 elections. On October 9th, however, Stefan Fule was already sceptic. In a message to Bosnia before the publication of the annual progress reports of the countries from the enlargement package, the EU commissioner writes: "The question that for me needs to be answered is whether Bosnia and Herzegovina is going to follow in its neighbours' footsteps, transforming this geographic proximity to the EU into a material proximity with the EU that would bring increasingly tangible benefits for its citizens. The alternative is worrying, of being increasingly cut off from key developments in Europe, and allowing a negative impact to the daily life of its citizens and businesses to build up".

The assessment in the report on Bosnia corresponds entirely to the concerns expressed in Stefan Fule's article. In the spring, there were hopes that the formation of a government would finally allow the country, which in the 1990s was the epicentre of the bloodiest wars on the European continent after World War II, to take its future in its hands. When presenting the report, however, the Czech Commissioner said: "Regrettably Bosnia and Herzegovina has made limited progress towards meeting the political criteria and achieving more functional, coordinated and sustainable institutional structures. It is disappointing that commitments under the High Level Dialogue for the Accession Process have not been fulfilled or timelines met. We will continue to engage with the authorities of the country. The strong public support in Bosnia and Herzegovina for European Union membership needs to be matched by the political will to reach this goal".

A Balkan black hole

"Bosnia and Herzegovina remains a source country for arms and ammunition for criminal groups in the EU. Organised crime activities are further linked to the transit of drugs on international trafficking routes", is one of the heaviest findings in the report, which has to be addressed with high alert not only by the Commission but also by the neighbouring countries, suffering as well from similar, although at various degrees, problems. According to the document, the country has achieved a "limited" progress in the fight against corruption which remains a serious problem. Moreover, it is prevalent in many regions in the public and the private sector. This could have hardly be different given the long absence of statehood. In May this year, the government in Sarajevo approved a plan [Bosnian language] to fight corruption, covering the period 2012-2014, consisting of five components, among which is the creation of a qualitative legal basis, efficient governance and enhancing the civil sector.

All measures in the plan have specific deadlines but this is precisely one of the main criticism in the report of the European Commission - non-compliance with the deadlines and a limited progress. These are, by the way, the most frequent phrases in the document. The Commission recalls that the implementation of the plan needs to be accelerated. According to Transparency International's report on corruption perceptions for 2011, Bosnia is not that far behind Bulgaria, for instance, which is a EU member state - the federation rates 91. Bulgaria shares with Serbia the 86-th place. The report notes what it says for Bulgaria too, that the legal framework is in place but lacks "political will" for tackling the problem and for improving the institutional capacity.

On the other big problem for the region because of which the Commission has changed the approach, starting the accession negotiations from the respective chapters 23 "Judiciary and Fundamental Rights" and 24 "Justice, Freedom and Security", Bosnia is also lagging behind - there is no progress in the reform of the judiciary. According to the Commission, a constructive attitude has emerged in the framework of the special dialogue in the area of justice that the Commission is involved in with the country. An attitude and political will, however, are terms the Commission uses for Bulgaria as well, but they often remain misunderstood or interpreted according to the internal political needs.

The EU is not on Bosnia's agenda

Another severe finding in the Commission report is that the initial political consensus is now gone and progress on the EU agenda is stalled. Shared vision also lacks among the political representatives for the direction and the future of the country as well as its institutional building that could ensure the country's path toward the EU. About the fact that the EU is not a priority number one for many of the Western Balkan countries spoke also Slovakia's Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák in an interview for euinside recently. He is a former special EU representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina. In his words, politicians in the region often claim that the EU is a number one priority, but this can hardly be seen in their actions. He put Bosnia alongside the countries that have different than their European integration priorities - Albania, Serbia and Macedonia.

Bosnia intended to apply for EU membership this year but this seems almost impossible because of one unfulfilled condition. As early as March the country was unequivocally shown that its path toward European integration would be cleared if it aligns its legislation with the European Human Rights Convention with regard to the so called Sejdić-Finci case. Those are in fact two cases, united in one by the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. The claimants on this case are the Jew Jakob Finci and the Roma Dervo Sejdić. Bosnia's main law does not allow for non-Croats, non-Serbs and non-Bosniaks to be elected as members of the BiH Presidency and of Parliament. In order to apply the court's ruling, Bosnia has to repair its Constitution. The proposal for amendments, however, is still not in Parliament, the report says.

Commissioner Fule said that Bosnia had to make the EU its national priority and to demonstrate this through actions. The EU remains committed to the country's future and this commitment, in Fule's words, is demonstrated in visa-free travel, increased trade, over 2.8 bn euros financial assistance from the EU since 1995, as well as bilateral support from the member states. Now it's Bosnia's turn to deliver on its part of the deal, is the Commission's report message.

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