Census Bombshell adds to Bosnia's EU Woes

Balkan Insight
Publication date: 
Jun 22 2016

The assembly of Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, on Tuesday held an emergency session on decision of the state statistical agency to publish the results of Bosnia's 2013 census - without first agreeing on a shared methodology with Bosnian Serb experts.

After a heated debate, the assembly asked Bosnian State Statistical Agency to withdraw its decision to publish the results of the 2013 census, and asked the government of the entity to prepare a draft law that would allow publication of the census results by Republika Srpska autonomously.

Publication of the census, together with an agreement on the coordinating mechanism for Bosnia's accession process and adaptation of Stabilization and Association Agreement, SAA, are the three remaining key conditions for Bosnia to obtain EU candidate country status.

However, these three issues have been blocked by political quarrels for almost a year and recent efforts by Western diplomats and senior EU officials have failed to bring about a breakthrough.

Instead, local quarrels have only intensified amid the preparations for local elections scheduled for October.

Bosnian Serb presidency member Mladen Ivanic said last week that the announcement from the state statistical agency had appalled him, and indicated that he would now harden his position on other issues in response.

This week, media reported that Ivanic on June 15 rejected a request from the presidency’s Croat member, Dragan Covic, to hold a telephone conference between all three presidency members to discuss a proposed agreement on the second issue - adaptation of the SAA.

Marija Milic, spokesperson of Ivanic, told BIRN that Ivanic did not want to "blockade" the work of Bosnia's institutions.

"Ivanic just opposed the idea that the adaptation on the SAA being approved through an urgent procedure ... there is still time to approve the update of the SAA, and he wanted to seek the opinion of the government of RS," she said.

She added that the RS government would discuss the issue on June 27, but admitted that it is unclear what may happen if the RS government rejects the deal.

"In that case, [Ivanic] will probably decide what to do [during the next presidency session] on Monday," she continued.

The linking of two of the three key EU-related issues prompted Bosnian Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic to hold an extraordinary press conference on Tuesday.

He urged the Presidency to approve a report outlining proposed amendments to the SAA, and called for all those involved "to put aside their disagreements and personal ambitions.

"The next weeks will be crucial for Bosnia to proceed on the path of EU integration. On July 1, Slovakia will take the Presidency of the European Union, and their representatives have confirmed that they will solve the issue of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he said.

Zvizdic referred to a promise which the Slovak Foreign Minister, Bosnia's former High Representative, Miroslav Lajcak, recently made to Bosnian officials, pledging that if Bosnia met the three remaining conditions, Slovakia will persuade EU foreign ministers to give Bosnia the EU questionnaire by the end of July.

Even this promise was apparently not enough, however, to move Bosnian politicians to act more responsibly and make serious progress in regard to difficult and unpopular reforms. Instead, they have hardened their positions.

Western diplomats over the past month have tried to help all sides to reach a compromise and have suggested that the state parliament extend the deadline for publication of the census results until after the local elections.

All sides apparently agreed to this, local and international officials confirmed to BIRN, but then Velimir Jukic, the director of Bosnia Statistical Agency, on May 18 announced his decision to publish the results of the census.

The RS still hotly disputes the methodology used to define the number of permanent residents in the country.

This announcement infuriated Ivanic, who saw it as another attempt to cheat the Bosnian Serbs - and who also may have feared it could hurt his election chances, observers said.

Tanja Topic, a political analyst based in Banja Luka, said he and other Bosnian politicians are not acting transparently towards the EU.

"Bosnian politicians have not acted honestly with the EU and with their citizens," Topic said, suggesting that Ivanic's decision had a double motive.

"On one hand, that was a result of his anger about the decision taken by Velimir Jukic to unilaterally publish the results of the census ... on the other hand, Ivanic probably wants to show the RS public that he's protecting Republika Srpska and is not a traitor, as the government of RS claims he is," Topic said.


Rodolfo Toe and Srecko Latal


Source: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/deepening-political-crisis-block...