German analyst calls on European Union to develop new strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina

EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

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Senior Associate of the Berlin-based Democratization Policy Council (DPC) concentrating on the Western Balkans, German and European foreign and security policy Bodo Weber criticized European Union’s policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, and asked the EU to concede failure and start working on a new, genuinely political strategy for the country. 

In the DPC Policy Paper titled ‘The EU’s Failing Policy Initiative for Bosnia and Herzegovina’, Weber reminded that in late 2014, “the European Union adopted a policy initiative jointly developed and promoted by Germany and the United Kingdom, as its new strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina“.

The initiative focused on structural socio-economic reforms that were to be rewarded with advances in BiH’s EU integration process - a response to violent social protests against unaccountable politics in February 2014 that highlighted popular dissatisfaction in BiH with the EU’s policy failure over the previous decade”, wrote Weber.

The new EU BiH initiative did yield some initial successes in 2015 and 2016: BiH authorities agreed a ‘Reform Agenda 2015-18’ with the EU and international financial institutions, a broad blueprint for socio-economic reform that - if fully implemented - could have broken the country’s patronage system. (...) However, these successes were short-lived, limited and superficial. From early 2017, it became evident that the initiative would be a failure when it formally concludes at the end of 2018”, the author explained.

Weber noted that throughout 2017, implementation on all fronts came to an almost complete standstill, although EU representatives and other international officials continued to pretend the initiative was still alive.

Extensive interviews with key officials make it clear that the performance of the EU itself led to this unfortunate failure“, Weber wrote. “The EU did not stick to strict conditionality, but resorted to old habits of lowering the bar and negotiating with BiH officials and political leaders behind closed doors; In 2017, EU institutions began to undermine the international financial institutions’ push for economic reform, and by the end of the year EU representatives successfully pressured the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to give up its policy of strict financial conditionality; the EU aimed exceptionally low on rule of law reforms under the Reform Agenda, creating a weak foundation for systemic reform”, Weber explained.

As an epilogue to the failure of this initiative, according to Weber, “the EU is now faced with a political challenge related to constitutional reform for which it is ill-prepared: amending the BiH Election Law following the Constitutional Court ruling in the ‘Ljubic’ case”.

At the same time, the Croatian Government’s explicit support of the ethno-nationalistic agenda of the HDZ BiH poses a serious threat to EU unity in its approach to Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly related to constitutional reform”, wrote Weber, adding that after the October 2018 general elections, “the EU might be forced to face the country’s biggest constitutional crisis since the end of the war and the failure of its BiH initiative”.

Rather than seeking to frame the Agenda as a success, the EU must accept the failure of its current BiH policy initiative and prepare a genuinely strategic approach”, he underlined.

Weber then presented a series of measures which should be implemented by “the EU, specifically the most committed, pro-enlargement member states, in cooperation with EU institutions involved in enlargement, and supported by non-EU states committed to BiH including the US, Canada, Norway, and Japan”.

“The European Commission should not give a recommendation to grant candidate status to BiH, but propose to make it conditional on the implementation of a selection of outstanding Reform Agenda measures crucial to put an end to the country’s patronage system; opening accession negotiations should be made conditional on the implementation of further important measures left over from the Reform Agenda; the EU should start working on a concept for a future political process for constitutional reform, an ‘Accession Plus’ process that clearly links progress in EU accession to meaningful progress in constitutional reform, by adding a Chapter 35 on Constitutional Reform to the future EU Accession Negotiation framework for BiH”, explained Weber.

EU institutions and leading member states must already now start to strategically communicate the rationale and principles of the future EU constitutional reform policy to the BiH citizens and political elites alike, and openly confront and limit Croatia’s attempts to sabotage future constitutional reform in BiH which is based on an ideological/ethno-nationalist perception of BiH politics and society”, the German analyst concluded.