Bosnia: EU Hopes Hit by Serb Police Reform Rejection

Republika Srpska kicks Bosnia’s plans to open talks on joining the European Union into the long grass.

Bosnia: EU Hopes Hit by Serb Police Reform Rejection

Republika Srpska kicks Bosnia’s plans to open talks on joining the European Union into the long grass.

Friday, 23 September, 2005

The Bosnian Serb parliament’s decision last week to throw out plans for a Bosnia-wide police force have seriously jeopardised the country’s hopes of further European integration, international officials have warned.

At an extraordinary meeting on September 13, the assembly of the Republika Srpska, RS, voted 56 to 10 against the creation of a unified police force.

As a result, Bosnia and Hercegovina will not be able to start negotiations with the European Union on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, SAA. Initialling an SAA with Brussels would mark the first step toward membership.

The 1995 Dayton peace accords, which ended the war in the republic, handed control over the police exclusively to the two entities, the RS and the Federation.

However, Europe has made clear that Bosnia must have more centralised institutions if its membership ambitions are to be taken seriously. A unified police force was one of the key reforms the country had to fulfil.

The European Commission proposed a set of reforms, unifying control over the police at national level, enabling officers to work in both entities.

But almost a year of preparations and five months of negotiations failed to bring the plan to fruition.

While the Federation and the Bosnian state Council of Ministers approved the EC model, RS politicians argued that it stripped their entity of one of its key competences and paved the way for the entity’s abolition.

During 2005 the RS assembly discussed police reform three times and on each occasion rejected calls to transfer control to central institutions.

International pressure intensified as the tenth anniversary of the Dayton deal neared and as Bosnia kept on missing EU deadlines to implement the reforms required for a SAA.

Although the EU Enlargement Commissioner, Oli Rehn, said that “there will be no bargaining with the European Commission about police reform”, Brussels gave local politicians one last chance.

Days before the latest deadline of September 15 expired, Brussels offered Bosnia an immediate SAA if it agreed to restructure the police on EC lines.

Barisa Colak, Bosnia’s minister of security, urged local politicians to accept it. “[Bosnia] is not in a position to dictate conditions for integration with the European Union,” he said. “This is a 'take it or leave it' offer.”

But the RS declined to buckle. On September 12, the entity’s prime minister, Pero Bukejlovic, said his government would accept “a centralised institution for the coordination of police structures' activities… but will not accept loss of control”.

In the RS assembly on September 13, the ruling Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, and the main opposition Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, united to oppose the reforms.

SDS deputies said the agreement would leave the RS as a shell, or as one put it, the entity “would remain just a form without content”.

Krstan Simic, SNSD vice-president, said his party did not oppose police reform in principle “but only in a form and by principles that we establish ourselves”. Other parties said any reform plans should be put to a referendum.

A Coordination Committee of 11 NGOs, representing war veterans, former prisoners of war and families of soldiers killed in action, piled extra pressure on the politicians to maintain their defiance.

On the eve of the RS assembly vote, the head of the veterans' association, Savo Cvjetinovic, said that “police reform means the abolition of the RS”. He added, “Republika Srpska was born in blood and will end in blood if necessary.”

The international community has not concealed its unhappiness about the parliamentary vote. Frane Marojevic, an EC representative, said the commission was “very disappointed”.

“The European Commission has always insisted on the importance of police reform … which has to be implemented before negotiations on stabilisation and association,” he went on.

Marojevic said Bosnia had “missed a chance to immediately begin negotiations on a stabilisation agreement with the EU”, and thus gain access to pre-accession funds.

Mario Brkic, spokesman of the Office of High Representative, agreed that an opportunity had been spurned.

“We are running out of time and these delaying tactics will ruin every hope of joining EU,” he said. “If the government of [Bosnia] fails to act, there will be no new chance [to start talks] until 2007.”

On September 22, the High Representative Paddy Ashdown issued a stark warning to the RS leadership, ”Think again before it is too late."

Dragan Jerinic, editor of Nezavisne Novine, in Banja Luka, said the Banja Luka parliament’s decision would have economic consequences for the country but he doubted RS would face sanctions. “The RS did not violate the Dayton Agreement by refusing this [reform] process,” he insisted.

Gordana Katana is a regular BCR contributor in Banja Luka.

Frontline Updates
Support local journalists