Vareikis: The time is running quickly for Bosnia and Herzegovina reforms

Bosnia and Herzegovina is just one of Western Balkan countries who’s ultimate aim is to become modern, organized and country run on principles of European political and a life standards. Ultimate goal is to become a full member of the EU and NATO pact sometimes in the future moving itself from the pool of post-conflict, undeveloped and dysfunctional countries. But those are just hopes if not a dreams of those who live there, but not of those who run the country which today celebrates its Day of Independence, and here is why. bosnia-eu

Last time it took year and half to the so-called political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to reach a coalition agreement to form a government, which eventually failed and missed numerous opportunities to move country forward towards that ultimate goal. One of the most visible victims of political games and unwillingness to cooperate on important questions is a city of Mostar which is simply stating lawless since 2012. City Council and Mayor of Mostar terms expired two years ago, Mayor today sits in his office as caretaker while his political leader (Croat) and the Bosniak leader are trying to reach political deal to implement Constitutional court judgment on Mostar. This judgment results if implemented would deal with ways and means how to form local government and protect each and every ethnic group, to ensure that they will have their share of power but also will have a right to elect and be elected on equal terms.

Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state is also required to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment in “Sejdić-Finci” case. This case was brought to the Court in effort to open a road for minorities or ethnically undecided to run and to be elected to the highest office in the Country which is Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the moment Presidency is formed on tripartite base, each of three major ethnic groups is represented by one member with eight month rotation cycles over four year term. Today Bosnia is three months without fully functional governments on federal and entity levels due to difficulties caused by selfishness and lack of consensus.

Council of Europe Assembly
Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe

For years Council of Europe, another European political body of which Bosnis is a member, tracks situation in democratic institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina and warns that if reforms are not taken soon as possible country could be suspended from membership or put under sanctions. In September of 2013 Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Co-reporters Karin S. Woldseth (Norway, EDG) and Egidijus Vareikis (Lithuania, EPP/CD)) prepared the Draft Resolution on situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina entitling numerous problems, lack of substantial progress especially in the area of discrimination in its election laws (“Sejdić-Finci” case).

Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe will have discussion on Bosnia and Herzegovina in foreseeable future and would determine future of its membership and what is needed to be done to avert potential sanctions. Bosnia and Herzegovina is posed to preside over Council of Europe, as a part of regular rotation process, this of course would be great recognition and opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina but if takes on while still struggling with above mentioned problems it would be a very difficult mission.

Egidijus Vareikis
Egidijus Vareikis

This week FBTC reach to Mr. Egidijus Vareikis (Lithuania, EPP/CD), COE co-reporer on Bosnia and Herzegovina who told us that a current situation in the country looks like “business as usual”. We also asked him about his views on status of the “Sejdić-Finci” case, Mostar and a possible sanctions on Bosnia and Herzegovina.

FBTC: Mr. Vareikis what is your view of a current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and process of implementation of election results? Are there any particular areas, which you are finding troubling at the moment? 

Mr. Vareikis: It looks like “business as usual. It is very difficult for the country in general as well for the regions to agree on the government. It was before and the same situation is now. Of course, it has a very negative impact to the development of the country. EU and NATO are still willing to facilitate countries’ integration into Western European and Transatlantic formations; however there is the urgent need from the side of Bosnia and Hercegovina to make important decisions in this respect. Council of Europe is expecting to receive the good news from Sarajevo, however it also urges the country to speed the process.

FBTC: Are there any official contacts between COE and government of Bosnia and Herzegovina or B&H delegation in COE related to your recommendations and a current situation? 

Mr. Vareikis: We are following the situation carefully. The aim of COE is to help the country. We understand the specificity of Bosnia and Hercegovina however there are general rules for COE all countries, and this country has to follow them.

FBTC: Based on a current situation do you expect that your recommendations from 2013. Draft Resolution would be adopted and implemented by the government in Sarajevo by the time when Bosnia and Herzegovina is supposed to start presiding COE?

Mr. Vareikis: COE presidency is given to the country by rotation, and does not mean, that this country made a progress.The only obstacle can be the suspension of countries membership in the COE, that is still not a case. Of course, it is always good to have the president-state without major problems; however, the situation is like it is. The unsolved problems, especially Sejdic-Finci case will make presidency more difficult. 

Jakob Finci and Dervo Sejdić
Jakob Finci and Dervo Sejdić

FBTC: Mr. Vareikis “Sejdić-Finci” case is still open and will remain open in foreseeable future, what impact this situation will have on Bosnia and Herzegovina status and obligations in COE? 

Mr. Vareikis: The case is the basic principle of equality of citizens and it is one of the basic principles of human rights, thus it has to be implemented. Of course it is not easy. Bosnia and Hercegovina state is based on ethnic society. It is necessary to create the civic society, that will not deny the ethnic differences, however will take into account the equality of citizens, having in mind the ethnic minorities. This is not easy but it has to be done and there are proposals how to do it.  

Mostar (Photo by: Sanel Kajan)
Mostar (Photo by: Sanel Kajan)

FBTC: One of particularly interesting intems in the Draft Resolution was situation in Mostar. As you may known were just over a year away from local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina and political leaders are still far away from a deal on Mostar. What is your view on this situation?

Mr. Vareikis: Mostar is one of difficult cases of building of local democracy. The essence of the problem is that Dayton agreement permits several options of governance, i.e. equal or proportional representation in the governing bodies. This is very sensitive; however, solution has to be found. It is also the problem of relations between ethnic principles and compromise of civic society idea. We all agree that Dayton agreement is not perfect and was not designed for long-term solutions. It is in the hands of Mostar leaders, and I wish them to find the compromise rather to insist on principles.

FBTC: There is substantial amount of rumour that COE Assembly will be recommended either by you or your Committee to suspend Bosnia and Herzegovina from COE membership and to deny Bosnia and Hersegovina presidency over COE. Can you please tell is there any truth in this and what recommendations would be tabled during upcoming discussion on Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Mr. Vareikis: Yes, there is the possibility for the COE to suspend the countries membership or possibility of other sanctions against the country that does not fulfill its obligations toward the COE. The organization is not willing to make painful decisions and to punish any country. The monitoring of the country is the political assistance, and it is always positive for the country to follow the COE recommendations. The suspension is mentioned as the possible proposal, but today it is written only as the possibility if there will be no positive development. My wish is to write the more positive statement rather than propose to suspend the country. I see the possibility, however the time is running quickly the country needs really to make the necessary decisions. If we will see the functional government and proposals for Sejdic-Finci solutions, I think Bosnia and Hercegovina will have a good chances to improve its record of building democracy and civic-society. We can put on paper different sentences; however the main things are in the country itself. It is really time for this country to take pro-European path. 

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