The talks averted a potentially damaging showdown between the High Representative and RS.
By Ljiljana Smiljanic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka – 15/06/11
RS President Milorad Dodik met with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Banja Luka on May 13th. [Reuters]
It took a meeting last month between Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to avert a crisis and strike a deal on launching structural dialogue on judicial reform, a process both agreed would be long-term.
The restructuring bid was necessitated by Dodik's intention to organise a referendum on BiH's court and prosecutor's office. Bosnian Serbs have long complained that the existing system lacks a process for addressing war crimes committed against Serbs during the BiH conflict.
At the first round in Banja Luka last week, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said the whole process could be described as simply "more EU in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)".
Ashton had pledged that a special committee would be formed as a step towards restructuring. It would offer recommendations on how to address issues in the judicial sector within the context of the EU accession process. The main goal of the structural dialogue is to consolidate legislation and create a legal system that will be independent and impartial.
"This is very serious work, and the Republic of Srpska had prepared some documents and analysis that our representatives presented at the beginning of the dialogue," said Igor Radojicic, president of the RS National Assembly. He participated in the first day of dialogue with politicians on June 6th, which was followed by a meeting of experts.
There is no doubt BiH had to start this process eventually, as it is in accordance with the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, said High Representative and Special EU Representative Valentin Inzko.
"The process that has started in BiH is something every country must pass if it wants to become an EU member," he noted.
However, Dodik made clear that RS will not support the creation of a High Court in BiH, described as one of the EU proposals.
"We do not question some form of court and prosecutors office on the state level, but in any case, the application of retroactive law should be excluded. We will not agree to combine the legal budget, as some suggest, because it would not be effective," said Dodik.
Justice Minister Barisa Colak weighed in, saying "I believe we must find a solution that fulfills minimum EU standards. On the other hand, we must respect the legal and constitutional system until it is changed. We will not be able to change some things radically, if they should be changed, without constitutional reforms."
But Professor Vitomir Popovic of the Faculty of Law in Banja Luka disagrees. "There is no reason for this dialogue on judicial reform to last long and it is in everyone's interest to complete this reform before any other discussions about any other question of Bosnian institutions' work."
European representatives said they would come up with certain proposals after every round of talks, but it will be up to Bosnian officials to make final decisions. First, they must respond to a questionnaire on the judicial system in BiH by August 31st.