By Vedran Džihić - 09 November , 2023

BiEPAG Reacts: EC Country Report 2023 on Bosnia and Herzegovina

BiEPAG Reacts: EC Country Report 2023 on Bosnia and Herzegovina

Imagine there is a major news but the large majority of people in a country barely notice it. The process of EU integration for Bosnia and Herzegovina for years resembled the metaphor of the ever-repeating scenes and events like in the famous Hollywood movie “Groundhog Day”. It is no surprise that for years annual reports of the EU Commission on the Enlargement progress of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been almost “non-events”, or at best events, which simply would queue in the endless stream of news and events with no real effects on the political situation in the country nor on daily lives of Bosnian citizens.

However, each year there are new notes to the “Groundhog day”, rather new shades of bureaucratic gray. This time it was most notable the discussions about what and how the EU Commission wants to recommend to Bosnia and how the verb “recommending” will be used and interpreted. The recommendation to open EU accession negotiations with Bosnia is what many optimists were asking for from the EU commission – give the country the political signal that it is wanted by the EU. If Ukraine and Republic of Moldova will start negotiating with major territorial disputes in their countries, why shouldn’t Bosnia be able to get the same, would be the argument.

The critiques would argue that any reward given to Bosnian government for very little, or rather none substantial reforms completed thus far, and against the background of very substantial attacks on the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina from one of the major coalitions partners forming the same government, Milorad Dodik, would be ridicules. And of course – the EU’s answer became a middle ground between these two positions “The Commission recommends opening of EU accession negotiations with Bosnia Herzegovina once the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria is achieved,” the president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said in Brussels.

Commission mentioned March 2024, when the next check-up on Bosnia will be done and further decisions will be made. The confusion was even bigger on Elon Musk’s platform X: where the EU Commission tweeted it “will recommend” the opening of accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina once the necessary level of compliance is achieved, only to correct itself few hours later when tweeting that the EU Commission “recommends” the same.

The difference between “will recommend” and “recommends” immediately became the focus of domestic debate while neglecting the substantive issues – a) what have the Bosnian authorities managed to do in terms of reforms recently and b) is there political will in Bosnia to do it. Johann Sattler, EU ambassador and EUSR in Bosnia, tweeted that “The door to the EU is open with political will.”

Reading the new BiH report we see that the EU acknowledges that few smaller steps, almost baby-steps given the sheer amount of reforms necessary to be adopted and implemented, have been done in the last few months. The EU Commission acknowledges the effort of the governing coalition. Yet, the effort does not equal results, and the reform to-do list remains still extensive incl. major stumbling blocks in the field of judiciary.

The general assessment of BiH preparedness for the EU and reforms reads similarly to all previous reports – BiH is in almost all area seen somewhere “between an early stage and some level of preparation”. In some fields like in the fight against corruption EU is explicit – “no progress was made in the fight against corruption.”

The EU also notices “backsliding in guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom of media”. But than Milorad Dodik and policies in the RS are explicitly mentioned, underlining that the worsening scenario in the Republika Srpska, including talks of secession and independence, poses a significant obstacle to EU integration attempts.

And here comes the major paradox and the answer to Sattler’s question of the political will – Bosnia is called up by the EU to deliver on reforms by the government which major part is made off the politician (Milorad Dodik) and party (SNSD) accused by the very EU of posing a significant obstacle to EU integration attempts. It would equal issuing an appeal to a thief of famous arts pieces to stop stealing while keeping him in Louvre without any security in the room and with open doors of the museum so he can easily walk out.

Dodik himself delivered the answer in an interview for the Croatian weekly “Nacional”, whichwas published almost at the same time with EU reports on Enlargement. Following his statements about the necessity to form Greater Serbia only days ago, in “Nacional” he again underlined his plans for an independence of the RS. This time he added that at least 15 countries would immediately recognize Republika Srpska as an independent country.

Dragan Covic, the HDZ leader, seconded Dodik in a way by arguing at the beginning of this week that HDZ aims at bringing the topic of electoral law changes and “legitimate representation” to the Government coalitions table within next few weeks. The metamorphosis from ethnopolitical agitation against the state towards new pragmatism and EU-reforms that many in the EU were hoping for last year when the new coalition was formed, is simply not materializing.

The newest EU report on BiH, cherished by some Bosnian politicians as a major step towards the EU membership, paradoxically reveals the whole misery of Bosnian EU integration process. The EU is essentially delaying the process while seemingly offering the next step (beginning of accession negotiations) that under current political circumstances simply can’t be taken. Bosnian citizens are increasingly losing patience and choosing rather to try to emigrate to the EU than to wait for the EU to materialize for them in their home country.

Bosnians are known for the ability to cope with biggest possible despair but practicing dark humor and embracing the Bosnian style of “subur”. “Ma samo polako, kad bude biće“ (Just take it easy, it will happen when it happens“), a phrase often used to express this specific form of patience, endurance and to some extent also resignation to one’s fate, very much describes the EU sentiments of Bosnians.

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