Bosnia-Herzegovina and European integration
by Osman Topcagic
This is an edited version of the presentation made by Osman Topcagic, Ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina, to the regular monthly forum of The Bosnian Institute on 14 May 2001. Ambassador Topcagic, who has been a successful and highly regarded envoy of his country in London for the past three years, will be returning to work at the B-H foreign ministry in Sarajevo at the end of October 2001.
I should like my introduction tonight to be exactly that: an introduction, whose purpose, as always, is to encourage your own contributions to our discussion.
To begin with some good news, I want first to show you the new passport of Bosnia-Herzegovina. You may remember the meeting in New York in November 1999, when the B-H Presidency agreed to a single state border service and a single passport. It has taken a year and a half to prepare the necessary legislation and have the new passports printed and ready for use. The reason for introducing the new passport can be found on its cover, where the name of the country ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina’ is now printed in the Bosnian, Croat, Serb and English languages, and in the Latin and Cyrillic scripts. There is no longer any entity name. So instead of three different types of passport, Bosnia-Herzegovina now has just one, valid for the whole country and all its citizens.
It is not only of importance in itself that we have new passports - it is also a step forward towards closer relations with the EU. Why are our relations with the EU so important? Why does B-H want to be a member of the EU?
The EU is seen as a model in peace building; a model in cooperation among countries to achieve common goals, while respecting the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of each. The gradual construction of what has now become the EU has succeeded in resolving conflicts among countries that were almost constantly at war with one another over the past centuries. We strongly believe that, by accepting such European values, we can establish a proper framework both for internal relations and arrangements within B-H and for our relations with other countries in the region.
Obviously, to speak about our relations with the processes of European integration is a very broad subject, so I shall focus your attention here on three basic areas - our relations with the Council of Europe, our relations with the European Union, and some aspects of regional cooperation as viewed from Bosnia-Herzegovina - before concluding with some remarks on the recent events in Banja Luka and Trebinje.
COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Membership in the Council of Europe is seen as the first step on the road. Our first letter with a request for membership in the Council of Europe was sent in 1994. Based on that early application, Bosnia-Herzegovina was given special guest status in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and with that the possibility to participate in the work of certain committees and working groups. We opened an office in Strasburg, while for its part the Council of Europe opened an office in Sarajevo and is leading efforts to change some B-H legislation, particularly in relation to human rights, media and elections.
The Venice Commission, which is a body of the Council of Europe, has produced several reports at the request of the High Representative: considering, for example, whether the entity constitutions were compatible with the Constitution of B-H. The Commission also concluded that B-H rather than the entities had general responsibility for legislation on entity and municipal, as well as national, elections; and that B-H has the authority to establish specific courts at state level. And the Commission is assisting in reorganizing the mechanisms for protection of human rights, and has also been closely involved in drawing up an electoral law for B-H.
But membership in the Council of Europe also means the fulfilment of certain conditions on our part. These conditions, defined by the Council, relate to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, institutions, and particularly adoption of a permanent electoral law, as well as implementation of the Constitutional Court ruling that in B-H ‘everybody everywhere’ must enjoy constituent status.
The Council of Europe has two special rapporteurs, on political issues and human rights. It is during this week, in fact, that the special rapporteur on political issues is visiting B-H to prepare the Council’s latest report. And our foreign minister was invited to Strasburg at the end of last week to address his colleagues from the member countries.
Membership in the Council of Europe is now seen as an immediate priority in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and we believe that we shall achieve it in the autumn of this year.
The EU has been involved in our country since before the war. The initial mediation in the former Yugoslavia was by the EU, which then during the war continued with political mediation and also humanitarian assistance: the EU was a major donor of humanitarian assistance in that period.
Regarding the more formal aspect of our relations with the EU, I shall mention here some dates that can be seen as milestones. Consistently with EU policy, they relate not to B-H alone, but to the region.
EU initiatives for South-east Europe
The EU's first initiative aimed at stabilizing South-east Europe was the Royaumont Process, launched in December 1996 with the aim of supporting implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. It focused on promoting regional projects in the fields of civil society, culture and human rights. The Royaumont Process is now responsible for inter-parliamentary relations under the Stability Pact.
In April 1997 the EU General Affairs Council adopted a Regional Approach, establishing political and economic conditionality for the development of bilateral relations with the five countries in the region - Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, FRY and Macedonia. Conditions include respect for democratic principles, human rights, rule of law, protection of minorities, market economy reforms and regional co-operation.
In June 1998, under the British Presidency, the EU adopted a Declaration on B-H, according to which a joint Consultative Task Force between the EU and B-H was established. The main goal of the CTF is to assist B-H in preparing legislation compatible with the legislation of the EU, and in that way to prepare B-H for future full membership.
