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Bosnia and Herzegovina

#BiH: Is EU membership for Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina really worth it?

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2kdp3rsWhen it comes to the EU credentials of two countries of the former Yugoslavia, the New Year must appear to have started on a positive note, with a visit by the top EU official charged with overseeing future enlargement of the 28-member bloc. European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn was in Montenegro on Sunday and concluded his mini tour of the region by visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) on Monday (9 January), writes Martin Banks.

Hahn reiterated the commitment of the European Union to support the country's EU perspective.

But is such an apparently optimistic outlook really merited?

It is a pertinent question given the very questionable progress, or lack of it, made by both countries towards meeting the requirements for becoming the next members of the EU club.

Take, for example, Bosnia, the weakest state in the region, where both Serbs and Croats are mounting a concerted challenge to the Dayton peace accords, the delicate set of compromises that hold the country together.

Ethnic and political divisions in BiH deepened throughout 2016 as the country struggled to cope with continued political deadlocks as well as a number of controversial events, such as the illegal referendum held in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska, as well as several high-profile war-crimes trials and arrests.

Bosnia, 20 years since the end of the bitter Balkans war, remains politically and ethnically divided country, with an equally divided media, in which all three ethnic groups have problems facing war crimes committed by their own members.

Even so, the European Union’s 28 member pledged in September to accept the membership application submitted by BiH back in February 2016. The avis, as it is known in EU jargon, will reflect the extent to which BiH succeeds in implementing much-needed reforms, especially in the area of rule of law and public administration.

On Monday, a European Commission spokesman said the results of last October’s local elections and of the referendum in Republika Srpska “serve as powerful reminders” of the potential traps still looming on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU track. There are, according to international High Representative Valentin Inzko, the peace envoy for Bosnia, also concerns that separatists pushing to split up Bosnia along ethnic lines could endanger its bid to join the EU and force international powers to intervene. He said: "We have on one side integration into Europe and at the same time disintegration at home.”

For BiH, several fundamental questions remain, including: How does Bosnia and Herzegovina plan to address on-going institutional and political dilemmas? What role should the EU and other international actors play in assisting the country advance towards accession?

The picture is hardly much brighter in neighbouring Montenegro where EU commissioner Hahn met the newly appointed PM Dusko Markovic and leaders of opposition parties at the weekend.

This, it should be recalled, is the same Montenegro where on last year’s election day access to two popular mobile messaging apps was shut down. As well as the temporary discontinuation of mobile phone messaging services, the autumn’s parliamentary election was marred by an atmosphere of instability and fear partly stemming from allegations of an attempted coup. Multiple electoral irregularities were reported (ballot stuffing, threats, physical abuse), leading the opposition to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the new government. Leaders from the Democratic Front even travelled to Germany to drum up support for their cause, meeting with Ditmar Nitan, the Bundestag’s rapporteur for Montenegro. Nitan expressed his deep concern at the situation in the country and bemoaned the treatment of the opposition in the elections.

Montenegro was the smallest republic of the former Yugoslavia (SFRY) and became an independent state only ten years ago. A constant feature of the country’s elections has been Milo Dukanovic, former prime minister and the leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and undoubtedly Montenegro’s most influential politician. He has been in power for the past 27 years, alternating between the post of prime minister and president. Following the October elections, Dukanovic stepped down in favour of his closest ally, Dusko Markovic, a former intelligence chief. Many expect Dukanovic to stage a comeback – as he did many times in the past – and run for president in 2018.

However, Srda Pavlovic argues that the post-election endorsement of Dukanovic by the EU and US is exacerbating distrust in western institutions among Montenegro’s civil society. Pavlovic who teaches modern European and Balkan history at the University of Alberta, said: “What we are witnessing in Montenegro is the slow build-up to a dangerous political, institutional, and parliamentary crisis. The congratulatory messages about “the democratic character of the election process” which came from Brussels (Johannes Hahn and Federica Mogherini) and from the US Embassy to Montenegro do nothing to disperse the view, increasingly rooted among opposition politicians and civil society, that the West is complicit in the highly dubious ruling methods adopted by Dukanovic and his party.”

Elsewhere, a report discussed only last month by the European Parliament’s influential Budgetary Control Committee revealed that the European Commission has wasted significant sums of money on fruitless projects in Montenegro. The document showed the Commission spent €640,000 on ‘anti-corruption’ projects, including an IT system the Montenegro authorities didn’t even use. In addition, €180,000 was spent on a year-long scheme collecting environmental data, which the authorities in Montenegro never used. Jayne Adye, director of cross-party Eurosceptic group Get Britain Out, said: “Time and time again the EU throws good money after bad. Notoriously corrupt Montenegro clearly has no intention of fixing its corruption issues, so why does the EU continue to funnel money to them?”

Her concerns are shared by the EPP group in the Parliament which reminded both BiH and Montenegro that the enlargement process requires “long-lasting commitment” from their side.

