Laktasi meeting agreement – BiH accession opening

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1/ Tuesday’s visit to Sarajevo by “Team Europe” – @vonderleyen, @AndrejPlenkovic, @MinPres – in the context of the EU’s decision on opening accession talks with #BiH, has to be considered …

2/ … together with last Thursday’s meeting of the ruling state coalition in Laktasi, which put on full display everything that is wrong with the EU’s current approach to #BiH and EU enlargement towards the Western Balkans.

3/ The Laktasi conclave produced two versions of a framework agreement by the coalition partners on a number of reforms with which they hope to achieve a positive decision by the European Council in March.

4/ The 1st version reflects the positions of SNSD and HDZ BiH, and the 2nd that of the so-called Troika (SDP, NiP, NS) (more here)

5/ The papers cover key reform areas that have remained contentious over the last several years: so-called election law reform (ELR), the Law on Courts of BiH and a law on the Constitutional Court of BiH (CC BiH).

6/ On ELR, the governing parties reject @OHR_BiH Schmidt’s request for “integrity reforms” to prevent electoral fraud – in particular measures to de-politicize local electoral committees – which he has threatened to impose.

7/ Instead, HDZ leader @Dragan-Covic has recycled a method for electing the Croat member of the BiH Presidency proposed at the outset of the 2021-22 EU-US led ELR negotiations.

8/ This new-old proposal for ELR continues to aim at the establishment of a Croat political/electoral unit – a de facto third entity –to ensure the party’s monopoly on political representation of Croats by way of precision ethno-territorial gerrymandering.

9/ It even fails to meet Western negotiators’ previous condition of doing ELR by way of “limited constitutional reform,” the wording introduced by @josattler in March 2021 to try to counter criticism of EU-US capitulation to HDZ…

10/ …by providing a way to claim that reforms were about implementing Sejdic-Finci, Zornic, Kovacevic & other ECtHR rulings. These obligate ending discrimination against BiH citizens not identifying as members of a constituent people (Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs).

11/ Other reform proposals that seem to enjoy the support of the Troika parties – the return of closed party lists, ending preferential voting (one of the major achievements in opening up the electoral system 2 decades ago), …

12/ … ensuring “imperative mandates” (MPs’ mandates belonging to the party – a regulation removed in all WB countries in the past upon insistence of the EU), and making voting compulsory, with citizens failing to vote subject to fines.

13/ Taken together, the HDZ (and SNSD’s) position would mean making BiH’s electoral system even more discriminatory by further institutionalizing ethnicization and entrenching party strangleholds;

14/ … ”implementing” ECtHR rulings in a way to declare the formal end of discriminations, but that would in practice leave them in place; and forcing citizens to give legitimacy to this electoral Frankenstein by threat of fines for not voting.

15/ Agreement on a Law on Courts of BiH remains elusive thanks to a dispute between Dodik and the Troika on the seat of the future separate appellate court. However, in Laktasi, the SNSD introduced a new request, which far exceeds previous positions.

16/ For the last decade, the Dodik regime has tried to hijack the EU’s request for the law more precisely defining the Court’s jurisdiction over the entities…

17/ … for its aim to remove the state-level judiciary’s jurisdiction over attacks on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of BiH.

18/ Dodik now wants to remove any Court jurisdiction over the entities. This would not only give him a free hand to pursue secessionist moves. It would deepen judicial fragmentation – contrary to the EC’s 2019 Avis that conditions to end fragmentation via a new BiH supreme court.

19/ Regarding the SNSD-HDZ attack on the Constitutional Court of BiH and their aim to remove the three international judges, both Laktasi documents propose adoption of a law on the election of the Court’s judges, without going into details on substance.

20/ This could either mean that the BiH Parliament elects all 9 judges – which would enable Dodik/SNSD not just to block the election of the 2 judges coming from the RS, as he currently does, but also the 3 foreign judges, rendering the Court inoperable…

21/… or for the Law to entirely end the mandate of the 3 international judges – which would be unconstitutional, as the foreign judges can only be removed from the Court by way of constitutional change.

22/ The fact that the HDZ and SNSD have reverted to maximalist positions that are both undemocratic and anti-European, that the Troika is even agreeing to negotiate with them, and that the EU so far has remained silent on these proposals…

23/ …again shows that the EU’s 12/22 decision to grant BiH candidate status, and the 12/23 offer of a prospect to open accession talks in March, is tantamount to a conditionality-free race to the bottom in #BiH.

24/ Following the EU’s commitment to a values-based enlargement in granting EU candidacy to Ukraine and Moldova, BiH’s ruling ethnonationalist elites in BiH have concluded that the Union is desperate for any changes…

25/ … that it can claim represent progress even if those reforms move the country further away from democratic, accountable functionality than ever.

26/ It is up to member states still committed to the EU’s liberal democratic values and to enlargement, starting with Germany and the Netherlands, to end this charade, rejecting the hijacking of BiH’s EU path by illiberal & transactionalist member states and EU officials.

27/ Giving a seal of approval to this latest round of party blackmail would prove the hollowness of talk of BiH’s EU path, and the enlargement agenda more generally. Only progress toward an accountable democratic state can make BiH membership of the EU (and NATO) possible.