Future of Bosnia and Herzegovina: How to step up the integration process to EU and NATO?

  • H. E. Željko Komšić

- Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina 

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. H.E. Željko Komšić, Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina had a lecture at International institute IFIMES on 21 January 2019 entitled “Future of Bosnia and Herzegovina: How to step up the integration process to EU and NATO?“. Below we publish the whole text of his lecture. 


Future of Bosnia and Herzegovina: How to step up the integration process to EU and NATO?


It is my both pleasure and honor to be here today. Thank you for the opportunity to say something about two topics that may seem like a classic foreign policy question for one country, in this case for Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, many things that are not only political are permeated in these two topics; it is not just an administrative or media issue, but it is about certain deep, social and sociological processes that are taking place in BiH. This is not the place, nor do we have much time to reflect on all the developments in the region that are related to what is happening in our country, and even to touch on the role of the great powers and multilateral processes that are also taking place in the European Union, and which subsequently reflect on the whole region, and with that on Bosnia and Herzegovina too.


Allow me to greet all those present and thank you for inviting me to speak at this eminent conference organized by the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES).


The presentation on the European and NATO perspectives of Bosnia and Herzegovina should begin with a brief reminder of what the European Union is and how it originated. So, please, let us briefly return to the time after the end of the Second World War, when the idea of a united Europe was born. The idea originated from Winston Churchill, who dreamed of the United States of Europe, which, prior to the creation of the European Union, were articulated in a series of steps towards the European Union of today by the historical political authorities such as Adenauer, Bech, Beyen, Da Gasperi, Hallastein, Mansholt, Monnet, Spaak, Spinelli and Schuman.


The first form of association can be seen in 1952 in the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which later assumed a new form in the organization of the European Atomic Energy Community in 1958, as well as the creation of the European Economic Community, also in 1958.


All these were steps towards the formation of the present European Union, which was founded by the signing of the Maastricht Treaty which came into force on November 1, 1993, which created today's Union as an inclusive community with its criteria for accession. The original European Union was formed by six countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Later this number grew to ten, twelve, fifteen, to today's twenty-eight countries.


European accession criteria


Accession to the European Union was defined back in 1993, within the Copenhagen criteria, consisting of three elements: political, economic and administrative-institutional. Every state aspiring to become the member of the European Union must also fulfil the fourth, administrative criterion, which requires adjustment to a whole series of its own regulations in order to become a successful candidate.


The political criterion represents several further elements, such as the stability of institutions that must be able to guarantee democracy, the rule of law, the protection of fundamental human rights and the protection of minority rights.


The economic criterion concerns the functional market economy in the country in the sense that it is sufficiently capable to cope with the competitive challenges of a major marketplace such as the European Union.


The administrative-institutional criterion states that there must be such an ability of the EU candidate country to fully accept the European acquis communautaire.


These criteria are strengthened by the Madrid Criteria, which clearly state that the country must have a reformed administration and the judiciary in a way that it is able to immediately accept the entire European acquis.


For the countries of the Western Balkans, these criteria are somewhat modified, in the way that the first step is to enter the Stabilization and Association Process, and then the following criteria are applied:


• political criterion - which has remained unchanged


• economic criterion - which has been changed in the need to strengthen regional cooperation in the Western Balkans and


• administrative-institutional - which has remained the same and relates to the ability of each country to fully accept the complete European acquis communautaire.


In order for the European Commission to see all of these elements, the EU Questionnaire is applied, in which each country that aims to get a candidate status offers a cross-section of the situation in the country through different chapters. There are now 35 of these chapters. We are at this stage - we provide answers to the Questionnaire sent to us from Brussels. We completed some of the answers and sent them to Brussels, and then they returned them with additional questions and our institutions are dealing with these additional issues. We have a kind of promise from the competent institutions in BiH that this will be completed as soon as possible, so that we can complete answers to these additional questions.


