By Medina Malagić – Sarajevo
The conference entitled “What is the Vital Interest of the People and to Whom Does it Belong? Constitutional and Political Changes”, organized by the Center for Political Studies (CPS) in Sarajevo in cooperation with the FBiH House of Peoples, was a one-day conference that took place in Sarajevo today at the premises of the FBiH Parliament.
According to CPS, this conference has a multifaceted purpose: to provide a closer insight to this constitutional and social phenomenon, for those in the category of “Others” as defined in the BiH Constitution (people who do not belong to one of the three constituent peoples of BiH) to be given equal rights, and ways in which it could be put into political practice in BiH.
Participants at this conference consisted of members of the FBiH House of Peoples, including the Chairman of the House of Peoples, the Executive Director of CPS Damir Banović, Head of the Council of Europe to BiH Mary Ann Hennessey, members of BiH political parties, and members of several NGO’s in BiH that are address vital political and social issues in this country.
The conference consisted of two panels, “Vital Interest and Constitutional Rights” and “Vital Interest and Political Reality”, and both panels were followed by a discussion among the participants.
During the first panel discussion, Head of the Council of Europe to BiH Mary Ann Hennessey said that the Council of Europe admitted BIH as a member state with the expectation that changes and revisions would be made to state institutions, the electoral law and constitution. In 2005, the Opinion of the Venice Commission said that the Vital National Interest Veto serves as an obstacle to the decision-making process and impedes compromise.
“The lack of clarity in the definition, or of appropriate usage of VNI compromises an inherent risk. Although the VC recognized that the Constitutional Court was progressively bringing, through case-law, an understanding of the proper or improper uses, but this has clearly been taking a very long time and the VC concluded it to be urgent and important to provide a clear definition in the Constitution’’, said Hennessey.
So, in BiH this mechanism is sometimes abused because it is not clearly defined, such as the purpose and interests it is supposed to serve, enabling political parties to choose when to use this mechanism.
She concluded that vital ethnic/national interests should be protected and consideration should be given to this, but “without providing an open-ended blanked veto for arbitrary ethnic or party blockages of legislature, government or judiciary, which could be detrimental to citizens as a whole”.
Further, the Executive Director of the Center for Political Studies Damir Banović that vital national interest is being misused as a mechanism for blockade, and that the purpose of today’s conference was to try and find ways to prevent it from being misused. Instead, it should be utilized for the benefit and interests of the people, and not exclusively for specific groups.
However, it is not a question of whether this mechanism should be in place or not, but the pressing issue that needs to be resolved is how to clearly define it, especially the role it plays within BIH politics.