Interview with Cristian Dan Preda, Member of European Parliament and Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

European Western Balkans: Do you expect the EU to grant Bosnia and Herzegovina candidacy status next year?

Cristian Dan Preda: I certainly hope that BiH will be granted candidate country status next year. But this status is not a gift received from the EU institutions, it has to be earned. The country must be able to show that it is serious about the EU accession related reforms. Unfortunately, it is not what we have seen in the last year and a half, when the pace of reforms seriously slowed down.

Now that the general elections of 7 October have passed, BiH has an opportunity to reverse this trend. That is why it is crucial that authorities are formed without delay and start working on the necessary reforms.

EWB: When will the new Resolution of European Parliament on Bosnia and Herzegovina be adopted? Is the formation of the Joint Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee the only requirement?

CDP: When we have voted on my report in the Foreign Affairs Committer, on the 6th of December, I have asked for a postponement of the debate and of the vote in plenary. The discussion in the plenary, initially foreseen for January 2019, will now be delayed. For how long, it depends on our friends in the BiH Parliament.

I would like to see some sign, some indication that they want to work with us in the European Parliament on the European integration of their country. For me, it was the last chance to try to solve the problem of the SAPC, which has not met for 3 years.

As you know, the BiH side objected to the adoption of the Rules of Procedure and attempted to introduce ethnic voting in this common parliamentary body. This was of course unacceptable for us, and despite our efforts to find a solution compatible with EU law, all attempts to solve this issue have failed. The result is that we do not have this functioning parliamentary cooperation body.

It is not a minor issue, but a case of disregard for the obligations undertaken by BiH in the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA). It is also a unique situation for the European Parliament, because it is the only case where we could not create such a parliamentary body.

EWB: Formation of the Committee, as well as post-election government formation and drafting the answers to the EC Questionnaire are some of the examples proving that BiHs institutions are slow at tackling even the relatively non-controversial issues. What is the solution: more powerful central government, more EU incentives or something else?

CDP: The examples you mention indeed seem to indicate that the institutions in BiH are slower, compared to other countries in the region. At the same time, one has to acknowledge that BiH is a country with a very complicated institutional set-up. A more streamlined decision-making and functional institutional set-up would certainly help, and in our resolutions in the European Parliament, we always referred to this.

More generally, I think, on the EU side, we did provide incentives. We adopted at the end of 2014 a new EU approach, allowing the entry into force of the SAA; the submission of the BiH application for membership was accepted and the opinion process has started; we offered financial incentives, the IPA funds, etc.

That something else you refer to has in reality to come from the BiH authorities themselves. I think the political elites in the country must realize that they need to take full responsibility for the EU integration process. Nobody can do the necessary reforms in the place of the authorities and political parties must learn to work on building consensus, when it comes to reforms required by the EU accession.

Also, the citizens of the country must hold them accountable if that does not happen. Whenever I visit the country, I hear the expression of the frustration of the people there with the authorities, with the unfulfilled promises, with the delays in terms of EU integration and with the lack of improvement of their own socio-economic situation. The people of BiH need to learn to use this exceptional power they have, the vote.

EWB: A number of amendments to the Draft Resolution highlight the shortcomings of the recent general elections, both in terms of them not living up to the highest democratic standards, and their perceived failure to achieve representation of all major groups. Furthermore, the Sejdić-Finci ruling of the European Court of Human Rights has not been implemented for more than nine years. Have international institutions, including the EU, been too soft in their assessment of the elections?

CDP: We did indeed receive, at the Committee level, a lot of amendments on issues related to the elections. I would not say international observers, including those of EU, have been too “soft”. There are a number of parameters, of international standards, that are used to measure whether elections are free and fair or not. The international observers have compared the situation in BiH against those standards and have found the elections to be genuinely competitive, despite some irregularities.

I do not think there was any leniency from the international observers, or the EU, towards the structural deficiencies when it comes to the elections, such as the lack of implementation of the Sejdić-Finci decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) or the fact that the legal loophole left in the electoral law following the BiH Constitutional Court in the Ljubić case was not addressed. If you look carefully at the conclusions of the international observers or the debates we had in Brussels regarding the elections, you will see that these issues where constantly raised. In the European Parliament, we have consistently insisted on the implementation of decisions in the Sejdić-Finci and related cases in order to bring the legislation in line with the EU acquis regarding non-discrimination.

The ninth anniversary of the adoption of the ECHR Sejdić-Finci decision is indeed a sad occasion, because it reminds us of the failure of the authorities to ensure equal rights for all the citizens. It is also a reminder of the fact that it is high time that political elites stop paying lip service to the idea of implementing this and the other ECHR decisions in related cases and start doing something about it. We all know that without this accession to the EU will be impossible.

EWB: Recently, the media have started to report about Bosnia moving closer to the NATO membership. How do you assess this possibility and how would it affect EU integration process of the country?     

CDP: The Foreign Policy Strategy of Bosnia and Herzegovina 2018-2023 adopted this spring clearly states that the continued implementation of the activities related to NATO remains a priority of the institutions of the country. The fact that NATO invited earlier this month BiH to start working on a Membership Action Plan (MAP) is for me a positive sign. The two processes, EU accession and NATO membership, are of course not linked, but they are in fact mutually supportive.

NATO membership represents first of all a security guarantee that is important, in my view, for all Western Balkan countries, not only BiH. Beyond this security aspect and the military and defence cooperation, joining NATO also means continuing economic and political reforms, strengthening Rule of Law and fighting corruption, as well as bringing the aspiring country closer to the values of the Alliance. These aspects can only reinforce what a country does in order to join the EU.

Looking back also at the experience of my own country, Romania, who was first admitted to NATO, then became a member of the EU, I can say that there are clear benefits in pursuing both objectives in parallel. Getting ready for NATO membership certainly helped Romania advance with preparations for fulfilling the criteria for EU membership.