Answers to the Questionnaire, which often include additional questions, such as in our case, serve the European Commission to draw up an Opinion, which it delivers to the Council of the European Union, followed by a decision reached by consensus which determines whether a country can be awarded a candidate status. This candidate status may have three variations: direct candidate status, conditional candidate status and conditional candidate status with the deadline for the fulfilment of conditions, in order to formalize the candidate status.


Once the country obtains candidate status, screening of all chapters is done, when together with the candidate country, the compatibility of domestic legislation with the European regulations is observed. In case of a discrepancy, negotiations are opened for each chapter separately.


Prior to the start of the negotiations, a negotiating position of the candidate country is determined, and then the negotiations begin. Chapters 23 (judiciary and human rights) are very often those that are opened first, which is for us, now I speak on behalf of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of crucial importance, and 24 (justice, freedom and security), which ranks as high as Chapter 23 in terms of importance. The issues in these chapters are not solved by negotiations but rather with an ACTION PLAN, that is, the candidate country receives very concrete tasks which must be fulfilled in these chapters within a given time frame.


Upon completion of the verification of all negotiation chapters, it is proposed that the candidate country be admitted to membership in the European Union. This is approximately a phase in which we are now, that is, we aim to complete that phase.


Where is Bosnia and Herzegovina in that?


We can present our short overview in the following few sentences, because the situation is very simple, and the European Commission in its report on BiH for 2018 pointed out that the current situation is still not sufficiently good.


If we start from the political criteria, it is clear that BiH has no institutions that can guarantee democracy, the rule of law, the protection of fundamental human rights and the protection of minority rights. Through this theatrical play regarding the changes in the Election Law of BiH, which we witnessed in the period immediately prior to the elections in BiH, we could see the unpreparedness of the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina to implement the fundamental democratic principles, because the discussion about this boiled down to the construct "legitimate political representation of the peoples" which is not the part of the European acquis, nor is it part of the European principles and standards, and in fact represents a clear indication that democracy in BiH wants to be sacrificed by certain political parties in order for them to have a better position in forming of the government (the fear of anyone being outvoted in the European institutions simply does not stick). Something like that is not a democracy founded in the European Union, thus it is quite clear why Mr. Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said that Bosnia and Herzegovina with the Dayton political model cannot become a candidate for the European Union, because that model differs from the European acquis. This is, in fact, an essential question because the Dayton political model has been abused by loose interpretations that ethnic political elites should be granted rights greater than individual rights of citizens. In order to strengthen such argumentation, comparisons with Belgium, the Netherlands and similar countries (and some even make comparisons with Switzerland which does not intend to become part of the European Union) are used, which is completely wrong since the historical context how these countries originated compared to Bosnia and Herzegovina is starkly different. However, these countries have certainly aligned their socio-political system with the European acquis, whereby there exists protection of fundamental human rights at an individual level, while in Bosnia and Herzegovina, unfortunately, it is not the case.


Frightening the people of our country that the civic concept means a unitarian state, which then in turn means the principle of one man - one vote, which results in somebody being outvoted by someone else - these are stories for young children because the European Union is based on the protection of civil rights at the individual level, and that is what we need to do in BiH, to strengthen this principle, not to protect the collective rights as it wants to be presented.  The European Union is based on this, and it has confirmed it already two times in the conclusion of the Council of the European Union. Bearing in mind where I am at this moment, the function I perform, and the fact that I am currently staying in a friendly country, I do not wish to mention even certain interventions by the neighboring states of Bosnia and Herzegovina whose representatives went so far as to attempt to establish a new principle for EU candidate member states, so they called BiH a sui generis case in the whole story. There are no sui generis cases regarding the accession to the European Union.  There is no sui generis case with regards to Belgium, where the principle of respect of basic human rights is the founding principle of the organization of the state. Therefore, Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot be a sui generis case with regards to the basic principles upon which the European Union functions.


The situation regarding the rule of law, which in its essence means the existence of a legal state that must guarantee all rights, freedoms and equality to its citizens on an individual level, is completely the same- which immediately differs from the policy of a significant part of the political scene in BiH whose remaining in power is made easy by the Dayton model, even though it is not within the framework of the European democratic principles. Likewise, the rule of law means that there must be a system that will effectively fight against corruption and organized crime, which, again, is not the case in BiH.