The European Commission proposed on 26 May 1999 the creation of a Stabilization and Association Process (SAP) for five countries from the region. The SAP provides a new framework for the development of relations between these countries and the EU. SAP is a tailor-made, progressive approach that takes into account the individual situation of each country. It includes:
- asymmetric trade liberalization;
- economic and financial assistance, budgetary assistance and balance of payment support;
- assistance for democratization and civil society;
- humanitarian aid for refugees, returnees and other persons of concern;
- co-operation in justice and home affairs;
- development of political dialogue.
Based on the decision from the Zagreb Summit of the EU and Western Balkans in November 2000, the EU has opened its markets for duty-free import from B-H and other countries in the region.
In March 2000, following the application of B-H for inclusion in SAP, the EU Road Map for B-H was published. The EU Road Map lays down eighteen essential steps to be completed by B-H before a feasibility study for its inclusion in the SAP can be undertaken by the EU. The Road Map is now the main issue in our contacts with the EU, so I shall present it in greater detail.
The conditions as defined by the European Commission fall into three groups:
A. Political Steps
1. Election Law
The B-H Parliament will adopt a permanent electoral law, to be followed by the necessary legislative amendments at entity level. Also an adequate budget for holding general elections will be provided.
Status: the electoral law has been discussed by the Parliamentary Assembly, but not yet adopted [it was eventually adopted in August 2001]. The proposal is that the electoral law should be adopted as it is, i.e. without elements reflecting the Constitutional Court ruling on equal rights of the three main ethnic groups throughout the territory of B-H
2. Civil Service Law
Status: a draft law has been prepared by the Ministry of Civil Affairs and submitted to the Council of Ministers for further consideration.
3. Permanent Secretariat for the B-H Presidency and Council of Ministers
4. Council of Ministers
New law for the Council of Ministers, including its internal reorganization in accordance with the ruling of the Constitutional Court.
5. Rules and procedures for the Parliamentary Assembly
6. Single passport. Central register for passports at the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Law on travel documents
Status: Done. In July 2000 a central register of passports established; amendments to the law on travel documents imposed by the High Representative; first diplomatic passport issued in November 2000
7. State border service: budget; phased implementation of the law
Status: Done. Four border crossings (Sarajevo airport, Iza…iƒ, Zvornik and Doljani) established last year, another eight this year
8. Constitutional Court of B-H: to be financed from budget
Status: Done (in part) - 100,000KM still to be covered
B. Economic Steps
1. Payment Bureaux - to be dismantled by the end of 2000, responsibilities to be transferred to the Central Bank and commercial banks
2. State Treasury: law on state treasury
3. Trade barriers between the entities: obstacles to creation of a single internal market to be removed
Status: Done in part (a certain harmonization in trade regulations has been achieved by entities; laws on industrial property and intellectual property remain to be enacted)
4. Foreign Direct Investment and privatization: legislation to be amended
Status: Done in part (entities have made certain changes in their legislation to make them compatible with state laws)
5. Restitution legislation: B-H parliament to enact law; entities to adopt legislation in line with the state law
Status: Not yet implemented
C. Democracy, Human Rights and Rule of Law
1. Property laws: authorities at entity level to issue decisions on property claims and enforce them in accordance with the law
Status: Not yet implemented (low level of implementation of decisions regarding return of property: 20%, rather than at least 50% as anticipated)
2. Conditions for sustainable return
Status: Not yet implemented (Total number of returns up to 1 November 2000 - 348,171. In 2000 - 29,717 in Federation, 23,922 in RS, 1,410 in Br…ko, total 59,049. In 1999 - total 41.007)
3. Decisions related to human-rights institutions (Human Rights Chamber, Office of Ombudsman, Commission for Real Property Claims) and funding
Status: Done in part (Law on Human Rights and Ombudsmen, imposed by the High Representative, remains to be implemented)
4. Law on judicial and prosecution service in the Federation, and Law on court and judicial service in RS
Status: Implemented, both entities
5. Public service broadcasting at state and entity level
Status: Not yet implemented
D. Additional requirements
1. B-H Parliamentary Assembly formally to approve all laws imposed by the High Representative
Status: Council of Ministers has adopted all such laws and submitted them for approval by the Parliamentary Assembly.
2. Parliamentary Assembly to adopt a work plan and internal rule book
3. Industrial strategy - development objectives to be set
4. Supreme audit institutions - an Auditor-General to be appointed at state and entity level
5. Chamber of Foreign Trade - law to be enacted
Ministry for European Affairs
To co-ordinate all these activities requires proper institutions. On the B-H side, all activities related to implementation of the Road Map conditions are coordinated by the Ministry for European Integration.