Sandra Kalniete, an MEP from Latvia and EPP group spokesman for foreign affairs, and Cristian Preda, a Romanian MEP, encouraged both countries to “deliver better on their commitments”, especially the observation of the rule of law. Kalniete said in November: “EU enlargement is and will be a long-lasting process requiring strong political commitment by the candidates and their ability to establish good neighbourly relations and to enhance regional cooperation instead of merely competing with each other.”

The EU, France and Germany have told leaders from both countries that the UK's exit from the EU would not stop aspirant countries from one day joining the fractured bloc

But, clearly, the goal of EU membership for Montenegro and, in particular BiH, remains a very long way off yet.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

#Coronavirus - €12 million to support Bosnia and Herzegovina's SMEs

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The European Investment Fund (EIF) and Raiffeisen Bank dd Bosna i Hercegovina (RBBH) have signed a guarantee agreement allowing the bank to increase its lending capacity to offer €12 million of new financing with improved terms and conditions to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The EIF's guarantee to RBBH is provided under the COSME Loan Guarantee Facility, as part of its coronavirus economic support package. This tool helps provide working capital to European SMEs for the recovery.

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton (pictured) said: “Small and medium-sized enterprises are heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic. We reacted very quickly to provide them with immediate liquidity. Thanks to this rapid action, the coronavirus measure under the COSME Loan Guarantee Facility is already available in more than 20 European countries. With today's agreement SMEs in Bosnia and Herzegovina will benefit from the EU support for recovery as well.”

For more information, see this press release.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

#Dodik - #Bosnia-Herzegovina is 'doomed to become failed state' if Dayton is ignored

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The leader of Bosnia’s Serb population, Milorad Dodik (pictured), is heading into the final hours of a bitterly fought election campaign defending the Dayton Accord agreement and accusing others of ignoring it, writes Martin Banks.

It is 20 years since the agreement was reached in Dayton, Ohio to end a conflict that cost some 100,000 lives.

The agreement, reached on November 21 1995 by the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, was complex compromise  and created a unified federal state in Bosnian and Herzegovina.

Resistance to Dayton by some political parties remains one of the most serious obstacles to the development of Bosnia and Dodik is calling on the guarantors of the Dayton agreement – the EU, the U.S. and Russia – to enforce its provisions.

Dodik’s comments and reference to the accord come on the eve of Sunday’s national presidential and parliamentary elections in Bosnia.

He has been campaigning for greater autonomy while Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Covic has called for the creation of a separate Croat-run region.

The campaign has been awash with the sort of divisive ethnic rhetoric that helped trigger Bosnia's 1992-95 war, raising doubt whether the country will be able to pursue a path towards European Union and NATO membership after the vote.

Dodik, president of Republika Srpska, the Serbian half of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is campaigning to become one of the three members of the collective presidency prescribed by the Dayton agreement.

In recent weeks he has surprised observers by ditching talk of secession and instead calling on the guarantors of the Dayton agreement - the major western powers plus Russia -to enforce its provisions. He says Bosnia-Herzegovina is “doomed to become a failed state” if Dayton is ignored.

On Friday (5 October), a European Commission source told this website: “Continuing instability in Bosnia is the last thing anyone wants at the moment and adds to mounting questions about the future of the Western Balkan region.”

Distracted by Brexit and by internal divisions with regard to judicial changes in Hungary and Poland, the European Union is thought unlikely to want to fulfill promises made following the breakup of Yugoslavia to admit all its parts as EU members.

Dodik says he favours EU accession but views it as unlikely under current circumstances. He also believes he is being targeted by some in the western alliance because of his opposition to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s participation in Nato.

In January 2017, the US Treasury department sanctioned Dodik, accusing him of “actively obstructing the Dayton Accord”.

He has since dismissed the move as a politically-motivated “stab in the back” by officials who, he points out, had been appointed by the out-going Obama White House. He says he expects the Trump administration to “rectify the mistake” and remove him from the sanctions list in the near future.

In emailed responses to a series of questions put to him, Dodik told this website: “The Dayton agreement called for what is known as consociationalism. This meant that the three adversarial factions of the War would share the country, with none of the three in command. This is not what has happened. Instead, international bureaucrats, through the Office of the High Representative, are in command, and they unfailingly support the Bosniak faction.”

He argues that Dayton called for a highly decentralized structure with most governing authority devolved to the two constituent parts - his Serb Republic on the one hand and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other.

Each of the constituent entities has its own constitution and system of governance, he said.

The national Bosnia-Herzegovina government was always intended to be a light-weight component, he says, but instead has mushroomed from just 3,000 personnel in the year 2000 to more than 23,000 currently.

Dodik cites the words of Dayton’s chief architect, the late US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, in support of his views. Holbrooke and he disagreed on a number of issues, he says, but towards the end of his life, Holbrooke wrote: “Bosnia is a federal state. It should be organized as a federal state.

“A unitary government cannot exist, because the country would end up in conflict again. That is the reason why the Dayton Peace Agreement is probably the most successful peace agreement in the world in the recent past, because it acknowledged the reality.”

Dodik accuses the Office of the High Representative of acting as a proxy on behalf of the Bosniak community.

