Tuesday

21st Nov 2017

Analysis

Bosnia's EU application masks turmoil

  • Sarajevo. The EU, for most Bosnian citizens, is the solution only as a destination to which to run away. (Photo: Michal Huniewicz)

The streets of Sarajevo are filled with stray, hungry dogs. You can see them at every corner, and it is not rare that they attack people. Nermin Tulic, who is in a wheelchair, was attacked in the city centre. In order to protect himself, he barked back at the dogs, trying to be louder than them. After a while, the dogs left.

Packs of stray dogs have been a problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina for several years, after the local government adopted an EU recommendation that outlaws culls and instead requires municipalities to build shelters. However, local authorities lack the money or the willingness to really deal with the problem and citizens are left to fend for themselves.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Bosnian PM Denis Zvizdic (l) with EU diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini. the EU-Bosnia Association Agreement came into force in 2015 (Photo: Council of the EU)

Nevertheless, the government believes the country is ready to submit a formal application to join the EU and, as the EU's current presidency announced, they will do that on 15 February.

The application will be submitted despite scepticism of Bosnia's readiness for this step, or of the EU's current ability to absorb another troubled country. Bosnia and Kosovo are the only two countries in the Balkans that have not applied for membership.

Jessie Hronesova, a doctoral candidate in politics at Oxford University, who focuses on the the Balkans, sees Bosnia's decision to submit its application as a political strategy, diverting attention from more serious problems in the country. “It's basically a cover-up strategy because everyone knows that Bosnia is not ready,” Hronesova claims.

Shades of grey

The picture of life in Bosnia today is black with occasional shades of grey. Poverty, corruption, unemployment, a lack of basic human rights are just some of the characteristics of everyday life 20 years after the war.

The country is made up of two distinct political entities, one self-governing district (Brcko), 10 cantons, three presidents, and the Office of the High Representative, the ad hoc international body that oversees implementation of the peace agreement signed in 1995 after three and a half years of bloody war. The Office has ultimate power in the country, making Bosnia a semi-protectorate.

Despite the critical situation in the country, the last progress report issued in November by the European Commission concluded that the country was “back on the reform track”.

According to the report, which was rejected by the public and most analysts as hardly in line with actual developments, some progress was detected in several policy areas. In 2015, the EU changed its approach towards Bosnia, putting the economic agenda first. Soon after, on 1 June, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement entered into force.

“Local politicians have been encouraged by this and keen to show progress to their citizens in view of upcoming municipal elections in October 2016, and with the back-drop of deep economic and political dysfunctions,” Hronesova told EUobserver.

One month after the commission report, a group of civil society organisations from Bosnia issued an alternative report rejecting most of the conclusions from Brussels and pointing towards serious problems facing the country.

The international NGO Human Rights Watch has also detected some of these problems and their report is very critical when it comes to the protection of basic human rights in the country. Their states that “despite parliament’s commitments for reforms”, there was little change in 2015.

Journalists in Bosnia, HRW concluded, are vulnerable “to intimidation and threats”, while the authorities “failed to make progress on ending discriminatory restrictions on political office candidacy for members of minority groups.” The EC hardly noticed any of this.

Poverty and corruption

For people in Bosnia even any notion of progress is seen almost as a bad joke. Scepticism comes from their experience of reality. According to Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, Bosnia is the poorest European country measured by GDP per capita (28 percent of the European average). The general unemployment rate is over 27 percent, with youth unemployment at over 60 percent. An average monthly salary in Bosnia is around €413 while average monthly consumption is around €784.

Based on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, Bosnia occupies 76th place out of 168 countries. The NGO claims that the government is not effective in the fight against corruption: law enforcement agencies are ineffective and uncoordinated; there is no effective control over the financing of political parties or property records; while the government is constantly trying to establish full control over the work of independent institutions and to entirely politicise public administration.

Meanwhile, more and more people are leaving the country, seeing no end to this kind of life. Local media report about areas that have become entirely deserted. Over the last five years, the number of kids in schools has decreased, as they parents are leaving the country with their families. In the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the two political entities, the number of school children in primary schools over the last five years has decreased by 9.45 percent, and in secondary by 15.84 percent.

Public hospitals in Bosnia are in poor shape. Many, including in the capital, Sarajevo, lack basic items, including painkillers, clean sheets and sanitary equipment. In the city of Zenica, there are no cytostatic drugs, a form of cancer treatment, something that often happens in Sarajevo hospitals, too. Robberies, often armed, are an everyday occurrence. High officials have been arrested under suspicion of having connections with regional narco-mafia or of massive embezzlement (most of these cases so far have ended without convictions).

Legitimacy

One EU diplomat in Bosnia commented that giving the country positive assessments in the report was premature and that it is too early for Bosnia to submit an EU membership application. However, local officials are promising that there is “realistic possibility” that Bosnia will be given candidate status by the end of next year.

Bodo Weber, a senior associate of the Sarajevo-based think tank Democratization Policy Council concentrating on the Western Balkans, is sceptical, claiming that the EU will refrain from any clear public statements that Bosnian leaders are on the wrong path - which would imply refusing any Bosnian application. “But on substance, we will simply see the EU being forced to ignore the application when it is filed until conditions are really fulfilled,” he told EUobserver.

Hronesova is afraid that if the EU decides to accept the application, it can be dangerous for the country. “Bosnia belongs to Europe and Bosnians deserve more than anyone to be part of the EU, but the same cannot be said about their corrupt political elites. Giving them EU legitimacy by accepting the application is to my mind only reinforcing their positions, rather them forcing them to adhere to transparency and accountability.”

But the biggest problem is that no one has the solutions to all the problems Bosnia faces today. The EU, for most citizens, is the solution only as a destination to which to run away.

Letter

The EU’s promising new initiative for Bosnia and Herzegovina

The new EU initiative for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European path deserves strong support from those in the international community interested in the country’s economic prosperity and successful integration into the EU.

Bosnia applies for EU membership

Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday formally applied for EU membership, a process that is likely to take years.

Bosnia political divisions laid bare in census row

Bosnia must publish much-delayed census data before 1 July, otherwise its EU membership bid could be torpedoed. It could radically alter the quota-based governing system put in place after the war.

Meat 'taboo' debated at Bonn climate summit

Animal agriculture is responsible for a significant share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, but until recently it 'was an issue that was really brushed under the carpet'.

Analysis

Sicily: Renzi finds Achilles heel in boot of Italy

Elections in Sicily at the weekend saw Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party trounced into third place - can the one-time wonder kid of Italian politics bounce back in time for 2018's national election?

News in Brief

  1. European Banking Authority will move to Paris
  2. EU court threatens daily fine over Polish forest logging
  3. EU medicines agency will move to Milan or Amsterdam
  4. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Milan in next round of EMA vote
  5. Three countries pull out of medicines agency Brexit race
  6. Schulz calls for new German elections
  7. EU Commission 'confident' on German stability
  8. EU adopts new border check rules

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  2. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  3. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  4. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  5. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  7. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  8. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  9. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  11. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  12. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  2. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  4. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  6. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  7. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC Condemns Attacks on Ruta Vanagaite and the Shredding of Her Books in Lithuania
  10. Bio-Based IndustriesDiscover the Future of the Bio-Based Economy. Register Now for the BBI Stakeholder Forum!
  11. European Free AllianceWelcome Catalonia!
  12. UNICEFGrowing Number of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in Greece in Need of Shelter