An example of this is the recent lack of political support for changes to the Criminal Law of BiH, where political parties are trying to make amendments which will result in protecting certain actors of criminal activities coming from their ranks. Therefore, there are many political structures in BiH wishing to actually move BiH further away from the key principle of the functioning of the EU, such as the rule of law, for one simple reason-to maintain its political position, influence and power and ultimately, I have to say, suspiciously acquired material assets.


Who is the promoter of EU values in BiH, who wants what? Who really wants the European Union? What are the motives behind politicians in BiH who opt for the EU? -that is a special issue. There are those who really and frankly want to join the EU, and I think that there are those who want the EU, naively thinking the European Union will agree to gamble with the principles upon which it functions.


The economic system in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a deviation of the free market, where there are different oligopolies, which negotiate and agree on the market behavior (for example, petroleum products distributors). Therefore, Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign country does not fulfil the initial condition, and it particularly does not fulfil the requisite of having the necessary competitive ability in challenges offered by the large market place of the European Union.


There is no need to speak of an administrative-institutional criterion, as there are no political statements by various political actors or political parties that would undoubtedly say that they will do everything possible for Bosnia and Herzegovina to adopt a complete European acquis.


How will they accept such a degree of change in socio-political reality that would surely diminish their political power, currently given to them by constructs of the type of "constituent peoples" or "legitimate political representatives of the peoples" that completely neglect democracy, to such an extent that they offer systematic discrimination which, as a consequence, gives greater political power to those same opponents of European values.


What is, then, the way out of this situation?


The first element would be the search for those political structures, parties, concepts and personnel that can convince us in their public appearances that they know the procedures for accession to the European Union for start, and the second part, and that they are really doing it. Unfortunately, there are many public declarations claiming the commitment to the EU, as well as NATO, but essentially, this is the case of mere demagoguery. “We will strive to join the EU” is one of the most common sentences you can hear in public speeches of politicians or political elites. This gets forgotten very soon and we return to the functioning so typical for our region, that some call the Balkans, some call it the Western Balkans, while others refer to it as Southeast Europe.


What is to be done? We need help, sincere help from the European institutions. We need clear and precise positions, we know the standards, if we wish to know them. But we need, not just the message from all European officials, diplomats, but we need to see the messages in action in BiH. There should be no double standards, especially those applied by EU officials. I have been in this business for too long, and I have, unfortunately, had such experience with some EU officials, from the European Commission as well as the diplomatic corps. On the one hand, there is the general story and message and, on the other, it is the case of a classic Balkan political game. I have too often been in such situations to see it; we have often been witnesses to double standards coming from EU officials. With such a policy, the EU will not get a reliable partner in BiH, nor will BiH make any progress. I expect the EU institutions and member states to be able to recognize those forces in BiH, because it is really not difficult, that are really devoted to the European path of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to refrain from repeating to us constantly "well, you know, it is your reality". We need to adapt, but with such political action, with such philosophy, we will not get far. We had the opportunity to see this stance in the negotiations regarding the changing of the Election Law. Fortunately, such stance failed to win. We also had such an example when adopting the Excise Law in BiH. I have to say that I was shocked by what some EU officials are doing on behalf of the European Commission. You will not believe what happened. I cannot comprehend politically nor legally - that we have adopted two laws whose very important Articles clash with each other. And this has happened under the patronage of the European Union officials. In the aftermath, those officials come and state that BiH has suffered a decline. Therefore, if we are going to talk frankly, it is necessary to find BiH forces which sincerely wish, not only to formally fulfil criteria and requirements set out by the EU, but which see in those criteria the opportunity for a recovery of a whole society. Not only administration, political life and public discourse, but the recovery of the society in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We need standard criteria of the EU because of us, because they change us as people in BiH and create conditions to move away from the mud in which we live and create something out of this country which will resemble an orderly country, a democratic country in which people will be able to see their future and prosperity.


