European Integration and the Republic of Srpska
Accession to the European Union is one of the strategic goals for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and thus also for the Republic of Srpska as its integral part. By acquiring the full membership in the European Union, a country ensures its position in stable economic and political community of the united European nations, which is at the same time the confirmation of success in implementing the highest democratic standards and reforms. The mission of the Ministry is the coordination of the economic development, the improvement of business environment, the development of regional economic cooperation, attracting foreign investments, donor coordination, coordination and activities related to European integration process in the Republic of Srpska. The Ministry of Economic Relations and Regional Cooperation (MERRC) is the coordinator of the EU integration process in the Republic of Srpska. Activities of the Ministry are focused on strengthening capacities of the institutions at the level of the Republic in the policy-making process, creating strategies and plans for economic and social development, and promoting the advantages of regional and European integration. In the European integration process, the Ministry cooperates actively with the institutions at the level of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Delegation of EU to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the NGO sector. Regional cooperation, realized by the mediation of representative bodies of the Republic of Srpska, is especially important.
In 2008, the Government of the Republic of Srpska appointed representatives of the line ministries of the Republic for participation in task forces in EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and persons responsible for managing EU funds. At the time, the coordination of activities in the EU integration process in the Republic of Srpska were managed by the European Integration Unit within the Cabinet of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Srpska Government.
Continuously strengthening the capacities, in 2011, due to the increased scope of activities, the Government established a new mechanism for EU integration process for the Republic of Srpska by appointing specialists devoted to three segments of the EU integration process. These are: harmonization of legislation, programming and monitoring the implementation of projects financed from IPA funds, and monitoring the implementation of the Interim Agreement and the Agreement on stabilisation and association. At the same time, the Department for European Integration, within the Ministry of Economic Relations and Regional Cooperation became responsible for the coordination of activities of EU integration process in the Republic of Srpska and the participation of the competent institutions in that process.
In June 2013, the Government of the Republic of Srpska made the Decision on the implementation of coordination of administrative authorities at the Republic level in implementing activities of the European integration process and international cooperation. The Government thus defined the system of coordination of activities of the Republic administrative authorities in the field of European integration process and international cooperation is conducted through the mediation of the Ministry of Economic Relations and Regional Cooperation of the Republic of Srpska and in cooperation with the Cabinet of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Srpska Government. Establishing vertical coordination, the Cabinet of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Srpska – the Ministry – administrative authorities at the level of the Republic, ensures the complete inclusion and acting in unison of the institutions of the Republic of Srpska in the EU integration process.
The development and the improvement of regional, interregional and cross-border cooperation are some of the strategic aims of the Government of the Republic of Srpska. The regional partnerships with the authorities of other countries through the preparation and implementation of joint activities with the aim of economic and social development in the context of European integration process. Many cooperation agreements with the regions abroad have been concluded and are being implemented, and there are continuous activities for establishing cooperation with different relevant entities.
The Republic of Srpska participates in various regional initiatives, such as: EU Strategy for the Danube Region, CEI, Union for the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Ionian initiative, etc. Furthermore, there is an active cooperation with international organizations and institutions in the projects that are important for its economic development and social stability. Activities directed towards strengthening the regional cooperation are also conducted within the partnership of the Republic of Srpska in the Assembly of European Regions (AER).
When it comes to the realization of regional cooperation a significant role also belongs to the representative offices of the Republic of Srpska abroad which are presenting and promoting its potentials and interests. Apart from the eight existing representative offices of the Republic of Srpska (in the Republic of Serbia, Kingdom of Belgium, Russian Federation, FR Germany, Austria, Israel, Greece and the United States of America) there is the tendency for further expansion of the network in the countries of interest for the Republic of Srpska.
Department for European Integration within the Ministry of Economic Relations and Regional Cooperation is structured in such a way that it is mirrors three important segments of the EU integration process:
- Harmonization of legislation (Division for harmonization of legislation),
- Programming, implementation and monitoring of projects financed by EU and other donors (Division for funds and Development Assistance),
- Monitoring the implementation of the Interim Agreement and Agreement on stabilisation and association (Division for integration policy, analytic and reporting).
In addition, the Ministry cooperates with the Committee for EU integration of the National Assembly of the Republic of Srpska and regularly informs the Government and the National Assembly on the process of the EU integration in the Republic of Srpska.
Harmonization of legislation in the Republic of Srpska
The issue of harmonization of legislation of the Republic of Srpska with the EU acquis is regulated by the Law on the administration of the Republic, based on which the Government of the Republic of Srpska made the Decision on the procedure of harmonization of legislation of the Republic of Srpska with EU acquis and legal acts of the Council of Europe. With this decision, the procedure of harmonization of legislation of the Republic of Srpska with the EU acquis and legal acts of the council of Europe.
