The parties in power in Bosnia and Herzegovina are fully unanimous on the country’s European perspective and are totally serious in their will to file an application for membership in the European Union. This is what European Parliament’s rapporteur on Bosnia and Herzegovina Cristian Dan Preda (EPP, Romania) told me in last week Strasbourg. This week there already is a date for sending the application - February 15th. The EU has warned BiH several times not to rush the application, for it is important that it is credible. According to Cristian Dan Preda, filing the application has both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that thus the Bosnian authorities demonstrate ambition. He believes this ambition is fully serious.
On the other hand, however, this is something that caused resistance in Brussels, including in member states like Germany and Great Britain. Gaining candidate country status is no joke, but a very serious task, he said in an interview for euinside. There is a risk that BiH’s application is forgotten and receives no answer for months. The official bestowing of candidate country status to a country takes time. He feels it is very risky to file an application, which will remain with no reply for months. This is why it is important to use the additional time until February 15th to advance on outstanding issues, like the coordination mechanism, adaptation of the trade part of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement following Croatia's accession to the EU and continue implementing reforms, so that this application is deemed credible.
An adversary to the Bosnian European integration is Republika Srpska's President Milorad Dodik. In Preda’s words Dodik is an instrument of Russia. The referendums he organises are instruments for blocking Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European perspective. Word is of the referendum, which questioned the authority of the national court and prosecution in the Serbian entity of BiH, as well as for the demanded plebiscite against the ruling of BiH’s Constitutional court, which named as unconstitutional the celebration of January 9th as the Day of statehood in Republika Srpska.
On this date, in 1992, it announced its independence from BiH. According to Milorad Dodik, no one can forbid the Serbs in the entity to celebrate their independence. The Constitutional Court demanded that Republika Srpska chose a different date, for January 9th is also a Christian Orthodox holiday. The court believes that this holiday discriminates against the Roman Catholics and Muslims living in the entity. Serbian PM Aleksandar Vučić also arrived in Banja Luka for the celebration. Cristian Dan Preda thinks that the role of Serbia in BiH is ambiguous. On one hand, the Serbian PM states that he does not support the referendums, but he appears at the controversial celebration in Banja Luka. The relationship between Banja Luka and Belgrade is very strong.
Dodik is convinced he owns a country, but it is a part of BiH. The Romanian MEP finds the ambiguity in the relations between Vučić and Republika Srpska strange. It is easier to work between Belgrade and Sarajevo, than between Belgrade and Priština, he said. “We cannot accept to have two different attitudes - relations between Belgrade and Sarajevo and another one between Serbia and Banja Luka. Banja Luka is not a capital. It's a municipality of BiH, so I think that Vučić has to understand this”, added the Rapporteur.
He finds it very important that Serbia has started negotiations thanks to the progress it made in the negotiations with Priština. This, however, is a challenge for Kosovo as well, for the current opposition there is against the deal with Belgrade. It is important that Kosovars see that there is progress in the relations between Priština and Belgrade. At the moment the environment in Priština is bad. If the situation improves, it will be beneficial for the Kosovars.
Cristian Dan Preda agrees with the Croatian MEPs’ argument that a possible BiH EU membership application will strengthen BiH’s cohesion, but dismissed any conversations about an upgrade of the Dayton peace agreement, which Croatian politicians are demanding, especially from the ranks of the right-wing Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which formed a government with the new party Most. At this stage it is important to work for BiH’s European integration and any conversations about the future of Dayton are not on the agenda, as the Bosnian politicians also agreed, added the MEP. At the moment, it is important that the country transformed into a European one, not re-negotiating Dayton.
Despite the many challenges and hardships, he is convinced that BiH is not a special case. There are other countries as well, which need political reforms. It is true that BiH has a complex constitutional architecture, but the country already has experience in reaching compromises. This is a democracy based on a compromise, he said. If we are to start with the idea that making politics is not possible, then there can be no success, the BiH Rapporteur believes. He admits that at the moment the atmosphere in the EU is very tough, making the task of the countries striving for European membership much more difficult. BiH needs to be innovative and creative. The landscape today is very different than it was in 2004 when The Netherlands last presided the Council of the EU. Back then enlargement was a major priority, for the accession of ten more countries was coming. Today, the word does not even exist in the programme of this year’s Dutch presidency, noted Cristian Dan Preda.
“I mean the enlargement doesn't exist for the presidency of [the] Netherlands. This is the reality and we have to understand this.” This is why it is important that Sarajevo has courage and imagination. The new candidates need to be very original, also thinks the Romanian MEP.
Translated by Stanimir Stoev