The issue of NATO integration hinders the formation of the BiH government

Željko Komšić, Milorad Dodik and Šefik Džaferović; Photo: Presidency of BiH

SARAJEVO – Yesterday, the members of the BiH Presidency, Milorad Dodik, Željko Komšić, and Šefik Džaferović canceled the sessions at which the NATO Annual National Program (ANP) was to be adopted and the Chair of the BiH Council of Ministers appointed.

This comes after months of negotiating and reaching a political agreement, which envisaged the formation of the Council of Ministers by 5 September.

Dodik said on the occasion that they were trying to keep the door open for a new deal and did not want the vote to be overturned.

“If the ANP had been voted on, I would have voted against it, and they (Željko Komšić and Šefik Džaferović) had already said that in that case they would have voted against the appointment of Zoran Tegeltija (propsed by Milorad Dodik) as chairman of the Council of Ministers,” Dodik told reporters and added that there was a suggestion that the BiH Presidency Chairman should send the ANP to Brussels, which was unacceptable to him because it would mean activating the Membership Action plan (MAP) which would further push further BiH towards NATO membership.

Reacting to the event, the Head of the EU Delegation to BiH and Special Representative, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, expressed regret that the sessions had not been held and that there had been no appointment of the designate to form the BiH Council of Ministers.

Wigemark stressed that the EU understands that EU membership can be related to other issues, such as BiH’s NATO membership, but for the EU it is important that both processes should proceed smoothly, reports Fena.

“Currently nobody is talking about [NATO] membership and what is the ultimate goal of this country is membership in the European Union,” said Wigemark.

According to him, the recent Agreement on the principles of forming the government of the leaders of the SDA, HDZ and SNSD is a good starting point, and that, when the authorities are formed, it will be up to them to implement it.

NATO as a source of dispute

The agreement that Wigemark mentioned was signed on 5 August in Sarajevo between SDA, SNSD and HDZ presidents, Bakir Izetbegović, Milorad Dodik, and Dragan Čović. The signing comes after months of unsuccessful attempts to form a Council of Ministers after the elections were held on 7 October 2018.

The agreement contains 12 principles on the basis of which BiH authorities will function in the upcoming term and it sets a deadline of 30 days to form the Council of Ministers. If that does not happen then the agreement will cease to be valid.

The main source of a dispute is the third principle which is about future NATO-BiH relations. It emphasizes the continuation of NATO integration processes in accordance with the Constitution and laws.

„The commitment to improve relations with NATO should be confirmed, while not prejudicing future decisions in connection with membership of BiH. All activities in this regard are implemented in keeping with all relevant decisions of the BiH Presidency, the BiH Parliamentary Assembly and the BiH Council of Ministers, having in mind the constitutional competences of the Presidency for the implementation of foreign policy“, states third principle.

It states that the Commission for NATO integration will cooperate with all relevant institutions with the aim of implementing relations with NATO, which will include the drafting of plans, based on decisions of the BiH Presidency and the Council of Ministers.

BiH’s long road toward NATO membership

The BiH Presidency expressed the desire for BiH to join NATO as early as June 2001 during a visit by NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, and received the invitation to join the Partnership for Peace (PfP) in July 2006 at the Riga Summit, while in December of the same year it became an official PfP country.

BiH adopted its first and only Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) in September 2008, which consisted of defined areas and a mechanism for cooperation between BiH and NATO. Finally, in 2009, the then Chairman of the BiH Presidency, Nebojša Radmanović (a member of the SNSD party, same as Dodik) submitted an application for the Membership Action Plan (MAP), a partnership program between the country that has aspirations to join NATO.

„Further progress towards NATO membership is of crucial importance“, wrote Radmanović to the then NATO Secretary-General, stating that we are “pleased with the success of our friends and neighbors” – Albania and Croatia, and that “we believe it is also a good time for us to follow their path. ”

It was not until 2018 that NATO foreign ministers decided that NATO was ready to accept BiH’s first Annual National Program. Therefore, it is now up to the Council of Ministers of BiH to adopt and submit its first Annual National Program (ANP) to NATO Allies, in order to activate the MAP.

However, Milorad Dodik has no dilemma – he will not vote for the ANP because he does not want BiH to join NATO. Dodik points out that there is no mentioning of the ANP in the abovementioned agreement itself, and that although there are earlier decisions by BiH political structures regarding NATO integration, this does not mean that new ones should be made. He further announced that after 5 September, if the agreement fails, the National Assembly of the Republic of Srpska will decide on the measures it will take.

Based on all this, it remains to be seen whether the political crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue or the current political infrastructures would be able to overcome it.