On August 14, Member of the European Parliament and Social-Democratic group President Hannes Swoboda stated in an interview with Bosnian daily Dnevni Avaz that “the EU has clearly said it wants to negotiate with one country, and only one country has perspective to join the EU and that is Bosnia and Herzegovina.” The statement, targeted at the larger debate within Bosnia on whether entities or the state, together or separately, should negotiate with the EU regarding potential membership, has provoked strong reaction from politicians in Republica Srpska, one of the two Bosnian entities. Milorad Dodik, President of ethnically-Serbian RS, stated on Wednesday that “if the European Union wants us to choose between the high level of autonomy that the Republic of Srpska has and a Bosnian-Herzegovinian European path, they need to be aware that no matter what the future brings, we will choose autonomy and the Republica Srpska”.
Despite an on-going domestic debate and EU criteria yet to be met, Bosnian politicians hope to put forward a credible application for EU membership by the end of this year and to accelerate the country’s slow but steady EU progress. According to the European Commission however, in order to have a ‘credible application’, Bosnian politicians will need to agree on amending the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina; changes would not only allow for all Bosnian citizens to be eligible for election to the Bosnian Presidency and the House of Peoples, but would also see an internal reorganisation in order to streamline accession negotiations through a single actor. Bosnia is a highly decentralised state with few competences, such as foreign and trade policy or defence, maintained at the state level; agriculture, health and education policies, important aspects to EU accession talks, are decided upon at the entity or lower, cantonal, level. Bosniak politicians had hoped that the EU’s demand to negotiate with one country would be the needed push for the transfer of competences to the state level and creation of new institutions, such as the state Ministry of Agriculture, Health and Education; their Serbian counterparts, as evident from Dodik’s comments, however look to stand firm with regards to securing a stronger role for entity institutions in the accession process. Though Serbian politicians have shown willingness in the past to agree to coordinating bodies at the state level, a decisive role for entity institutions remains non-negotiable as they look to maintain the high level of autonomy realised by Bosnian entities.
Given current divisions, a ‘credible’ Bosnian membership application in 2012 is seemingly unlikely and should not be expected before 2014, as highlighted by EU Special Representative Peter Sørensen. Though candidacy status would mean additional access to EU funds, it remains to be seen if the draw of Brussels will be enough to entice Bosnia and Herzegovina to resolve its internal politics or whether, like Serbia, talks will linger.
Adnan Ćerimagić, Research Associate