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Should BiH Get Special Treatment on Its Way towards EU?

Published on , , Zagreb, Twitter: @euinside

Will Bosnia and Herzegovina ever be able to fulfil the criteria for EU membership without special treatment or a total overhaul of the Dayton peace agreement? This question surfaced during a discussion on the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the EU, organised by the European Parliament’s information office in Zagreb in the middle of May. Participating in the meeting were Croatian MEPs, BiH authorities’ representatives, analysts, former prime ministers, diplomats. At first sight, it looks as there are two questions, but in fact they got mixed all the time during the two hour discussion. Some participants championed the thesis that BiH needs to have a shortcut to EU membership, while others were against. According to the former BiH prime minister, currently vice-chair of the Paneuropean Union, an NGO, Hasan Muratović, many countries walked into the EU through the back door.

Those are Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, and the Baltic states. He did not elaborate on why he feels that way, but probably he means the fact that Cyprus entered the EU without having solved the issue with the northern part of the island being occupied and Bulgaria and Romania entered “with a crutch” - the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism - for they had not fulfilled the requirements, but it was geopolitically important they got in. Muratović is of the opinion that only Croatia entered following all EU rules and only it got heavy pressure to become a member. Croatia is the first country to enter after some changes in the approach after the fifth EU enlargement, which unites the big bang of 2004 and of 2007. The former PM stated that if BiH wanted to follow Croatia’s path (and in fact it will have a much tougher path, for approach has changed significantly with the Montenegro negotiations), it will be a very long path indeed. 

If the EU truly wants European integration for the country, its road to it must be way faster, he concluded. Croatian MEP Andrej Plenković of the European People’s Party group, Vice-Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the EP and head of the Ukraine delegation dismissed this thesis by stating that the only country to enter the EU not using a shortcut was East Germany. The new approach of the EU towards Bosnia and Herzegovina is in itself a shortcut, believes Mr Plenković. Word is of the German-British initiative, thanks to which the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with BiH was unfrozen and a new momentum for the European integration of the country was created. Tonino Picula, MEP from the Socialists and Democrats group, former foreign minister of Croatia, stated that this approach is no longer new at all – it is close to two years old and it is high time it got assessed whether it has succeeded or not.

He reminded that geopolitics over the last 20-30 years has many times been the decisive factor in some states, which formally had not fulfilled all requirements, but were advancing and became members. Whether it is the time for a shortcut for BiH is an open question, he said. Dubravka Šuica, also of the EPP group, on the other hand was adamant that there should be no shortcuts. Everyone must fulfil the requirements and there is no reason to back down from them. It is far more important, she said, to level the rules for the three constitutional peoples in the country.

BiH Deputy Foreign Minister Josip Brkić ensured that the country is not looking for shortcuts, but a fair treatment, “which respects what BiH is, and it verily is differently organised and established”. Because of unattainable conditions, set by the EU, BiH has lost seven years. It is very important that by the end of 2017 the country secures candidate state status, although by then it will be too late, compared to other candidate states, by at least 3-4 years, he said. In his opinion it is very important to avoid the possibility that BiH falls into Macedonia’s situation. It is important that BiH does not lag in the negotiation process and it is important that this process is visible in BiH as well as in the EU, added the minister.

Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, Head of the Delegation of the EU and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina admitted it was a mistake to request that BiH implements rulings like the Sejdić-Finci. In his words those seven years were years of inertia. It is important that attention now is focused on social-economic reforms. An average of ten years is necessary for a country to prepare for EU membership. After that there are ten more years needed to implement what was agreed on and start acting as a full member. 

Bosnia has an identity issue

BiH, however, is not like the rest of the countries, some members claimed. According to some, the problems are rooted in the Dayton peace agreement, and others claimed they run deeper. International community Principal Deputy High Representative and Brcko District Supervisor Bruce Berton stated that the largest challenge to BiH is the fact that its leaders do not identify as Bosnians and do not work together in solving their country’s problems. “It is very difficult to demonstrate national identity in BiH”, he said. Usually, politicians identify as a part of one of the constitutional identities, instead of as Bosnians. As a result some politicians work only to the benefit of separate peoples, instead of for the country as a whole. 

