The decision by the Republika Srpska National Assembly (RSNA) to reject an EU-backed proposal to unify Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) police forces jeopardises the country’s future, top international envoy Paddy Ashdown said Tuesday (31 May).
After 12 hours of debate, 62 lawmakers in the 83-seat RSNA voted against the police restructuring plan. Only 14 MPs supported it. The adopted conclusion described a provision allowing local police areas to cross inter-entity boundaries in order to improve the force’s efficiency in fighting organised crime and reduce political interference — demanded by the EU — as “unacceptable”.
Brussels has set police reform as a key condition for opening talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with BiH, a first step towards eventual membership. The rejection by RS lawmakers means BiH will remain the only country in the region that neither has a contractual relationship with the EU nor is negotiating one, Ashdown said.
“The main responsibility for this terrible wasted opportunity lies firmly and squarely with the RS government — and especially with its majority ruling party, the SDS,” he said, adding that it was the citizens of BiH, and of RS in particular, who would end up paying the price. With its progress towards EU integration stalled, the country is unlikely to get much needed international investment, new jobs, or the chance for visa-free travel to EU member states.
“The road to Europe will remain closed for the country until, as must happen in the end, the government of RS is prepared to adhere to European standards,” Ashdown said. “Maybe that doesn’t matter too much to the RS’s leaders — they have jobs and official passports. They’re the lucky ones. They can travel freely around Europe, unlike their voters who have to queue for hours for visas. They have regular pay cheques. Unlike their voters, too many of whom are without jobs.”
Once again, he said, “the party founded by Radovan Karadzic has shown itself incapable of looking to the future and, once again, placed a blight on the future of the whole country.” Referring to the rejection by French voters of the EU constitution, he said RS politicians couldn’t have chosen a worse moment to place BiH at the back of the EU queue.
The EU Police Mission (EUPM) described the RSNA’s rejection of the proposed police reform package as a “tragedy” for BiH. “The consequences â€¦ will have severe effects not only on policing but also on the future of BiH in its aspirations to advance towards the EU,” an EUPM statement said.
Following Monday’s vote, the RSNA authorised a delegation of entity representatives to resume talks and seek a compromise.
But the head of the European Commission delegation in BiH made it clear that the EU would not back down. “The position of the EU is clear and unambiguous,” Reuters quoted the head of the European Commission Delegation to BiH Michael Humphreys as telling lawmakers. “These are the principles and they are non-negotiable.”