Bosnia’s human rights record hinders EU talks

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Bosnia and Herzegovina is falling behind on commitments to human rights and the rule of law, making its chances of joining the European Union increasingly remote, according to EU officials and lawmakers.

In a debate yesterday (23 May), members of the European Parliament agreed that the former Yugoslav republic had not gone far enough in fighting corruption, implementing European rights law or carrying out constitutional reforms.

"Bosnia and Herzegovina is unfortunately still lagging behind other countries in the region," said German MEP Doris Pack (EPP) who is one of the most prominent legislators on enlargement issues.

"We must see much stronger commitment and willingness of political elites to join forces on a clear vision of the country's overall direction ... The cancerous corruption must also be depleted with much more vigour."

Of the republics that emerged from the break-up of Yugoslavia, Slovenia joined the EU in 2004, Croatia will join in July, Montenegro has started accession talks, and Serbia and Kosovo are lining up to do so. Macedonia has been a candidate for accession since 2005.

But 18 years after the end of its war, Bosnia is still struggling with a complex and unwieldy sub-division into a Serb Republic and a Muslim-Croat Federation under a weak central government, and with the corrosive impact of corruption.

"The European Union can only facilitate. It is up to the political leaders of the country to step up to the challenge in a genuine engagement," Štefan Füle, the European enlargement commissioner, told the parliament on Wednesday.

"Do I agree that the time has come for the alarm to ring for Bosnia and Herzegovina? Yes," said Füle, who had already warned that Bosnia's EU accession bid could be "frozen".

Bosnia is being asked to change its constitution to better protect minorities, to implement a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights on equal rights of citizens to stand for election, and to reform its public administration.

Füle was particularly adamant about equal rights.

"You need to align the constitution with that decision, because without it you will be in breach of international commitments, and this has its consequences," he said. 

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