Rival Bosnia leaders agree to form government 10 months after vote

Current chairman and Serb member of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik (L) at a press conference, 18 June 2019. [EPA-EFE/SZILARD KOSZTICSAK]

Bosnia’s rival Serb, Croat and Bosniak leaders agreed on Monday (5 August) to form a central government 10 months after a general election, reaching a compromise about Bosnia’s integration into NATO which had been a key stumbling block.

The heads of the country’s three largest ethnic parties signed an agreement on the main principles for the government formation at a meeting facilitated by the EU mission in Bosnia and its EU Special Representative Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark.

“This agreement provides the conditions for the formation of the central cabinet … within the next 30 days,” Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia’s three-man inter-ethnic presidency who heads the Bosnian Serb ruling SNSD party, told a news conference.

“I think this is an important moment which allows us to move forward,” said Dodik.

But he also warned that unless the agreement has been implemented within agreed deadline, “that will mean that Bosnia is in a deep constitutional and political crisis and that its sovereignty will come into question”.

Bosnia’s complex government structure, based on ethnic quotas, allows each group to block key decisions.

The formation of the central cabinet has been blocked by the Bosniak and Croat members of the presidency who had insisted that a Serb prime minister-designate, who will come from the SNSD, should plead to continue Bosnia’s path towards NATO integration.

The SNSD has, in turn, blocked the work of the national parliament.

EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic welcomed the deal as “an important step forward.”

“The formation of a government is also crucial for the country’s advancement in the European Union integration process,” she said in a statement.

Kocijancic urged the leaders “to proceed with the formation of authorities and to enable the regular functioning of all institutions without further delay to ensure reform implementation in line with European standards and values.”
Among other things, the agreement signed now also includes a vague commitment to advancing Bosnia’s ties with the Western military alliance.

Dodik, who has preferred ties with Russia to those with the EU and NATO, has repeatedly threatened with the secession of the Orthodox Serb-dominated autonomous Serb Republic from Bosnia.

Bosnia also comprises the Federation dominated by Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats.

The Bosnian Serbs do not support Bosnia’s membership in NATO which bombed their positions, as well as their ally Serbia, during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

But under the agreement, the leaders confirmed they will “promote relations with NATO without prejudicing a future decision about the membership of Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

“Unless this document as agreed and signed has been implemented in the next 30 days, the SNSD will block the work of all institutions and nobody will be able to stop that, neither European or any other international institutions,” Dodik said.

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