At the beginning of each calendar year, Ministry of Economic Relations and Regional Cooperation makes the Action plan for harmonization of legislation of the Republic of Srpska with EU acquis. This document is made in accordance with the plan of legislation activities of the Ministry of the Government of the Republic of Srpska and serves as a type of a guide/plan for activities for the harmonization process.
From 2008 until today, around 1500 regulation draft proposals from the Republic of Srpska have gone through the process of harmonization. A part of the harmonization process consists of filling in the harmonization instruments – Statement and Comparative Table on the Compliance of the Act in the procedure with which the level of alignment with the EU acquis is determined. These instruments are filled in by the proponents of the act (in most cases, the ministries of the Government of the Republic of Srpska) with the expert assistance of the coordinators of the process – the representatives of MERRC. Department for European Integration of this Ministry participates in the process of harmonization by issuing the Opinion on Compliance. With the Opinion on Compliance, the determined degree of alignment of the given act with the EU acquis is stated and recommendations are provided for the proponent of the act related to the further modification and adoption of laws in the field. The records on the alignment instruments – statements and comparative tables on compliance, as well as the issued opinions on compliance, are kept in the Department for the European Integration of the Ministry.
Due to the normative activities of the EU institutions, the process of alignment with EU acquis is a ‘’moving target’’ and therefore the continuous training of the officials engaged in this process is necessary. With the aim of improving the effectiveness of the harmonization process, the Methodology of harmonizing the legislation of the Republic of Srpska with the EU acquis and legal acts of the Council of Europe has been drafted by the Ministry officials.
Funds and Development Assistance
Since 2007, the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) has been implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the aim of strengthening the capacities of the country for the full membership in the EU. Bosnia and Herzegovina, having the status of the potential candidate, from 2007 to 2013, has had the access to the 1st component – Technical Assistance and Institution Building and the 2nd component – Cross-Border Cooperation. In the aforementioned period, Bosnia and Herzegovina has also participated in five EU programmes and two transnational programmes. However, during this period, the institutions of the Republic of Srpska had not been sufficiently included in preparation and implementation IPA projects, which has been the cause of relatively low degree of project implementation and insufficient sustainability of the project results. From 2011, applying the principle of ‘consensus of all stakeholders’ improved the programming and implementation of IPA. The representatives of the Republic of Srpska participate in the activities of the Joint EU – BIH IPA Monitoring Committee, which is held twice a year. In these meetings, the projects with implementation problems are discussed with the aim of finding solutions for the continuation of their implementation. Active participation of the Republic of Srpska representatives in IPA Monitoring Committee has contributed to solving problems in project implementation that had been primarily caused by overlooking thecompetences of the institutions defined bythe Constitution and laws.
From 2013, the preparations for the new medium-term financial instrument 2014 – 2020 (IPA II), have been conducted. The transition from the former mode of implementation through individual projects to applying new sector approach for the implementation of IPA II, requires the coordination of all government levels including active participation of civil society organizations and local communities. The Ministry, in coordination with the Ministry of Administration and Local Self-governance, which is competent for local communities in the Republic of Srpska, has included local communities in the consultation process for preparing IPA II.
During 2013 and 2014, the Ministry has coordinated the participation of the Republic institutions and local communities in the preparation of the following strategic documents: Framework Strategic Document for Bosnia and Herzegovina for the period from 2014 to 2017, Cross-Border Cooperation programme Bosnia and Herzegovina – Montenegro 2014-2020, Cross-Border Cooperation trilateral programme Bosnia and Herzegovina – Montenegro – Croatia 2014-2020, Danube transnational programme, Adriatic-Ionian transnational programme. They also participate in the EU programmes 2014-2020, such as: ERASMUS+, Creative Europe and COSME. From 2015, they are going to participate in these programmes: FISCALIS and CUSTOMS, whereas their participation in Europe for Citizens programme is going to start in 2016. In addition,the participation of the potential applicants from the Republic of Srpska is coordinated within Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF).
Within the preparation for the implementation of sector approach, the Government of the Republic of Srpska has drafted the Review of the valid strategic and framework documents. Considering the fact that more than 70% of the competences in the sectors of agriculture, energy, small and medium enterprises, education, health and social welfare, science and technology, environment protection, traffic, internal affairs, judiciary, public finances are under the exclusive jurisdiction of entities (the Republic of Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina), the application of sector approach in Bosnia and Herzegovina has to be defined in such a way that the competent institutions of the entities are timely and completely included in all aspects of planning, implementing and monitoring financed by EU and by other donors.
