Interview with Adnan Ćerimagić: EU must accept its role both in the good and the bad processes that are happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina

We bring you the interview with Adnan Ćerimagić, European Stability Initiative (ESI) analyst and external associate of Foreign Policy Initiative BH as reported by the portal Vijesti.ba.

VIJESTI.BA: For some time now, the European Stability Initiative has been advocating for Bosnia to submit the application for the EU membership. You wanted it to be done by the twentieth anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement. Do you expect it to happen in the next month or two, as it was announced in Brussels by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers?

ĆERIMAGIĆ: Was it not in the October of this year that the Bosnian Presidency adopted the conclusion that they will, no matter what, submit the application for EU membership by the end of December this year? Was it not in March 2012 that the Presidency had publicly announced the submission of the application by June 2012?

In order to be able to expect some things in a relationship between the EU and some country moves and actions of the actors involved must follow certain logic. Unfortunately in the relationship between the EU and Bosnia not many things do. If the EU treated Bosnia in the same way as all other countries of the region, then the only logical and expected thing would have been for Bosnia to submit the EU membership application right after the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) in the mid 2008, like all of the other Western Balkan countries have done. None of the Western Balkan countries had waited for the SAA to come into force. Furthermore, according to the latest statements of the EU officials, even that is not enough for Bosnian application. Unfortunately, the narrative we most commonly hear is that the people to blame for this situation are the Bosnian politicians who cannot reach an agreement on anything, and that along with them it is the bad and fragmented administration and complicated constitutional structure to be blamed as well.

If the politicians continue to demonstrate the lack of faith in Bosnia, if they fail to have courage and continue to wait for clear signs from each of the 28 member state and all EU institutions then Bosnia will remain in the same spot of this illogical road towards the EU that it has been on since 2006. And this road does not lead towards the realisation of the vision of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a member of the EU.

VIJESTI.BA: Could you describe this illogical relationship between the EU and Bosnia in more detail?

ĆERIMAGIĆ: Since the middle of the past decade the EU kept choosing one bad condition after the other for Bosnia. That is also a reason why today, in the field of EU integration, Bosnia is 19 years behind Slovenia, 12 years behind Croatia, 7 years behind Montenegro and 6 years behind Serbia. The quality of democracy, rule of law or economy is not drastically better in, for example, Montenegro, in order for it to explain for this 7 years backlog.
Since 2006 Bosnia has lost an entire year on police reform. At that time such a police reform was not even necessary. According to the estimates of relevant international organizations the security situation in Bosnia was better than in many of the EU member states. At the time every Bosnian police officer was vetted by the UN, police forces had a certain level of multi-ethnicity, and twenty percent of police officers were employed in the state level agencies.

Once the EU had finally understood that this condition was a mistake and decided to allow Bosnia to proceed with signing of the SAA, as a following step for the application for the EU membership as a new condition it had set the separation of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the Office of the EU Special Representative (EUSR). Bosnian-Herzegovinian politicians could not have any influence on the speed and the manner of this transformation, because it had concerned internal and technical-administrative process between the EU institutions and other Peace Implementation Council (PIC) member countries.

After that came the new condition of implementing the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision in the Sejdić-Finci case. It is clear to everyone that Bosnia must implement all decisions of the ECHR, however, it is not clear how the EU could have set this as a condition for Bosnia in 2011, in a moment when the country had only 17 non-implemented decisions, while the fully pledged EU member states like Slovenia had 228, Hungary had 260, Bulgaria had 344, and Italy had 2,522. Along with that the legal basis for the ECHR’s decision, at least the part concerning the Bosnian Presidency, was Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This Protocol was ratified by Bosnia and only 8 out of 28 of the EU member countries. Among those countries where the Protocol does not apply, are the United Kingdom and Sweden. The EU thought that something that does not apply to the EU member states should apply to Bosnia. In the beginning of 2014 the EU understood these arguments, but almost 2 years later Bosnia still has not applied for the EU membership.

These are the reasons why we advocate and expect the application for the EU membership as soon as possible. This application, along with the understanding among the EU member states and Bosnian politicians, about things that were done right and wrong, could be the winning combination for bringing Bosnia out from its current isolation, stagnation and socio-economic decay.

VIJESTI.BA: One of the conditions for submitting the application is the coordination mechanism. You have said, in a recent interview, that all what Bosnia has done in the past year indicates that the coordination exists. Please elaborate this opinion.

ĆERIMAGIĆ: It is not just about what Bosnians did since the elections in October 2014. It is also about what has been done in the past fifteen years.

In the world of EU institutions, a large number of EU member states and among intellectuals, Bosnian state and its institutions are to blame for all bad things that have happened in Bosnia, while all the good things have been done exclusively because of the EU and the international community.

Unfortunately, in this is the kind of the world a great majority of Bosnian politicians also live in. And that is why more frequently Bosnian politicians go to Brussels and other EU capitals to explain what is it that they do not like in Bosnia and why the foreigners should support precisely their political option and precisely on this or that issue. They do that instead of going to the EU capital cities to say what they have done and accomplished, what they plan to do and why they are ready to make the next step towards the EU.

