News 16 Feb 16

Bosnia Split Over EU Membership Application

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ruling parties said the country’s EU application was a positive step for the future, but Bosnian Serb political leaders didn’t share their enthusiasm.

Danijel Kovacevic, Rodolfo Toe
BIRN
Banja Luka, Sarajevo
 
 Dragan Covic with Federica Mogherini (right) and Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders (centre) on Monday in Brussels | Photo: Anadolu

Bosnia’s application to become a member of the European Union, submitted in Brussels on Monday by the Croat member of the country's tripartite presidency, Dragan Covic, drew mixed reactions back at home.

Ruling parties at the national level applauded the move as a step forward but the leadership in Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was sceptical.

"The EU application is a step which brings some internal optimism to Bosnia and Herzegovina," Aleksandra Pandurevic, a Serb Democratic Party (SDS) member of the House of Representatives in the national parliament, said on Monday.

"This must represent an incentive for all of us, because the most important part of the job lies ahead of us," she added, although she also said she was worried that "Bosnia and Herzegovina won't have enough specialist professionals" to fulfil the task.

The Alliance for a Better Future (SBBBiH) which is one of the ruling coalition members at the national level with the SDS, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the Croat Democratic Union (HDZBiH), said that "this is an historic day for our country".

"This is the result... of the engagement and the work of the reforming coalition," the SBBBiH said in a statement.

HDZBiH member Borjana Kristo also welcomed the move.

"This is a great day and a great news for all the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina," Kristo said on Monday.

The High Representative Valentin Inzko, the country’s top international overseer, also congratulated the country for submitting its application.

"Although you have always been Europeans, you have made today an important step towards the day when you'll become equal citizens inside the EU with another 500 million of your fellow citizens," Inzko said in a statement.

But the reaction in Republika Srpska was lukewarm, with many politicians reiterating their accusations that the state-level Council of Ministers allegedly adopted a crucial legal mechanism for coordinating the country’s EU integration process last month without consulting the entity.

Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik recognised that the application was good for Bosnia and Herzegovina but criticised the adoption of the coordination mechanism.

"Republika Srpska will not accept the recently adopted system of coordination for European Integration, which was adopted without our consent," Dodik told local news agency Srna.

Rajko Vasic, a member of the central committee of Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), told local media on Monday that the EU application could easily fail.

"This system of coordination for EU integration, together with this unwanted application for membership, can easy end up like all the others failed projects that Brussels tried to implement in Bosnia," Vasic told local media.

"We should be realistic when it comes to this application - Brussels sees Bosnia as some unwanted baby, rather than as a beloved poor cousin coming from the country," he added.

Vlade Simovic, a political analyst from Banja Luka, also warned that the application might be rushed.

"If our politicians were responsible, they would have first tried to strengthen the country, both economically and politically before submitting this application - so they could talk to the EU as partners, not as beggars," Simovic told BIRN.

Some locals in Banja Luka also reacted indifferently to the news of Bosnia's application.

"This is not good nor bad," said a man who gave his name as Goran B., a waiter in the main Bosnian Serb city.

"I don't think anything will change, at least not for me. We are still too far from Europe," he added.

"Will my pension be bigger? No, it won't," said Svetozar, a 71-year-old pensioner.

"Sure, maybe this will mean something for my grandchildren, and I don't want to be a pessimist, so overall I think it was a positive step," he added.

Younger people in Banja Luka were also optimistic.

"This is a good thing for both RS and Bosnia and Herzegovina, it will make us closer to the EU," Dragana, 21, a student at the University of Banja Luka, told BIRN.

Her opinion was echoed by another student, Almir, 19, who said he hoped the application "will speed up our integration process a little bit".

"However, I am not sure that our country is ready for this," he added.

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