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26th Sep 2022

Fragmented Bosnia urged to restart pro-EU reforms

The new Bosnian parliament must centralise political authority and police powers in Sarajevo to get back on track with EU integration reforms, the EU and its international partners on Bosnia - the US and Russia - have urged, but old ethnic divisions threaten to hold the country back.

"Sufficient progress in a number of key reforms necessary for concluding negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union has not been made," the Peace Implementation Council concluded after a two day meeting last week.

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The council - a political and security supervisory body made up of key international players - was put in place under the Dayton Agreement of 1995 in order to help end three years of bloody ethnic conflict in the fragmented, Western Balkan state.

The set of pro-centralisation constitutional reforms was provisionally agreed by the country's eight main political parties in 2005 but rejected by parliament in April this year, holding back talks on the SAA - the first legal step to EU accession.

Now, fresh elections in October, bringing together the leaders of the ethnic Croats, the so-called "Bosniak" Muslims and Bosnian Serbs in a tripartite power-sharing structure, have given the reform agenda a second chance.

"The reform process came to a standstill before the elections and we found this to be unacceptable. The reform process must be restarted not next month, not in January, but now," the UN and the EU's Bosnia envoy Christian Schwarz-Schilling said.

Old divisions

But while the newly-elected Croat and Bosniak leaders, Zeljko Komsic and Haris Silajdzic, are seen as generally favourable to pro-EU reforms, Serb leader Milorad Dodik continues to oppose any moves that might undermine the autonomous status of the ethnic-Serb enclave of Republika Srpska.

"The authorities in [Bosnia] and the international community have been underestimating the Republic of Srpska for years and this should end," Mr Dodik told Belgrade daily Blic earlier this month.

Pro-centralisation ideas coming from Komsic and Silajdzic during the recent election campaign even prompted Dodik to threaten that Republika Srpska would secede from Bosnia on the model of Montenegro's split from Serbia in May, sparking condemnation from EU diplomats.

"It is possible for these [Bosnian] party leaders to work together, if they realise that it is in their national interests to do so," analyst Nicholas Whyte from NGO the International Crisis Group, told EUobserver.

"To get Bosnia working, it is necessary to change the agenda of the nationalist parties, so that they pursue their agenda by strengthening the state structures rather than by attempting to weaken them."

New EU mandate

Meanwhile, the EU is gearing up to take over from the UN as the main security force and political supervisory body in the country from June 2007, with enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn and top EU diplomat Javier Solana telling EU foreign ministers last week that:

"[The EU] should play a role in promoting the rule of law, in particular with respect to police restructuring supporting the fight against organized crime and promoting full co-operation with the ICTY [the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague]."

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