Bosnia: Last train for Brussels

Political “horse trading” in Bosnia is in full swing after general elections held on October 12 last year, while EU is desperately trying to drag Bosnia closer to Brussels . After election dust is settled it becomes clear that there is no absolute political winners as no one party has majority which will enable them to govern alone neither on entity level nor at state level.


Only real change comparing with previous elections, is total defeat of Social democratic party BiH (SDP BiH) which was punished by deeply disappointed voters who had high expectations and hoped for promised change which SDP BiH didn’t delivered.


Although elections were held more than three months ago, so far only one of the two Bosnian semi-autonomous entities, Republika Srpska, managed to form new government. In other entity, Federation BiH, as well as on the state level, still there is no  new government and it’s unclear when these governments will be formed.


Fact that Bosnia has one of the most complicated political systems in the world, didn’t help neither to speed up forming of new governments.


With state level institutions, two semi- autonomous entity, Serb dominated Republika Srpska and Federation of FBiH dominated by Bosniacs and Croats, which is further divided into  10 cantons, as result there is country with 13 parliaments, 13 governments and 13 constitutions on the different levels.


At end, in the Republika Srpska, SNSD lead by Milorad Dodik, who also was in power during the previous for years, again managed to form coalition with few smaller political parties, and to get enough support in entity parliament to form new government.


In Federation BiH, although is new ruling coalition between, SDA, HDZ BiH and DF in general agreed, still there is no new government as coalition partners still negotiating about every position in government and state owned companies.


Endless post election political negotiations and trading with future positions amongst partners in the  new ruling coalitions, actually are part of political folklore in Bosnia, during the last 20 years, since the end of war.


In the center of these fights aren’t ideological  or political goals but primary  fights for control over state owned companies, like electro companies and telecoms which are considered as main prize and source of money for political parties and businesses linked with them. Control over telecoms are considered more attractive and more important than any political position, prime minister or ministers.


Under different circumstances, months of post election negotiations probably  wouldn’t  be so problematic, but Bosnia is simply running out of time.


Since June 2008, when Bosnia signed Stabilization and Associations Agreement with EU, Bosnian neighbors made a lot of progress, Croatia become EU member, Serbia and Montenegro become official candidates and started negotiations with EU about full membership, while Bosnia didn’t managed to make even one step ahead.


Long list of preconditions set by EU for  ratification of SAA agreement with Bosnia, which included closing Office of High Representative, constitutional changes which would give more authority to weak central government, over time get shorter and shorter, as many preconditions quietly were put aside by EU.


At the end the only remaining issue which EU considered non-negotiable, was decision by European Court for Human Rights who ruled that Bosnia must change constitution and remove discrimination which prevent anyone who isn’t Bosniak, Croat or Serb, to get elected as member of Presidency of BiH, collective chief of state.


Somehow, Bosnian politicians managed that essentially technical question which could be easily resolved by changing few words in one article of Constitution of BiH, transform into biggest political problem which further increased animosity and deepening untrust among key political leaders.


Endless political fights about different proposals for elections of the three members of Presidency of BiH, direct or indirect election or mix of those two methods, effectively blocked any progress of BiH toward EU.


In the meantime, Bosnia become social ticking bomb, with unemployment rate of  27,5 percent and decreasing standard of living with average net monthly salaries hovering around  420 euro for years while cost of living continuously were rising.


Pointless and endless debates about new way of electing members of Presidency of BiH, or how to implement ruling of the European Court for Human Rights, were used as distraction to move attention from social issues  and at the same time to provide guarantee for local leaders that Bosnia will stay far away from EU as long as possible, without openly rejecting offer from Brussels.


Reason was simple, stepping closer to EU immediately would put on the table demand for establishing functional rule of law and processing in the courts corruption cases which inevitably will include top of the political hierarchy.


In the meantime, EU was trying to use “carrot and stick” approach with Bosnian politicians, counting that realistic chance for joining EU would be enough to push politicians to start with reforms. Although this approach worked quite well in other new member states, from Estonia to Bulgaria, in Bosnia it failed.


Then EU decided to try with “stick”, in the form of cutting EU funding, from budget support  to canceling funding for individual projects, hoping that this financial pressure will at lest push politicians that at least fulfill last remained mostly symbolic condition, to implement ruling of the European Court for human Rights. EU was counting on the fact that Bosnia is effectively  bankrupt surviving on loans from IMF and extensive borrowing on the internal market.


But EU miscalculated again, as politicians are last one to feel the pain, and didn’t show any interest to make expected reforms, which will bring Bosnia closer to the EU and improve life of citizens who elected them.


Finally, even the technocrats in the Brussels realized that they were played by Bosnian politicians, who mastered the art of creating unbridgeable divisions about any political issues and  raising it to the level of key national interests, effectively paralyzing country, with only goal of keeping status quo and staying in power at any cost.


Latest EU initiative, coined jointly by Germany and UK, with strong support by USA, put in front of the Bosnian politicians “offer which they can’t refuse”.


Political conditions, like constitutional changes for election of the members of the Presidency of the BiH,  on which EU insisted for years, now were put aside and left to be resolved later, at some better times.


Instead, only demand from Brussels is that governments and parliaments in BiH focus on economic and social reforms. As proof, will be enough written commitment by the leading politicians that they are going to put focus on  social and economic reforms, immediately.


In exchange, EU is ready to put Bosnia on the fast track for candidate status, where first step would be quick ratification of the SAA by EU.


Behind these latest attempt  from Brussels is calculation that this should  prevent Bosnian politicians that again use  “protection of  national interest”  as excuse to keep status quo and Bosnia far away from EU and rule of law.


Authors of the latest EU initiative for Bosnia now hope that after political pressure and silent financial sanctions didn’t worked, as Bosnian politicians personally seems to be immune on such kind of pressure and punishment, last chance is pressure from inside, from citizens, whose standard of living already at the bottom of the Europe, every day getting even lower.


So far, Bosnian politicians seems to be less enthusiastic then their counterparts in Brussels and in main European capitals when it come to bringing Bosnia  closer to EU.


Instead they seem to be calculating how realistic is chance that despite artificially created political and ethnic tensions, social and economic situation bring masses on the streets, what is warning which EU officials lately often repeat in their messages to the Bosnian political leaders .


If this last attempt to speed up Bosnian travel to EU fail, only losers will be ordinary citizens in Bosnia. But full price of keeping status quo and far away from EU,  will be felt in the form of poverty and extreme unemployment,  for many years to come.

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