With a vote in the Bosnian parliament yesterday (16 April) to reform the country’s police forces, the Balkan state cleared the final hurdle towards signing a pre-membership deal with the EU.
The vote in the Bosnian upper house ended years of dispute among the leaders of the Bosnian Croat, Muslim and Serb communities about the extent to which they should integrate the country’s ethnically-separated police forces. The lower house had already approved the reform bills last week (10 April).
Since the war in the early nineties, Bosnia consisted of two autonomous entities: the Serb Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation. Both are linked by weak central institutions, while each has its own parliament, government and police.
The EU had called for the unification of the police forces, but the Bosnian Serbs insisted on retaining control of policing in their province.
The final agreement between Brussels and Sarajevo, which has just been approved, foresees the setting up of several new state-level police coordination bodies, without immediately affecting the autonomy of the two forces. The new bodies are meant to assume their authority over the separate police forces one year after the completion of the country’s constitutional reform process. But this has not yet begun.
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn welcomed Parliament’s decision, saying that it “paves the way towards signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement” (SAA). This “will not only bring practical benefits in trade and thus for the economy, but it is also the gateway towards candidate country status for EU accession,” Rehn pointed out.
The High Representative and EU Special Representative for Bosnia, Miroslav Laj?ák, said he that he was confident that the country would sign the SAA and eventually become member of the EU.
“Once embarked on this road no country has failed to become a member of the EU. This decision sends a strong signal to the EU and to investors that BiH is making progress and is open for business,” said Laj?ák.
The EU has thus far signed SAAs with three other Balkan countries, namely Albania, Macedonia and Croatia. It hopes to eventually do the same with Serbia. Elections on 11 May will be crucial in determining whether Serbia stays on the EU path.
Remarks such as yesterday’s by Serbia’s nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who said he rejected the possibility of signing of the SAA until the EU revises its Kosovo policy, instead confirm the EU’s concerns that the country might turn its back towards the EU, which Rehn called “a road to nowhere”.