Let us say something about NATO


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the North Atlantic Treaty, better known as NATO, is an international organization of military and political nature, founded in 1949 by signing the North Atlantic Treaty (Washington Agreement) between the twelve states of the then Western bloc. The basis of the North Atlantic Alliance is the Agreement between Member States, which in its nature is an international treaty. The Agreement recognizes and supports the states' individual rights as well as their international obligations under the United Nations Charter. It obliges each Member State to take part in the risks and responsibilities, establish a joint defense system and requires each not to accept any international obligations that might be in contravention of the Agreement.


The idea of NATO formation, besides its security nature, was the creation of a military bloc to counter the spread of ideological communism to the Western world, as a response to the historical circumstances of the time after the end of World War II.  As an opposition to this military alliance, the Warsaw Pact was formed at the time, creating the then bipolar world order, and the Cold War began, which lasted until December 1989 when the US President George Bush and the then USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev announced at a conference in Malta that the Cold War was over. Regarding the Cold War, it is important to say two more things. First, it was a conflict based on ideological differences, led by all the means other than military. Second, it had its own reference terms, such as détente or peaceful coexistence between 1968 and 1975, which worked through mechanisms of the specially formed CSCE organization, at a conference in Helsinki in 1973, which served as a channel or space for communication between the West and the East. After the ending of the Cold War, this organization was transformed into OSCE at the Summit in Budapest in 1994. This organization represents the largest international organization which promotes security and cooperation, ensures assistance with initiating political negotiations and decision making, and acts as support in recognizing early warnings, conflict prevention, crises management and rehabilitation after conflicts. It has its six permanent missions (one is in Bosnia and Herzegovina), and several observation missions.


NATO enlargements


During its existence, NATO had seven enlargements, that is, acceptances of new states to its membership. Here it would be good to say one thing in terms of the enlargement, and it refers to the idea initiated by Zbigniew Brzezinski, as the then member of John F. Kennedy's Electoral Staff at the beginning of the 1960s, when he proposed, as a solution to the Cold War, that NATO expands as eastwards as possible, primarily thinking of his native Poland. Nearly 40 years later, or more precisely in 1999, NATO began enlargements to Eastern European countries, within its fourth enlargement (Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary), followed by the fifth and the largest enlargement in 2004 (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Latvia, Slovakia and Slovenia), then the sixth expansion in 2009 (Croatia and Albania) and last, hopefully not final enlargement in 2017 (Montenegro).  By observing the geopolitical idea of Zbigniew Brzezinski from the early 1960s, it is obvious that NATO expanded to the east of Europe, towards Russia, as close as it was possible. This provokes Russia's opposing reaction, because any new NATO enlargement to countries in the Eastern and South-Eastern parts of Europe causes a security imbalance. It uses all means at its disposal, apart from the military for now, to fiercely oppose this.  This is also the reason why Serbia is positioning itself in such a way, because of its political connection with Russia, and BiH entity, Republika Srpska, is following suite by declaring its military neutrality despite this act being completely unconstitutional. Why unconstitutional? Because Article III of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina clearly states that entities do not have jurisdiction over membership in international organizations, if this is not approved by the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Moreover, entities cannot prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina as an internationally recognized state and subject to international law, to enter into international agreements and international organizations.


Article III / 5 of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is particularly important, as it deals with the competencies to be taken over by the state authorities for the protection of sovereignty, territorial integrity and international legality of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This Article III / 5 of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina was the legal basis for the adoption of the Law on Defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which in its Article 84 prescribes an obligation on all state bodies to work on the future membership of BiH in the NATO Alliance.


What is MAP?


During its existence, NATO attempted to articulate its expansion through Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which set the criteria for admitting new states to NATO membership. Since the description was too ambiguous, leading to various initiatives and groups such as: Višegrad Group, the Vilnius Group, and the Adriatic Charter, NATO has designed and launched the MAP (Membership Action Plan) program, which has its own five criteria:


• Willingness to resolve international, ethnic or foreign territorial disputes peacefully, through commitment to the rule of law, human rights and democratic control of the armed forces;


• Ability to contribute to defense and missions of the organization;


• Ensuring adequate financial resources for the armed forces in order to fulfil the membership obligations;


• Security of sensitive information and protective measures that will be provided in this regard;


• Compatibility of domestic legislation with NATO.