The Ministry continuously organizes trainings for the representatives of the Republic institutions as well as the consultations with the administrative bodies of the Republic in the process of implementing projects in order to maximize the effects of the financial support and improve the process of EU integration. In the following period, the Ministry, together with the relevant institutions of the Republic of Srpska, is going to work actively on consolidation of the strategic and development priorities of the Republic with the priorities of EU integration.
Realization and monitoring of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement
By signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) and the Interim Agreement on Trade (IAT), on 16 June 2008, Bosnia and Herzegovina committed to the implementation of the contractual measures from SAA and gradual liberalisation of trade relations with EU.
The monitoring of the realization of contractual measures from SAA as well as the obligations stemming from other relevant documents by Bosnia and Herzegovina is conducted by the European Commission using two basic mechanisms. Firstly, special bodies which, based on contractual arrangements, are established for that purpose and which consist of the representatives of the institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and representatives of the European Commission. Secondly, regular annual reports on the progress of each of the countries in the region in the EU integration process which are drafted and published in the last quarter of the calendar year. The structure of the monitoring bodies, whose establishment is based on the Interim Agreement and whose meetings are held based on the previously defined schedule, consists of:
- Interim Committee for Stabilisation and Association;
- Six sector sub-committees:
- Sub-Committee for transport, energy, environment and regional development;
- Sub-Committee for agriculture and fisheries;
- Sub-Committee for trade, industry, customs, taxation and cooperation with other candidate countries;
- Sub-Committee for internal market and competition;
- Sub-Committee for economic and financial issues and statistics;
- Sub-Committee for innovation, information society, social policy and health.
There has been six cycles of meetings of sector interim sub-committees so far, and at the moment, the 7th Meeting of the Interim Sub-Committee, planned for September 2014, is being prepared. Apart from the meeting of the aforementioned bodies, seven meetings within the Structured Dialogue for judiciary reform have been held, and after the Stabilisation and Association Agreement entries into force, the Sub-Committee for the field of internal affairs and judiciary is going to be formally established. In addition, after the Stabilisation and Association Agreement entries into force, the institutional monitoring structure as a whole is going to be changed so that the Stabilisation and Association Committee is going to lose its ‘interim’ property, and two new bodies are going to be established: the Council for Stabilisation and Association, as a body on the highest political level, and Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee which consists of the representatives of the European Parliament on the one side, and representatives of legislative authority of the country in the association process on the other side.
The competent institutions of the Republic of Srpska, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brcko District and institutions at the level of Bosnia and Herzegovina participate in the activities of the aforementioned working groups for monitoring the realization of SAA and IAT and other forms of reporting to European Commission.
As stated before, some of the most important instruments of the European Commission for monitoring the progress achieved in potential candidate countriesand candidate countries for the EU membership are the so-called regular annual reports, published in the last quarter of the calendar year, in which the EC presents its evaluation of the situation of the country and recommendations for further activities in different areas. The aforementioned reports include the period from October of the previous year until September of the current year. The competent institutions of the Republic of Srpska, coordinated by the Ministry of Economic Relations and Regional Cooperation, in accordance with their competences, participate actively in making the Inputs of institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina for drafting the Report on the progress of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the key requirements of the European Commission for further advancement of Bosnia and Herzegovina toward EU membership is the establishment of the effective coordination mechanism in the field of EU integration in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2013, the representatives of the Republic of Srpska, within the joint BIH task force, participated actively in the preparation of Draft decision on establishing the new coordination mechanism in the field of EU integration in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which comprehends the joint elements of the presented concepts and constitutional structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This concept, however, was not accepted by the representatives of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Capacity Building for European Integration
An important part of the EU integration process is capacity building for implementing obligations to which the country committedby signing the Agreement. In 2013, the Ministry, being the Republic coordinator for trainings related to European integration, coordinated the realization of 212 trainings in this field. The most common training support comes through TAIEX – Technical Assistance and Information Exchange Instrument of the Directorate-General for Enlargement EC, RESPA – Regional School of Public Administration, MATRA – Training programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Netherlands, etc.
The representatives of the Ministry conduct continuous trainings of the employees of the Republic administrative bodies, local communities and other persons in accordance with the topics relevant for EU integration process.
It is important to point out the cooperation with Agency for State Administration of the Republic of Srpska, within which trainings in the fields of harmonization of legislation, introducing the available funds and assistance programmes, project preparation, report preparation, etc. have been conducted for the representatives of the Republic institutions. Since 2013, as a part of the cooperation with the Faculty of Philology of the University of Banja Luka, the Student Practice project is being conducted.
In the following period, trainings are prepared for the application of the Sector approach and Implementing IPA II, EU acquis, Techniques and methods of harmonization of regulations with the EU acquis, Base search of the sources of EU laws – EURLEX, and intensive English courses.
Author: Mr. Igor Vidovic, Minister of Economic relations and Regional cooperation of the Republic of Srpska