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Bih Leaders’ Agreement on EU Reforms May Lead to Accession Talks, but Will Not End the Crisis

The leaders of the parties comprising the ruling majority at the state level reached an agreement after a meeting in East Sarajevo on 22 August to introduce three draft laws into parliamentary procedure. The adoption of these laws could unblock the country’s European integration process. This includes the Laws on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, the Ombudsman, and Access to Information.

Additionally, during the meeting leaders agreed on the appointment of Srđan Adžić as the new Minister of Finance at the Council of Ministers. As stated afterward, amendments to the law on the BiH Court and two other laws, which the state parliament is expected to confirm within the next ten days.

“The move is an attempt to unblock the European path and thus pave the way for new discussions, offering Bosnia and Herzegovina the opportunity to start negotiation talks by the end of the year”, said Milorad Dodik, the President of Republika Srpska entity and the ruling SNSD party.

Dragan Čović, the President of HDZ BiH, affirmed his conviction that if the pace continues, results will become evident swiftly. “I’m confident that the European Commission’s progress report on BiH will then be positive”, added Čović adding that 14 key priorities set by the European Commission from 2019 could be fulfilled within two or three months.

Nermin Nikšić, leader of SDP BiH and President of the government Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the two entities of the state, described the meeting as proof of the functioning of the ruling majority and noted that the EU will recognize this, leading to a new impetus on the European path. “Every agreement we reach is a step towards creating better living conditions for all citizens,” remarked Nikšić.

The European Union Delegation in Bosnia and Herzegovina also commented on the outcome of yesterday’s meeting, stating that it represents a step in the right direction.

Adi Ćerimagić, analyst at the European Stability Initiative, assesses for European Western Balkans that many of the 14 stated key priorities are quite broad, allowing the European Commission ample room to decide on their implementation or lack thereof based on certain purely political assessments.

“This means that for observers like me, it’s difficult to assess whether the actions that the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina will take in the coming period will be sufficient to enable the European Commission to recommend the opening of membership negotiations”, Ćerimagić explains.

He underlines that fulfilling several key priorities requires constitutional amendments, which due to the procedures and pluralism in Bosnian and Herzegovinian parliaments, necessitate a broader consensus on how these amendments will specifically look.

“It’s widely understood that the political climate in Bosnia and Herzegovina at this moment is not particularly favorable to such a wide consensus. Furthermore, according to the assessment of the European Commission, Bosnia and Herzegovina has taken a significant step backward through recent amendments to the criminal law in the Republika Srpska, which have considerably restricted freedom of speech and the space for media work”, adds Ćerimagić.

Can the EC recommend the opening of negotiations with BiH?

The European Commission will publish progress reports on Bosnia and Herzegovina and other Western Balkan countries in October. According to statements of leaders in BiH, they expect a positive assessment and a recommendation from the European Commission for the opening of negotiations.

Ćerimagić does not believe that the EU member states would be inclined to decide on opening negotiations with BiH without a clear and unconditional recommendation from the European Commission. However, he explains that almost all signals coming from the Brussels over past few months have not been focused on the idea of recommending the starting of accession talks within the EC report on BiH.

On the contrary, he says that the signals and efforts emanating from Brussels indicate that the primary goal of the European Commission has been to establish progress in the implementation, in relation to the 14 key priorities, of more specific and concise suggestions outlined in its recommendation for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s candidate status.

“If such a positive report from the European Commission were to occur, there is contemplation among several EU member states that, as part of discussions about opening negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, for which clear and unconditional recommendations from the European Commission are anticipated, they may initiate discussions about concretizing the path for Bosnia and Herzegovina towards EU membership negotiations”, says Ćerimagić.

According to him, there is a consideration that such a message from EU member states, alongside initiatives that the European Commission is soon to present for all candidates, could significantly strengthen the European Commission’s position in Bosnia and Herzegovina and positively influence political processes and reforms in the country.

Leaders’ agreement in the middle of a political crisis

Surprising conciliatory tones from the leaders of the political parties forming the ruling coalition in Bosnia and Herzegovina have come after months of mutual accusations of undermining the constitutional order and breaking coalition agreements. The immediate trigger was the attempts by the President of Republika Srpska to undermine the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the authority of the High Representative, Christian Schmidt, by enacting special laws in the RS parliament.

Adi Ćerimagić does not believe that the leaders’ agreement on European laws can signify a way out of the political crisis in which Bosnia and Herzegovina finds itself.

According to him, the current crisis in BiH has been triggered by the decision of the President of Republika Srpska to sign and for the Official Gazette of Republika Srpska to publish a law that unilaterally and unconstitutionally regulates the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina within the territory of Republika Srpska, while the latest agreement of the ruling coalition at the state level did not in any way address the fate of this law.

“This means that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we continue to have two realities: one in RS, where decisions of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot be implemented, and another in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and within a part of the international community, where this law has been annulled by the High Representative. In the next instance when a confrontation between these two realities arises, for example, when the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina issues its next decision concerning Republika Srpska, the current crisis will undoubtedly escalate once again”, says Ćerimagić.

He assesses that part of the international community hopes that such escalation will not occur, as initiating a judicial process will exert pressure on the ruling coalition in Republika Srpska and the conditions in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to negotiate a political solution.

“However, at this moment, neither of these two paths indicates an imminent resolution”, Ćerimagić concludes.

Source : Europe Western Balkans