This is a brief overview of the significance of NATO's MAP program, with one note that this organization sets specific criteria separately for each NATO candidate country, hence the separate criteria for Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as the Tallinn criteria.


Where is Bosnia and Herzegovina in all that?


Bosnia and Herzegovina expressed its will and aspirations to join the NATO alliance in the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2005, when a decision was made to join the Membership Action Plan. Thereafter Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the 2006 Partnership for Peace program and signed an agreement on cooperation in the field of security in 2007.  This led to NATO launching an Individual Partnership Program with BiH in 2008, which led to the launch of the "Intensive Dialogue Program" agreed at the 2008 Budapest Summit. After that, Bosnia and Herzegovina applied for the MAP in 2009, which NATO approved in 2010. The criteria added at the NATO Summit in Tallinn in 2011 included registration and entry of prospective military assets.


This is when the problems started because NATO has set individual conditions for BiH, which refer to the entry of 63 military locations as state property of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Those who may have dealt with this, who are lawyers, know that this is a more administrative-technical issue, where property is checked that has been transferred to the BiH Ministry of Defense through a decision of a relevant authority, which is, a rather technical process where no negotiation or political will is required. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a problem in our country which led to the Constitutional Court of BiH having had to make a decision which ultimately resolves this type of dispute and creates the necessary legal and formal conditions for the property to be registered.


In the meantime, the National Assembly of Republika Srpska entity adopts the so-called Resolution on the Protection of the Constitutional Order and the Proclamation of Military Neutrality of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian entity. Although the Resolution is a non-binding document, and it does not have the force of law, it creates political problems in the further NATO path of BiH. This resolution is used today to challenge the Tallinn Condition; it is used to draft an annual action plan that is technical rather than a political issue; which, ultimately, can be done by the executive authority such as a minister of defense alone. No new political decision by the Presidency of BiH is necessary, or by the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH; it is not even necessary for the Council of Ministers to react, i.e., let me be more specific, the body which is equivalent to a government of a state. It is possible to do this through a decision, that is, an action by the minister of defense of BiH who will shape all we talked about technically in a document and submit to NATO. Unfortunately, we have stopped here now. The will does not exist in one part of the political institutions, political forces in BiH to realize this; one part of those who were believed to be committed to NATO path of BiH is starting to calculate politically and move away from the whole technical part of the process, so that Bosnia and Herzegovina in this moment stands on one technical question, while all necessary decisions which included everyone, that is, all segments, all political institutions at the state level have been made.


What is the exit strategy?


The exit strategy is precisely in looking at the annual action plan as a technical issue, rather than a political one, and to submit the plan of action at the technical level to the structures to overview, approve and state whether it is good enough for this year.


Unfortunately, we have made a big political problem out of that. We have come to the stage where, because of the announced anti-constitutional and illegal activity in the area of NATO integration, I, as a member of the Presidency, cannot give mandate to the new Chairman of the BiH Council of ministers. His name is not controversial, his political background is not controversial; the fact is that he comes from a party that is one of the winners in past elections, but because of statements from his political party that he will not enforce decisions and laws on defense, we cannot assign him a mandate.


Unfortunately, any question, whether technical such as the annual action plan within the national NATO membership plan, can grow into a top political problem here. I think that there is a way out of this situation: the current minister of defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina submits the already prepared annual national MAP plan to NATO, they review and approve it, possibly add to it, and we continue our path towards integrations.


I have talked a while longer, but it is worth recalling some technical historical facts, put Bosnia and Herzegovina in certain contexts, and try to provide some answers to get us out of the current situation. I would like to thank the organizers once again for the invitation, and I would like to thank you for your attention. I stand at your disposal for all your questions or clarifications. Thank you.   


Ljubljana, 28 January 2019        

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