The best way for Bosnia and Herzegovina…

EU-facilitated constitutional reform process.


© photocredit


It’s not just about the economy: Bosnia and Herzegovina needs a Loya Jirga


Erwan Fouéré Steven Blockmans,This year, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) will mark two anniversaries that will evoke painful memories of its tortured past. It will be twenty years since the tragedy of Srebrenica See. . and the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement. See. . The best way for the country to honour the memory of those who died and to pay its respects to history would be to launch an EU-facilitated constitutional reform process. If the EU itself does not take the initiative, the country’s leaders will continue to fiddle, while the fundamental economic and political weaknesses in the country will remain. Rather than relying on the political elites to work through the dysfunctional state structures, which they have abused for years, the reform should take the form of a national dialogue process involving all sectors of society – a Balkan version of Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga (Pashto for grand council). See.

The shortcomings of the EU’s ‘renewed approach’ towards BiH

It was thanks, not to the EU, but rather to a joint British-German initiative in November of last year that a way out of the standstill towards EU integration was devised in return for a solemn commitment from the country’s leadership to undertake substantive reforms. This initiative was subsequently endorsed by the EU, with the December Council inviting both High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini and the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn “to continue engaging with the BiH leadership to secure at the earliest its irrevocable written commitment to undertake reforms in the framework of the EU accession process See. “.

That it took several weeks before the solemn commitment was agreed and subsequently endorsed by the Bosnia and Herzegovina Parliament on February 23rd during the visit of the HR/VP to Sarajevo, her second visit since taking up office last November, is a reflection of the difficulties that continue to challenge the country’s leadership in consensus-building.

Nevertheless, at its meeting on March 16th, the Foreign Affairs Council welcomed this development and called on the leadership “to fully uphold its commitments and obligations, including those relating to the adaptation of the forthcoming SAA (Stabilisation and Association Agreement), See. and to remain engaged with the European Union under the renewed approach and maintain the positive momentum by developing an initial agenda for reforms in consultation with the European Union”.

The General Affairs Council of April 21st gave the green light for the formalisation of the conclusion and entry into force of the SAA on June 1st. This is certainly a welcome development in maintaining some momentum in the country’s EU integration process. The much-needed economic reforms and the focus on strengthening the rule of law and proper functioning of state institutions, combined with an injection of new funds under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) , See. if well managed, should help to keep Bosnia and Herzegovina on track in fulfilling its SAA commitments.

However the question arises whether this will be sufficient to tackle the deep-rooted constitutional issues facing Bosnia and Herzegovina. Already ten years ago, the International Commission on the Balkans pointed to the “dysfunctional nature of the country”.

The need for a national dialogue process

The implementation of the SAA will need to be accompanied by a more determined and constant ‘hands-on’ role by the EU at the political level. The solemn commitment agreed to in February is already receding into the background. Political squabbling and personality differences between the political leadership in the country, already evident in the formation of the new government after the elections, could undermine the performance of the coalition government – a further reminder of the dysfunctional nature of the constitutional architecture handed down from the Dayton Agreement.

What is needed is a national dialogue process that revises and solidifies the temporary structures put in place two decades ago, and which would be facilitated by both the EU and supported by the US. Within the EU there are some who dismiss this approach by pointing to the failed attempt ten years ago to launch such a process. But this is not a valid argument. The problems facing the country have become more severe, and as was seen in recent years, there is increasing alienation between the population and the country’s leadership. All the more reason for a more inclusive reform process. Rather than working through the corrupted state structures, the EU should expand participation in the political transition of the country and move away from elite-level deal-making by allowing diverse interests to participate in the negotiations.

The legitimacy and effectiveness of a national dialogue process for Bosnia and Herzegovina will be strongly influenced by its design. In this respect, it is crucial for the EU to arrive at the right answers to the following questions:
1. What is the relationship of the national dialogue to the existing federal and de-centralised state institutions? What is its mandate and what are its decision-making powers?

2. How large should the national dialogue be? Which constituencies need to be included and how should their representatives be selected?

3. Should the decisions of the national dialogue be ratified by the existing institutions or should its decisions be final? See: National Dialogue Processes in Political Transitions

These questions should be answered by the key political actors through negotiations facilitated by the EU. After all, the main political figures must be persuaded to buy into the national dialogue mechanism, in order to preempt them from trying to wreck the ongoing process and/or its outcome. Also, in cases where the dialogue assumes greater powers than originally envisaged, the risk of backlash is all too real. Therefore, to the extent possible, agreement on the mandate should precede the commencement of the dialogue. Thus, the parties need to agree on a set of principles that should govern the transition, which the key political actors and the EU should then seek to consolidate through an inclusive and participatory process.
The preliminary talks will no doubt be messy and difficult. Therefore, it is essential that the EU, actively supported by the US, stays the course and reminds the political elite of the solemn declaration they made in February. An all-inclusive dialogue with the active participation of civil society throughout the country is the only way to restore confidence in the country’s capacity to resolve the political and economic challenges facing it. Download the full document.

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Related: US Point of View

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