This is a new ministry, organized into two sections:
1. Section for coordination of the legal system, with departments for the EU, the Council of Europe, and issues of gender equality.
2. Section for coordination of the economic system and assistance programmes.
This ministry is one of six at the state level, according to the Law on the Council of Ministers of May 2000.
I should like to stress that strong institutions and good governance are recognized as preconditions for the creation of an environment favourable to political stability and sustainable economic growth. This applies to B-H, but also to other countries in the region. To quote from a World Bank strategy document: ‘Much of economic development, social inclusion and regional stability in South-east Europe will depend on strengthened institutions, good governance and a reduced level of corruption. Gradual integration with European and global structures will also require significantly more mature institutional structures. Cross-country evidence shows that South-east Europe has very weak institutions and governance.’
I have particularly great expectations from the adoption of our Law on the Civil Service, which according to the draft establishes the civil service as a professional, non-political administration to serve all citizens. I understand that it is based on certain experiences and provisions from the British civil service.
I shall now move on to the mechanisms for assistance provided for B-H by the EU.
Assistance from the EU
Until 2000, EU assistance to B-H was provided through the OBNOVA programme (1996) for reconstruction in the former Yugoslavia and through the PHARE programme (1989).
On 10 May 2000 the European Commission proposed to simplify and accelerate assistance to the five countries of South-east Europe by replacing various EU aid instruments with a single EU programme for Assistance, Reconstruction, Development and Stabilization (CARDS). This will concentrate on building up and modernizing institutions and administrations, so as to strengthen democracy, the rule of law and respect for minority rights. It will also provide countries in the region with the skills and resources they need to embark on, develop and implement economic and social policies based on market-economy-oriented reforms. Reconstruction and assistance for refugee return will remain the priority.
Respect for democratic principles, the rule of law, human and minority rights and fundamental freedoms are preconditions for benefiting from CARDS funds. The CARDS programme is funded with 4,650 million Euro for the period 2000-2006.
Universities in B-H enjoy the benefits of cooperation within the Tempus programme. The master’s degree in European studies organized by Sarajevo University, LSE and the University of Bologna is one example.
RELATIONS BETWEEN B-H AND ITS NEIGHBOURS
As regards our relations with countries from the wider region, the main framework is the Stability Pact for South-east Europe, adopted on 10 June 1999 in Cologne and formally launched on 30 July 1999 during the summit in Sarajevo. The Stability Pact was not established as a direct instrument of the EU, but the EU is the major contributor to its work.
There were three elements in the Stability Pact’s vision. First, the countries of South-east Europe were offered a new perspective on integration with Europe, with pledges of enhanced international assistance to help them meet the requirements for membership in Western clubs, most importantly the European Union. Secondly, the countries of the region undertook to work together in promoting regional security and overcoming common obstacles to European integration. Thirdly, the Pact set out to promote the spread of democracy throughout the region, as the cornerstone of conflict prevention and economic development.
Development and improvement of our relations with Croatia and FRY as neighbouring countries represent one of the basic goals of our foreign policy. With Croatia we already have a number of bilateral agreements, and Croatia is a major trade partner for B-H. Thus the recently concluded agreement on free trade between the two countries is all the more important. Diplomatic relations with FRY were established in December 2000. Since then we have opened an embassy in Belgrade, and next week we expect a visit of the B-H Presidency to Belgrade. For our part we have already submitted drafts for three bilateral agreements, with the intention of proposing others in the near future.
BANJA LUKA AND TREBINJE
I have intentionally left to the very end certain recent events in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I refer to the events in Trebinje and Banja Luka, when organized riots and violence prevented the formal inauguration of the reconstruction of mosques in those cities. Laying foundation stones for the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka and the Osman-Pasha Mosque in Trebinje was supposed to mean confirmation of respect for human and religious rights, hence the acceptance of all those European values that are taking root anew in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina. But certain extreme nationalists, believing that they could reverse the flow of positive change, once again showed their true face.
All I can say is that this organized violence actually proves that we now do have real changes on the B-H political scene, and those dark forces of the past are aware that they cannot prevent them. We expect a strong reaction by the RS authorities very soon, and the identification and punishment of the perpetrators and real organizers behind the scenes. This is also a signal to the international community concerning the direction in which they have to focus their activity. The High Representative has said that ‘nothing will be the same’ after Banja Luka and Trebinje.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is a European country, whence the strong belief that our future lies in the European family of nations. These latest events will not prevent that!