Mr Muratović agreed with this thesis and went even further by stating that there is an acute lack of patriotism in the country. There are people at key positions, who are not patriots, but listen to the government in Belgrade, instead to the Council of Ministers. According to Muratović, Republika Srpska’s President Milorad Dodik has visited Moscow many times, while no one from the Council of Ministers or the Presidency has ever visited it. This is a common statement in BiH, which Mr Dodik adamantly rejects and points out that he has made less visits than the Croatian member of the presidency made to Zagreb. 

Mile Lasić of the Paneuropean Union in BiH also speaks of the lack of patriotism in BiH. He stated that the country is mistakenly named multi-ethnic, while in its essence it is a multi-national one. “We are a state of frozen conflicts, which needs special solutions”, he said, but clarified that he does not mean new accession conditions, but rather stronger mediation. “This is our last chance. Otherwise the country will fall into some kind of dissolution”, he warned.

However, the dominant thesis was that the country’s major problems could be found in the Dayton peace agreement. The Večernji list (Bosnian edition) journalist Zoran Krešić explained that a mistake was made at the very creation of the Dayton agreement, for it led to ending the war, but created a state of unequal opportunities. It created a state, where the Serbs have a state within the state. Without changing the agreement BiH does not stand serious chances of ever entering the EU in the next 20 years, which he describes as a short term. A new internal structure is needed, which would create equal opportunities for all three peoples in the state. He is a supporter of the thesis that BiH needs special solutions, which are to be looked for in close cooperation between the EU and the USA. 

The boss of the commission on European matters in the Croatian parliament Gordan Jandroković agreed that any strong progress is impossible without an agreement between the three peoples and the three major international players – Russia, the USA, and Turkey. The EU needs to be a major engine of this process, thinks Mr Jandroković. The Liberals group member MEP Jozo Radoš opposed, saying that the international community is not ready to open Dayton, for at the moment it is impossible to work constructively with one of the guarantor of the agreement – Russia. The EU is also not prepared to commit deeper and more enthusiastically with BiH. Lars-Gunnar Wigemark admitted that BiH possesses a certain dose of exclusivity, but there are no shortcuts into the EU. 

Some of the participants demanded more commitment from the EU and the international community. In the words of Hasan Muratović, BiH cannot deal on its own, including regarding the creation of a true market economy. There are many and deep reforms, which however cannot be implemented using internal forces alone. Starting with the still predominant Socialist mindset, going through borders, property rights and legal issues, the remains of enterprises, and the lack of treaties and agreements with neighbouring countries. The former PM reminded that BiH has 2-3 intergovernmental treaties and agreements, and Republika Srpska has considerable economic relations with Serbia. BiH does not have a central bank, which also poses a large problem. 

The discussion ended as many discussions on this subject end – with no agreement on what the main problems are and how are they to be solved. BiH expects aid from outside and somewhat justified so, and the international community, besides having other issues to solve, feels that BiH leaders should make more effort in showing they can work together, create the mechanism for coordination of European issues, and finally start the social-economic reforms, which are so important to the country’s well being. They are important to the EU as well, which wants to evade the influx of more and more new migrants from the poor and unreformed candidates and fresh members towards the richer countries. The question of is Bosnia and Herzegovina special, however, is very important and the EU should not evade an answer. 

One of the keys to solving the Bosnian dilemma is looking for constructive cooperation from Serbia, which keeps close relations with Banja Luka, and also from Croatia. It is important that all interested parties outside BiH reduce considerably their interference in the country and aid the building of a Bosnian identity. And the EU must not lift its eye from BiH and should realise that the countries left in the enlargement process are no ordinary cases. Those countries have serious problems and their resolution will clear the way for them joining the EU, not the other way around.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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