EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn cancelled his visit to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo after leaders of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska refused to sign the action plan on reforms aimed to unblock EU integration and secure new funding from international financial institutions.
According to the plan, the country's two entities and state government were due to sign the reform agenda at a meeting with Hahn at a roundtable in Sarajevo on Thursday.
“I very much regret the postponement of the roundtable,” Hahn said in his press statement on Wednesday night.
“I urge all political and institutional leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina at all levels to do their utmost in order to finalise and start implementing the Reform Agenda that this country so urgently needs to prosper and to move closer to the EU.”
In the past two days Bosnia’s state government, the Council of Ministers, as well as the government of the Bosniak and Croat-dominated entity of BiH Federation adopted the document.
However, Republika Srpska's President Milorad Dodik and Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic refused to sign the same text of the action plan. Over the past 48 hours EU officials and Western diplomats tried to negotiate with Dodik to find a compromise, and Hahn’s visit was initially put on hold.
However, Dodik finally rejected the document and announced it at his press conference in Banja Luka on Wednesday afternoon.
“The (reform) agenda does not exist for us. I am the president of the RS and I represent it, and I give no consent for this (document), whatever some people may think,” Dodik said, after which Hahn’s visit was officially cancelled.
Hahn stated that the country “faces serious socio-economic challenges which require swift and bold decisions and actions putting the interest, stability and prosperity of the country and its citizens beyond party interests.”
“I call on all Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities to stand by their commitments, including to the European Union but most importantly towards their citizens.
“I call on the government of Republika Srpska to take similar steps as a matter of utmost priority. This reform agenda is the result of extensive consultations among all levels of government in the country,” Hahn said in his statement, in which he also welcomed the fact that the governments on the state level and in BiH Federation have adopted the action plan.
“The European Union is ready to support this reform agenda with substantial funds. However, these can obviously only be committed in case the reform agenda is properly adopted and implemented,” he added.
A Bosnian Serb official told BIRN that the main reason why Dodik has rejected the action plan was the fact that it refers to possible future privatisation of power companies, which Dodik wants to keep under his control.
This development represents a major blow for the new EU initiative for Bosnia, which was launched last year by Germany and United Kingdom, which changed the sequence of events in order to simplify and speed up Bosnia’s EU accession process, as well as to make it more difficult for local politicians to hide behind their political manoeuvres.
However many local and international experts and officials criticized this approach and warned that EU and US needed much stronger and more concrete political, diplomatic and financial efforts and resources to break through local leaders’ radical agendas.
Rejection of the reform action plan also represents a major threat for Bosnia’s financial stability in the fourth quarter, and threatens the political, economic and social stability in the country in the coming months.
With its state, entity, regional and local budgets depleted, Bosnia is fully dependent on financial support from the EU and international financial institutions, which have been offered to Bosnia before the end of the year under the condition that the country fulfils agreed steps, including signing of the reform action plan as well as adoption of highly disputed labour law by entities’ parliaments.