Spat erupts as Bosnia prepares to apply for EU membership

Spat erupts as Bosnia prepares to apply for EU membership
By Denitsa Koseva February 11, 2016

The Bosnian government has adopted a coordination mechanism that is one of the key prerequisites for the country’s application to join the EU, prime minister Denis Zvizdic told a press conference on February 10.

The mechanism was adopted as Sarajevo prepares to send its formal membership application on February 15. However, Zvizdic’s announcement has angered officials in the Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia’s two autonomous entities, who say they were not consulted on the move.

In January the commissioner in charge of European neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations, Johannes Hahn, said that Bosnia needs to set up working mechanisms for coordination with the EU and to adjust its Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) following Croatia’s entry into the bloc, in order make a credible application for EU membership.

The coordinating mechanism defines the communication between the governments of the two entities, the state-level cabinet and the EU.

At the press conference, Zvizdic denied reports by local daily Nezavisne Novine that the government had secretly adopted the coordination mechanism. “We adopted the mechanism at a special session on January 26… There is no secret, the document was released later in order to provide the entities time to become familiar with the document,” Zvizdic said.

Zvizdic also says the prime ministers of the two entities gave a positive feedback on the text at a meeting in Banja Luka last week.

However, the government of Bosnia’s smaller entity, Republika Srpska, claims that the document has not been coordinated with its government. The Republika Srpska’s prime minister Zeljka Cvijanovic claims that Zvizdic has not been honest with the entity level prime ministers, saying that he will provide them a working version of the coordination mechanism and hiding the fact that the text has already been adopted.

“It is unacceptable that the chairman of the council of ministers, Denis Zvizdic, says the text of the decision on the coordination mechanism, which has been adopted by the council of ministers, has been sent to the entities for information. His task was not to inform the entities’ governments with the adopted text but to include the entities’ authorities in the discussions so that, in the end, the text is adopted on all levels,” Nezavisne Novine quoted Republika Srpska’s prime minister Zeljka Cvijanovic as saying.

The other entity in Bosnia, the Muslim-Croat Federation, has not yet reacted.

In the past two weeks, the Bosnian authorities have been giving strong signals about their commitment to EU membership. Zvizdic said that the country is willing to solve as soon as possible the other hurdle to its application – adjustment of its SAA to take into account Croatia’s entry into the bloc.

The country’s SAA entered in force on June 1, 2015, but was signed in 2008, before Croatia’s entry to the union. In January, the European Parliament suspended Bosnia’s trade privileges as the country had failed to adjust its SAA. Previously, Bosnia was allowed to export duty-free certain goods to the EU and the bloc was its main trading partner.

Bosnia used to be one of Croatia’s main export markets. After joining the bloc in July 2013, Croatia had to leave CEFTA and temporary lost its customs tariffs privileges. As a consequence, its exports to Bosnia fell significantly.

In addition to the dispute over the coordination mechanism, Republika Srspka seems unwilling to agree on the adjustment of the SAA. Earlier in February, the entity’s government issued a statement saying that an adjustment of the SAA would seriously harm its agricultural sector and that agricultural products with proven sensitivity should remain protected by the duty regime until Bosnia’s entry into the EU.