news 05 Nov 14

UK, Germany Launch Joint Initiative on Bosnia

Lamenting the years of waste and stagnation, Britain and Germany have launched a new initiative on Bosnia, promising real progress towards the EU if its politicians sign up to reforms.

Elvira M. Jukic

British and German foreign ministers have sent an "open letter" to the people of Bosnia, offering an opportunity to make dramatic progress towards EU membership if their politicians sign up to substantive reforms.

“There is only one path into the European Union – through reforms that help Bosnia and Herzegovina reach the standard of governance and economic development of EU Member States,” the open letter from German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Britain's Philip Hammond reads.

The new British-German initiative asks Bosnian politicians to give a written commitment to see through a package of as yet undefined reforms, but which are “closely linked to the Compact for Growth and Jobs that was published earlier this year,” the letter said, referring to an earlier strategy led by the European Union.

“If your political leaders can do this, then we ask the European Union, in response, to bring the long-delayed Stabilisation and Association Agreement into force so that BiH can benefit from the much needed financial investment that comes with it,” Steinmeier and Hammond write.

Bosnia and Herzegovina signed an SAA with the European Union back in 2008 but this first important step towards EU membership has never been put into force because it has not met the preconditions set by Brussels.

One is to put into incorporate the 2009 "Sejdic and Finci" ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.

The ruling, in response to the suit of two Bosnian citizens, one Jewish, the other a Roma, told Bosnia to change its constitution and allow minorities to run for the top governing posts currently reserved for three largest ethnic groups, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.

Local politicians have long resisted the ruling, as it will upset the current balance on the country's state presidency, which comprises a Croat, a Bosniak and a Serb.

As the smallest of the three main communities, Bosnian Croats in particular fear that if the presidency is opened up, as the EU wishes, a Croat is unlikely to win a seat.

Making it clear that those behind the Anglo-German initiative do not want to become totally embroiled in the Sejdic-Finci issue, the letter adds that the focus of reform should also be on economic issues.

“This new approach does mean that we recognize that there are lots of other important political, social and economic reforms which also need to be done, and may be deliverable earlier,” the letter explained.

“The reforms which we are seeking are ones which will have a practical, positive impact on people across the country. Their aim is to create new jobs in the private sector in order to help slow the exodus of the young; to offer new opportunities for wealth creation,” it added.

“Addressing the issue of minority rights and implementing the co-ordination mechanism are still important, and a pre-requisite for accession to the EU,” Hammond observed on Wednesday.

“But there are other priorities too. Stabilizing and stimulating the economy, creating jobs, strengthening the rule of law, reducing bureaucracy and cutting the costs of government,” he added.

If the new government in Bosnia, which has still to be formed after the October elections, demonstrates a real willingness to make progress on this broader reform agenda, the new initiative would help the country, he continued.

“We will be recommending to our EU partners that we should first ask the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to sign up to a written commitment,” he said. “And if they do so, we should bring the long-delayed Stabilisation and Association Agreement into force.”

Among the steps needed, he expained, are establishing a so-called "co-ordination mechanism" for handling EU integration, which is needed for the country to speak with one voice with Brussels, improving the functionality and efficiency of government and implementing economic reforms.

“If that happens, then we would support the submission of an application for EU membership,” Hammond said.

“If at that point more progress is made- including the implementation of the Sejdić Finci judgement, if it hasn’t been done sooner - then we would support the granting of candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

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