27th Mar 2017

Bosnia EU bid setback as constitution talks fail

  • EU police mission in Bosnia - the EU wants to see "constitutional evolution" in the country (Photo: EUPM)

Bosnia's efforts to gear up its administration for closer ties with the EU received a blow on Tuesday as talks on a new constitution for the country broke down.

Reuters reports that Serb, Croat and Muslim leaders of eight political parties failed to reach agreement on a new constitutional text, foreseeing a fundamental strengthening of the central Sarajevo institutions of the country.

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The current political fragmentation is seen as impeding the country’s capacity to integrate into NATO and the EU.

Differences over a proposed single presidency for Bosnia, as well as over a strengthened national parliament, proved impossible to overcome in what was a final round of US and EU-sponsored talks.

Currently, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a tripartite presidency, shared by the Muslim, Croat and Serb communities, while political power resides with the country’s "entities", the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic.

"I have to say quite frankly that I'm disappointed," said the US ambassador to Bosnia Douglas McElhaney, who led the talks together with European Commission and Austrian EU presidency officials.

The parties only reached agreement on strengthening the powers of the prime minister, as well as an expansion of the central government from nine to 11 ministries, but these reforms form part of an overall constitutional package which has now been rejected.

However, the European Commission ambassador to Bosnia, Michael Humphreys, said the parts that were agreed could still be implemented to boost Bosnia's EU integration capacity.

"If everything which was agreed with regard to the Council of Ministers was implemented, Bosnia and Herzegovina will get a strong and functioning government with a full responsibility for the European integration process," Mr Humphreys indicated.

European enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said in November, when the constitutional talks kicked off "We recommend a constitutional evolution, rather than a constitutional revolution."

The Americans, however, had ambitiously scheduled the signature of the whole text, based on a US blueprint, in Washington on 21 November, marking the 10 year anniversary of the Dayton peace agreement.

The Dayton agreement ended the 1992-1995 war in which at least 100,000 people were killed.

Bosnia in November started talks with Brussels on a Stabilisation and Association agreement (SAA), but Bosnian officials indicated that actual implementation of the agreement will depend on administrative reform and an end to political fragmentation.

The country will hold general elections in October.

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