Making Bosnia and Herzegovina’s transformation irreversible

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Despite the success of recent reforms and a burgeoning economy, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH) has yet to overcome a number of hurdles on its path to EU accession, argues Lidija Topic in a June 2008 policy brief for the European Policy Centre.

With the adoption of two long-awaited police laws by the BH parliament in April 2008 and the subsequent signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in June 2008, the author believes that BH has managed to win “promotion” in EU circles. 

Topic believes that “significant progress has been made” and vital institutions have been created in BH between the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) in 1995 and the signing of the SAA in 2008. 

However, the 1995 pact did not provide a framework for “an easily governable state” or give equal rights to BH’s citizens, argues Topic. “Indeed, Dayton ‘froze’ the conflict and created two entities: Republika Srpska, on 49% of the territory, and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 51%,” she explains. 

The DPA only allows Serb members of the BH Presidency to be appointed by Republika Srpska, and Croat or Bosniak members by the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is in direct contravention to the European Convention of Human Rights, claims Topic. She deduces from this that “discrimination thrives at the municipal level.” A major cause of this is the lack of a Constitution [it is presently still an annex of the DPA], which failed to get a parliamentary majority by two votes in 2006, she explains. 

The legacy of the Dayton pact – the multi-ethnic character of BH – is a “threatening problem instead of a tested solution,” claims Topic. She notes that a recent UN report shows how only 7% of the population trusts other ethnic groupings within the country. 

But Topic believes that the signing of the SAA marks a change for the better as it heralded a “contractual relationship with the EU” for BH and symbolised a “crucial building block towards making its transformation irreversible”. 

“Doors have been opened and a seat reserved for BH at the European table,” she says. 

The national GDP grew more than 8% in 2007 and, despite an unemployment rate of 30%, the author sees its macroeconomic prospects improving. She claims a broad public consensus backs the EU option as the best one for the future of the country. 

But a key problem is the slowness of reform in the country, with only 20% of the legislative objectives for 2007 achieved, she observes. This has had a knock-on effect in various sectors: lower foreign direct investment, higher unemployment, unreformed social, health and pension sectors as well as long-term poverty, says Topic. 

For BH to evolve, it needs societal change, she argues, but election campaigns are invariably reminding the populace that the conflict did not end but that it was merely frozen after Dayton. 

“Kosovo has not yet been recognised by all 27 EU member states and until that happens, signing an SAA with Kosovo will be impossible,” Topic explains. She hopes that Croatia’s forthcoming accession to the EU will “have a positive domino-effect on BH’s transformation.” 

She concludes by saying that since BH only signed the SAA in 2008, the next step will be to carry out the necessary reforms to successfully apply for EU membership. 

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