“The High Representative has no executive powers, yet he and his Office impose laws, displace democratically elected officials and interfere in the constitutionally-backed authorities,” he says. “He even interfered in the Constitutions of the constituent entities without any legal reason. Such interventionism has not contributed to stability, reconciliation and mutual trust.”

Appointed by a multinational steering group, the High Representative acts like an unelected colonial governor, he says. Dodik believes that unless the role of the Office of the High Representative is radically scaled back, governing institutions in both the constituent parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina will remain underdeveloped.

“This leads to discord and instability, exactly what the Dayton formula was intended to prevent,” Dodik says. “I want peace. We all want peace. But the current situation could lead us back to war.”

Doug Henderson, the former UK defence minister, agrees with Dodik. He said: “Implementing the Dayton agreement is a first step to co-existing in our increasingly linked world community. In the Balkans, stability will require a bonding with the European Union. Only then can economic progress and security be guaranteed.”

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Autonomy of the #Serb Republic crucial for Europe

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General elections will be held in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 7 October 2018, for the renewal of the national presidency and House of Representatives, an important date for both national and regional stability. On 28 September, President Milorad Dodik greeted an international delegation of current and former parliamentarians and political figures from Belgium, Austria and Italy at the presidential palace in Banja Luka.

President Dodik expressed concerns about the current state of the Serb Republic within the federal entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, highlighting some frictions between the two institutions. The Federation has recently tended to centralize power in Sarajevo, disavowing the relationship of equality established both within International Treaties and the Bosnian Constitution for a joint administration of the federal state, whilst the Croat Muslim constituents are trying to overbear the Serb constituents. The president made clear that the Serb Republic advocates only for the due respect of its prerogatives for the benefit of all. Dodik has also recounted the suffering of the Serbian people during the conflict of the early 90s, being the target of persecution and ill treatment. Some Serbs were also decapitated by the Muslims during the war: nonetheless, of the more than 4,500 Muslims who committed terrible crimes against humanity, none of them was persecuted, nor did a single international media report about it. "We don't advocate for any difference between citizens; we only want our rights and our lawful autonomy to be respected," said the leader of the Serb Republic. "We ask that no more foreign Judges be part of our Supreme Court: there's no need for it after so many years since the end of the conflict. We will ensure that Europe will be informed of our reality."

Government sources claimed that both the United States and the United Kingdom have heavily contributed to the electoral campaigns of the president's political rivals, as to make him lose and remove the so-called "bad" Russian influence from the Country. The president has also described the relationship with the Trump Administration as excellent, regardless of the attempts by some previously appointed public officials to undermine it. He also added that 85% of the US Serbs voted for President Trump in the latest presidential elections.

US officials would like to remove the concept of alternation between Serbs and Croat Muslims to the Presidency of the Federation, which is granted by the Constitution and International Treaties. This is unacceptable for the Serbian people, and we are paying the price for refusing to embrace this idea. The president concluded the meeting by thanking his guests and stating that the Serbs will never give up on their police force, their language, the name of their Republic and the enforcement of the Constitution. He ended by saying that the Serb Republic is - and will continue to be - the historical last line of defence against the Islamic invasion of the European continent, and today against the immigration towards the EU.

Following the meeting foreign representatives held a press conference by the Bosna Hotel in Banja Luka.

Former Austrian MP Johannes Hubner (FPO) declared that he had "the impression that unacceptable violations of the Constitution are being carried out in Bosnia Herzegovina and that Democracy means respecting the will of the people. If the EU institutions will continue to contest anyone who is chosen by the People in Europe and in the world, they would utterly break up with the citizens."

Along the same lines was the speech by belgian Senator and Flemish Parliament MP Frank Creyelman (Fiandria), who said: "We Flemish have so much in common with the Serb Republic, we fight for our autonomy. You Serbs have the great merit of having protected Europe from the Islamic invasion, and now of limiting immigration. Best wishes for your next elections."

Slovenian MP Zmago Jelincic Plemeniti has also said: "The Serb Republic is a state whose autonomy and must be guaranteed by the EU and US in particular. Considering European culture and its proximity, I would find it incredible if the EU were to support the Muslims instead. The Serb Republic has the utmost support from me and my party."

Former italian Senator Antonio Razzi began by stating how Europe will be able to continue to work only by changing into the United States of Europe. He also thanked President Dodik for the meeting, expressing the opinion that the development of the Serb Republic is due to the many years guidance of his President, who has always led it with the interests of his people in mind. He concluded by wishing the citizens the best for the upcoming elections, and - citing a famous italian saying - "You know the old way, but you don't know the new one and where it will lead you," hoping for the re-election of Dodik.

The last speech was by former secretary ofstate under the Berlusconi admnistration, Luca Bellotti, stating that he understood the delicate position of Bosnia Herzegovina inside the European picture, thanks to President Dodik's words. Bellotti thinks that the Union still has many problems with Italy and other EU countries, and that meeting such as the one with the Serb Republic and other similarly small but strategic realities are pivotal for the stabilization efforts in the Region and in Europe. "Thanks to this meeting, I will bring back home the message of the yearning for peace, stability and development that I found here," said Bellotti, wishing the Serb community all the best for the upcoming elections.

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