Thought Leader: Željka Cvijanović: Bosnia-Herzegovina

The EU must ensure that it takes a 'realistic approach' towards Bosnia-Herzegovina; writes Željka Cvijanovic.

By Zeljka Cvijanovic

24 Feb 2014

The idea of becoming an EU member state is widely accepted throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) but the history of strong international interventionism mainly by the office of the high representative (OHR) has generated deep suspicion of so-called "constitutional reform" advocated by some international organisations and NGOs. Our international partners must take account of the factual reality of BiH when considering reforms. Ethnicity does matter in BiH and the more this factor is ignored by the international community, the more difficult it will be to overcome the country's divisions and take positive steps towards reform.

BiH is essentially split into two 'autonomous entities', the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. This is one of BiH's realities. The current violent demonstrations in BiH are a real concern but so-far have demonstrations been restricted to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and there has been no spill over to the Republika Srpska; however, the situation is obviously sending out a negative signal to potential investors in the country. Even more damaging is the fear that the protests could increase the level of mistrust and misunderstanding among the country's different ethnic communities.

But turning to the country's future, the EU was unfortunately in OHR's shadow for long time and it is the high time to be more engaged in BiH. It's a pretty visible and clear constitutional set-up, though many tend to describe it as complicated. It is complicated to a certain extent but that doesn't mean it cannot work. Everything can be workable if there is enough political will. But in BiH's case there is a hidden agenda by political parties whose ultimate goal is to create a political system at the state level which will allow one of the national groups to dominate or practice discrimination against the others. The best example of that behaviour is the never ending process of proposals to change the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina which have come in many forms and from different sources.

It's the right time to carefully and realistically consider what concept for BiH is actually feasible. I see BiH as a country composed of the two entities exercising their full powers as granted by the constitution. I see the role of these entities - primarily speaking of the Republika Srpska - as a normal European region with legislative, executive and judicial power functioning within a decentralised state. This concept already exists in the EU and as the Republika Srpska we want to continue the process of harmonising our legislation with the EU's and preparing our structures and institutions, in a way that can set a good example to the rest of the country.

Obviously, we cannot change the constitutional set up and transform BiH from a decentralised state into a centralised one. The political will to achieve this does not exist and then a more logical concept would be to make all the country's levels fully operational, fully aware of their European obligations and then put it together in one package through a proper coordination mechanism that would enable us to move simultaneously and equally towards the EU, but within the concept of the state.

Brussels needs to recognise the political and constitutional reality of the country and appreciate that imposing artificial ideas or solutions will not work in BiH. It is important that the EU takes a realistic approach towards BiH; that it appreciates the realities and understands the complexity of the internal relations of this country and I do believe that the EU is capable of taking the right decisions.

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