By Anes Alic
A June deadline, proposed by Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) officials, for the country to apply for EU membership could be met — in theory. Realistically, however, it may be overly optimistic given the pattern of deadlock that has dominated the state for the past five years.
Our Party (Nasa Stranka) President Dennis Gratz doubts that the needed reforms can be implemented by the summer.
“When it negotiates with one country on its membership bid, the EU wants to talk one-on-one. The problem with BiH is that it has three sides, three voices, which are often not on the same path where it concerns international obligations,” Gratz told SETimes.
In March, the European Parliament passed a resolution on BiH, expressing concern about the country’s lack of reform progress, despite the long-awaited formation of a new government.
“It is very difficult to be overly optimistic [about BiH]. We have much hope, but many areas of doubt remain,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle said.
Some progress was made in December 2011, when the country’s six main political parties reached a consensus on two reform laws required by the EU: the national census and new procedures to state aid distribution.
Despite the achievement, the two laws are still pending implementation — which is not expected to proceed without political obstruction.
A number of issues still must be addressed before BiH can move forward with its EU membership bid, and partial success is not an option.
One recent setback was the failure to agree on constitutional and electoral reforms which would allow ethnic minorities to run for the country’s top posts.
The EU resolution also criticized Bosnian authorities for their failure to pass the budget for this year. The 2011 budget was just passed in February.
On March 14th, the state government passed the general fiscal framework for 2012-2014, which will enable the adoption of this year’s budget. The initial deadline to pass the budget framework was early January, but was prolonged over the delay in forming the central government.
If the budget is not approved by April, the county could lose loans from the IMF and the EU. The Fund and the World Bank have already frozen 100m euros in loans due to reform delays.
Transparency International in BiH Executive-Director Srdjan Blagovcanin said that given the scope of the needed reforms, BiH can not realistically apply for EU membership until the end of the year — at the very the earliest.
“That would be a more realistic deadline, but only if the all reforms were conducted without delays and obstruction,” Blagovcanin told SETimes. “Aside from several key reforms, authorities must also undertake some much deeper and more politically complicated tasks – tasks that politicians have failed agree upon for almost a decade.”
The main challenge will be the implementation of series of reforms that would allow for the closure of the international community’s Office of High Representative (OHR).
Set up in 1995 to supervise the implementation of the Dayton Peace agreement, the OHR was due to be phased out in 2007, but its mandate has been extended several times due to political instability and lack of reform progress.
The closure of the office is an international community priority that would signal Bosnia’s preparedness to assume full authority over the country’s affairs and strengthen its state institutions.
In its latest resolution, the European Parliament stressed the importance of BiH becoming a single, united and sovereign state, with the powers necessary to respond to accession criteria.
Both Gratz and Blagovcanin say that authorities have failed to convince the international community that they are capable of running things on their own.
“If the OHR closed down now, nationalist leaders would annul the majority of reforms made over the past 15 years and further divide the country,” Gratz told SETimes.
Bosnia already lags behind its neighbors in terms of EU integration. Croatia is expected to join the bloc next year, while Serbia was granted candidate status on March 1st.
Being surrounded by EU countries without having Union membership will negatively impact BiH, particularly in economic terms, and the international community is hoping that this situation will provide Bosnia’s quarrelling authorities with the impetus to move forward.