Johannes Hahn in BiH: Candidate status is not free lunch

Johannes Hahn in BiH: Candidate status is not free lunch

“I am not optimistic or pessimistic – I am realistic. Progress of BiH on the approach to EU doesn’t simply depend on me or Member States: it depends on will of leaders in this country and whether they are serious to deliver to their own citizens’ European aspirations.”

This was the summary of the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations of European Commision Johannes Hahn’s visit to Sarajevo on Monday, December 4. Hahn did not spare the criticism to BiH politicians since the state has a lot of problems on the path to EU. The reason of his visit was the opening ceremony of the new BiH Prosecution building, but the sessions with BiH politicians were, obviously, far from the celebration. In his address to media at the end of the visit, Hahn said that he came to Sarajevo to take stock of BiH’s reform progress.

“A lot was promised, nothing delivered. We see delays regarding the Questionnaire and adoption of excise duty legislation. I can therefore only urge all political leaders to stick to their commitment, taken in 2015,” said Hahn.

He added that he only believes in facts and figures, not announcements. That is why BiH needs to answer to the questionnaire ASAP, adopt key economic laws and fully respect the Rule of Law. “Almost” is the favourite word in this country, noticed Hahn, but for the EU candidate status only real results count.

“BiH leaders need to act urgently to maintain EU path. Need rapid replies to EU Commision Questionnaire and urgent refocusing on key reforms. EU candidate status is not a free lunch. Leaders must deliver now. If not, they will miss the boat”, warned Hahn.

According to one of the participants at the meeting of the EU Commissioner with the political leaders, the atmosphere at the event was tense.

“It was possible to feel the tense in the air. Hahn came to reinforce the EU path and to encourage us to continue with reforms, but my opinion is that the situation in BiH is so unclear that it will be very hard to keep the momentum of reforms,” said one of the attendees to IBNA.

Tensions are running high because of the last verdicts at The Hague Tribunal, since Serb politicians feel that war crimes against Serbs were not treated as crimes against Bosniaks and Croats, committed by Serbs. Croats are angry at the Tribunal since six Croat officials were sentenced onto the long term prison; one of them, Slobodan Praljak, poisoned himself and died, and the fact is that the verdict declared Croatia as the aggressor in BiH, but in no other verdict were Serbs regarded the same way, including these presented to general Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.

Bosniaks are unsatisfied with the fact that Serbs are not the aggressors in BiH despite their unaltered opinion that the agression came from Belgrade.

In that situation it is very difficult to expect the stable continuation of the reforms, the establishment of an efficient Mechanism of Coordination, fair relations among the key politicians and, in total, the step forward towards EU integration.

Just the serious faces and cold handshaking of members of the BiH Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic (Bosniak) and Dragan Covic (Croat), at the celebration of the Day of BiH’s Armed Forces shows that the relations in BiH are at a critical point.

But, Hahn did not see that directly, since in front of the special guest everybody agreed that BiH has no other alternative than the EU path. In an attempt to prove that BiH is doing something, the Chairman of the BiH Council of Ministers, Denis Zvizdic said that 85% of the answers of the Questionnaire are already translated, more than 96% are answered and a maximum of two percent will be agreed on other levels of the Coordination Mechanism. At the meeting with the Presidency members, Covic and Izetbegovic, third member Mladen Ivanic Councelor, Marija Milic, expressed their gratitude to the EU and its institutions for the permanent support on the way to the European integration.

The meeting was so important that even the RS president, Milorad Dodik, came to Sarajevo, despite his earlier decision to avoid the BiH capital since he “does not feel secure” in it. It was interesting that on the “family photo”, Covic stands between Dodik and Izetbegovic. He and Dodik are great friends but none of them is on good terms with Izetbegovic.

Over the coming period the political scene in the country will be very interesting and the “grande finale” is expected to take place next spring, when the Central Election Commision in BiH will announce the general elections for October…/IBNA