Political divisions hinder progress on key issues that EU requires BiH to address.
By Anes Alic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 26/01/13
The EU and BiH agreed on a road map for the country's EU membership last year, but little progress has been made. [AFP]
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) took a major step toward becoming an EU member when the Union endorsed a road map for the country's bid. Although the action was hailed as a major victory and a significant step forward for the country's European integration, there have been few developments since early 2012.
In February 2012, BiH's six main political parties reached consensus on two reform laws required by the EU: the national census and new procedures for the distribution of state aid. But on Wednesday (January 23rd), the government announced a six-month delay for the census -- the country's first in 20 years -- from April to October due to technical and political obstacles.
"The momentum was not maintained and political disagreements in the governing coalition emerged well ahead of the municipal elections in October. The political consensus that had emerged was lost, and progress on the EU agenda stalled," the European Commission wrote in its progress report for 2012.
In order to submit its EU membership application, the most significant issue facing BiH is the requirement to harmonise its constitution with the 2009 European Charter on Human Rights, ending discrimination of minorities who cannot run for high-level offices.
BiH authorities have missed several deadlines for the implementation of this ruling, and there is no solution in sight. Any decision on constitutional amendments requires a compromise among Bosnia's ruling parties.
Another challenge is closing the international community's Office of High Representative (OHR). There were plans to phase out the OHR in 2007, but the office's mandate has been extended several times due to political instability and lack of reform progress.
The international community has made it clear that the EU will not lower its criteria for BiH. Nor has the international community indicated it plans to play more than an advisory role, or to sanction obstructive officials as it has done in the past.
Predrag Prastalo, president of European Movement in BiH, told SETimes that unlike other countries in the region, Bosnian leaders lack a consensus on European integration.
"Bosnia can make progress only if everybody agrees that there is no alternative to the European path. The problem with Bosnia is that each party within the ruling coalition has its own stance regarding the EU, and each wishes to talk to the EU one-on-one," Prastalo said.
Srdjan Blagovcanin, executive director of the Bosnian branch of Transparency International, told SETimes that 2013 will be a crossroads for Bosnia's EU integration aspirations, adding that there are only two possible scenarios.
"The first scenario is that we continue to move in the direction of further isolation and lose another two or three years, bearing in mind the scheduled 2014 elections," Blagovcanin said.
"Considering that on average it takes one year to form a new BiH government, we shouldn't expect any major breakthroughs. This would mean that most of 2015 would be lost. The second scenario is that we manage to submit an EU membership application, which would end the long downward trend in the country."
BiH and Kosovo are the only countries in the region that have not yet applied for EU membership. Croatia is set to join this year, while Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have applied for membership and are at different levels of integration.
Prastalo said the consequences of BiH lagging behind other countries in the region are already being felt and the impact will become more acute when those countries join the bloc.
"The political situation in the country is threatening to create a black hole at the very heart of the region," Prastalo said. "The Bosnian economy and local producers will be most hurt as they will not be able to export their products to the countries in the region, their main market. Bosnian politicians are doing nothing to avoid that scenario."