The EU should not give up on Bosnia and Herzegovina despite its ongoing internal divisions, yet the country must improve its legal system as governmental reforms simply fail as a result of corruption, Jan Havránek, an expert on security issues and a research fellow at the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI), told EURACTIV Czech Republic in an interview.
Jan Havránek is an expert on security issues and a research fellow at the PSSI.
He was talking to EURACTIV Czech Republic's Lucie Bednárová.
What does EU membership mean for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)?
EU accession would mean ending the long chapter that can be called 'Bosnia after Dayton'. This was a period full of uncertainty, crises and persisting political pressure among various ethnic groups. But let's turn from the past to the future. EU membership would mean political, legal and economic stabilisation – from which BiH is still far away. Unfortunately, the current economic situation in Europe is harming BiH because more than half of its exports are directed to EU countries, which have been hit by the crisis.
On the contrary, what could BiH bring to the EU enlargement process?
BiH is a country with a huge cultural heritage and rich ethnic diversity. It brings experience of the civil war in the 1990s, which was the bloodiest conflict since World War II. This could remind the EU – the biggest democratic union in the world – that peace is not self-evident and that we should take care to protect it.
Last but not least, this is a challenge for the European institutions, which are trying to find their 'modus vivendi' following the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. With each new member state, the institutions will get larger and this implies the threat of a deepening of the so-called 'democratic deficit'. This is not an argument against BiH's accession, but the rules are set in such a way and it is up to the EU to adjust the playing field for new members.
BiH is one of the least developed countries in the Western Balkans. In what fields should reforms be made in order to increase the country's chance of becoming a member of the EU?
It sounds like a cliché, but BiH needs to upgrade its judicial and legal system and fight corruption. Since 2008, when BiH received plans to liberalise its visa regime with the EU, the problem of corruption still persists. Any governmental reforms fail because of corruption. It is paradoxical that the removal of visas would have meant the disappearance of the field in which corruption has always flourished.
Moreover, BiH needs to harmonise two different legal systems within one state and improve cooperation between the two entities. It is necessary to manage key structural reforms that would lead to a better labour market situation and thus help ordinary citizens. Politicians must understand that their country needs reforms not because of EU accession, but because it is in the interests of BiH and its citizens.
In December last year, the EU lifted visa requirements for citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, but BiH was excluded from the process. EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, who recently visited the country, promised to lift the obligation very soon. Do you think this is realistic?
There are reasons for the exclusion of BiH from this 'exclusive Balkan club' and I described them a moment ago. It is a typical example of the 'carrot and stick' policy of the EU and in my opinion there is no shift in its policy.
Don't you think that the EU has double standards in its policy towards the Balkan countries?
I think in the case of the Balkans, the EU has to judge the situation very carefully. Each country that was part of the former Yugoslavia is in a way unique and specific – I mean this from a historical point of view. And the EU had different approaches with all of these countries. In 2008, it presented an ambitious plan for a fully integrated federal police in BiH. This proved to be unrealisable and the EU has started to concentrate on efficiency in police cooperation instead.
The 1995 Dayton Agreement put an end to the three-and-a-half-year war in BiH. But since then, it has been criticised for failing to respect basic principles of international law and some critics say that the territorial and political situation is continually unstable. What do you predict? What should we expect – the break-up of the country?
The break-up of BiH would definitely worsen the current situation in the country. Yes, the constitutional system is not perfect and maybe we can say it is even discriminatory, because it favours ethnic rights over civil ones. But in 1995, there was no other solution. The representatives of both ethnic groups should understand that the road towards prosperity cannot involve the independence of the Republika Srpska.
The constitutional reform that has been discussed for more than three years has now stopped and we must wait until next year for any breakthrough. BiH is losing its argument for EU membership but at the same time, the EU should not turn away. From this point of view, it is important that NATO launched its Action Plan for BiH which represents the first step towards full membership. We should wait for the results of the general election – scheduled for this autumn – to see what they indicate for the future development of the country.
BiH does not support an independent Kosovo. Could this mean complications for relations with the EU?
I wouldn't think so. The EU itself is not united on this question. Recognising the independence of Kosovo is not a current priority for BiH. It will recognise Kosovo after Serbia does, but we know that this problem [in Serbia] is a much more difficult one.
Will BiH become a member of the EU before Turkey?
It is really difficult to say. The accession of BiH into the EU would crown the integration of the Balkans into European structures, while Turkish membership would strengthen the strategic perspective. These are two very different questions.