Allow me to remind you of one thing. Of a visa liberalization process that took place in 2009 and 2010, which, for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and for Albania as well, had come a little later comparing to the other neighbouring countries, but none the less, it had come. And it had happened only due to the fact that the EU had set a clear list of conditions based on the EU acquis communitaire. And because Bosnian politicians knew that if they failed to meet those conditions their citizens would not be able to travel to the EU without visas. The point to take from this is that when the EU was strict and fair Bosnia demonstrated that coordination, harmonization with the EU legislation and compromises are not impossible.

There are many other examples, but they are not in the spotlights. Such as the negotiations about the content of the SAA between Bosnia and the EU that took place in 2005. The European Commission had expected that these negotiations with Bosnia would last for at least 15 months due to constitutional competences and difficult coordination. The Bosnian multi-ethnic negotiations team lead by Igor Davidović, Lidija Topić and Osman Topčagić, had completed that job in 13 months. The team was commended for its preparedness, expertise and promptitude by the EU Commission at the time. And then came the police reform and all the other things that have lead us to where we are now.

VIJESTI.BA: Another condition is the adaptation of the SAA in the part dealing with traditional trade. What concrete significance will the adaptation of this Agreement have for Bosnia?

ĆERIMAGIĆ: First of all allow me to clarify one thing. The EU cannot stop Bosnian institutions to submit the application for the EU membership. It is a short letter that can on the behalf of Bosnia be sent by the Bosnian Presidency. There can be no condition for sending such letter.

What the EU member states are telling Bosnians is that the European Council; that is the 28 EU member states; will not be able to put that letter on their agenda and unanimously decide to forward it to the European Commission for further proceedings until Bosnia fulfils some conditions. Among those conditions, currently, is the adaptation of the SAA. This is just another example of combination of a superficial condition set by the EU and Bosnian politicians, with already limited resources, trying to protect something that will not save Bosnia.

Unfortunately, many still don’t understand that closing and fragmenting its internal market will not save Bosnian economy. Bosnian economy can be saved by creating a single market, and with its integration in a single market of the EU that has over 500 million people, accompanied with significantly bigger production and dramatically higher export, which can only come through increased foreign investments.

Following this king of logic it should be clear to all of us that what Bosnia needs is, in fact, god industrial policy, particularly in the sectors where Bosnian economy has tradition, resources and knowledge: wood and textile industry. However, in the relationship between the EU and Bosnia there isn’t much logic and that is why Bosnia and the EU have decided, through the reform agenda, that their priority is to reduce tax wedges. And they are doing this at the time when the labour price with a salary and taxes in the Bosnian textile industry is lower than in any of the EU member state and countries in the region. Just from that it is clear that the reason why the foreign investors are not coming to Bosnia has nothing to do with tax wedges. Nevertheless the reform agenda places the reduction of tax wedges at the centre of reforms, while the industrial policy is not mentioned once.

Either of the two options that the institutions have regarding the adaptation SAA, will mean nothing for the Bosnian state, for its citizens or the economy. Other than the fact that in the case it decides not to go through with the adaptation of the SAA, it will have to channel its scarce resources into defending that decision, rather than invest them in the EU integration process, or completion of the process of creating a single market in Bosnia, which could attract investments and open new jobs. Or channel these towards the completion of the process of joining the World Trade Organization that has been lasting for too long, since May 1999.

VIJESTI.BA: In his interview for Vijesti.ba, the EU integration analyst, Zekerijah Smajić, has warned that after the decision of the RS Government to cease cooperation with the state judicial and security authorities the EU integration process will again be put on hold until the harmonization of relations between Sarajevo and Banja Luka. Do you share that opinion?

ĆERIMAGIĆ: In this illogical relationship that the EU has with Bosnia and which has been lasting for far too long, anything is possible, and nothing is possible. The EU member states and the EU institutions could see this decision of the RS Government as a confirmation of immaturity of Bosnian politicians and institutions; as a confirmation that Bosnia does not want to enter the EU; that its politicians and institutions are not ready to submit the application for membership. And conclude that Bosnia must stay where it is now until all of its politicians come to an agreement about everything that the EU sees as a problem on the surface of Bosnian political scene.
It is also quite possible that they will look at the past, in order to see when and why Bosnia was moving forward, and when and why it had stagnated. They might even accept their role, both in the good and the bad processes that have been happening in Bosnia. They might even take another look at the answers to the two test questionnaires from June 2012, which the European Commission had sent to Bosnia on environment protection and public procurements; the questionnaires that Bosnian institutions answered surprisingly well. From that experience they might draw a conclusion that Bosnian administration is ready to answer the questionnaire on membership status, and that there are still some politicians in Bosnia who are ready to push that process forward. They might also conclude that it is time to give a proper chance to Bosnia to demonstrate it can deliver in concrete tasks pertaining to the EU accession process, and to, after the visa liberalization, move forward.

Interview conducted by: Nevena Šarenac (Vijesti.ba)