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Updated On: Thursday, May 25 2017

Divisive Rhetoric Could Derail Political Gains, Path to European Union Integration in Bosnia and Herzegovina, High Representative Warns Security Council

Content by: UN News Centre

While Bosnia and Herzegovina was largely stable and had made considerable political strides, its continued progress must not be taken for granted, the senior United Nations official in the country warned the Security Council today, while expressing concern over divisive trends that risked reopening the Federation’s “wounds of the past”.

Valentin Inzko, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, declared:  “It cannot be assumed that [the Federation] is on a glide path to a peaceful, viable State irreversibly on course for European integration.”  Indeed, he said, while Bosnia and Herzegovina — which marks its twenty-fifth anniversary as a United Nations Member State this month — had taken the early steps towards joining the European Union, a number of serious challenges remained.

Among those, he said, were intensified calls by some Croat politicians for the country’s “federalization”, which had been understood by some to imply its further ethnic division.  In addition, he drew attention to a recent request by Serb political leaders for a review of the International Court of Justice’s landmark 2007 ruling in Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia — which had considered whether the 1995 massacre of 8,000 people in Srebrenica had constituted genocide — as well as “ostentatious celebrations” and efforts by Republika Srpska authorities to hold an unconstitutional referendum on 9 January.

Pointing out that the United States’ imposition of financial sanctions had effectively reduced secessionist calls by those authorities, he said Republika Srpska’s call for “independent status” nevertheless remained part of its official platform.  Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rule of law situation had also continued to deteriorate, he added, urging the Federation’s authorities to use the period leading up to its 2018 elections to prove to voters that they were able to look past divisive issues and deliver meaningful reforms.

Following that briefing, a number of Security Council members welcomed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s significant progress, including its recently completed Strategic Defence Assessment and the signing of a protocol that provides for technical adjustments to the Federation’s Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union in order to prevent disruption of Bosnia-Croatia bilateral trade.

However, several speakers also voiced concern that the recent uptick in divisive rhetoric — described by the High Representative and detailed in his fifty-first report on the implementation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 1995 Peace Agreement (document S/2017/379) — could jeopardize the country’s social cohesion, rule of law, sovereignty and territorial integrity, or even return it to the “dark days” of the past.

The United Kingdom’s representative, in that regard, expressed concern that narrow interests — both personal and political — had set back Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress over the course of the last year.  “This backward-looking, divisive politicking has no place in 2017,” he stressed, adding that while the Federation still had a chance to continue down the road towards European Union integration, that path would require its leaders to work together to deliver reforms that would enable it to compete and thrive in the world’s modern economy.

Also addressing the Council, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s representative outlined his country’s bolstered efforts to strengthen the rule of law, its introduction of penal code amendments aimed at processing those involved with terrorist groups and its ongoing cooperation with the European Union’s military operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina — known as “EUFOR ALTHEA”.  He also described the Federation’s considerable economic growth and its implementation of a strategy for migration and asylum for 2016-2020.

Serbia’s representative pledged his country’s commitment to the maintenance of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as to continued dialogue among all parties.  Emphasizing the need to avoid such unilateral actions as the recent attempt to institute legally unfounded proceedings to revise the International Court of Justice’s judgement in Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia, he said the Court’s ultimate rejection of that request had confirmed the need for political dialogue to address disagreements and resolve outstanding issues.

Striking a similar tone, the Russian Federation’s representative cautioned against alarming attempts to create consensus among all institutions, noting that the High Representative’s report was one-sided and politicized in its assessments.  The report left “a lot to be desired” and presented a biased attitude towards the Serbs for which the High Representative must apologize.  He also disagreed with assertions that the 9 January Republika Srpska Day celebrations had resulted in the deterioration of the situation on the ground, and called on the United States to rescind the one-sided sanctions it had imposed on Republika Srpska last year.  

Croatia’s representative said the most urgent political question was reforming Bosnia and Herzegovina’s election law, which presented a welcome opportunity to ensure the institutional equality of the three peoples — Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs — as well as a chance to advance towards political stability and a more integrated country.  The refusal to implement the Constitutional Court’s decision on reforming the election law jeopardized the Federation’s fragile stability, leaving open the space for further political manipulations, he warned.

Other delegates also emphasized Bosnia and Herzegovina’s relative fragility, noting that despite progress the Federation’s security had yet to be “fully entrenched”.  A number of speakers called for continued support for EUFOR ALTHEA, recommending that the Force’s mandate be extended when the Council took up the issue in November.  In that vein, the European Union’s representative said the bloc would continue to use all available instruments to support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s stability, adding that EUFOR ALTHEA retained the capability to support the authorities’ deterrence capacity if the situation so required.

Also speaking were the representatives of Kazakhstan, United States, Italy, Sweden, Ukraine, Bolivia, France, Senegal, China, Ethiopia, Japan, Egypt and Uruguay.

The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 12:16 p.m.

Briefing

VALENTIN INZKO, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, recalled that 25 years had elapsed since the country’s admission as a full-fledged United Nations Member State.  Since that time, Bosnia and Herzegovina had made a significant contribution to the Organization’s work — most recently through its tenure as a non-permanent member of the Security Council — and it had continued to make progress along the path of Euro-Atlantic integration.  In December 2016, the country’s authorities had formally received the European Union Questionnaire and the adaptation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the bloc had taken place.  Urging the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities to maintain their focus on the European Union agenda, he cited the improved cooperation and reconciliation between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia as another positive development.

Nevertheless, he said some significant challenges remained, first and foremost the political controversy between Bosniak political representatives and Serb political parties over whether Bosnia and Herzegovina should submit a request for revision of the International Criminal Court’s 2007 judgement in the genocide case of Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia.  Two different legal interpretations on whether the country needed to renew the mandate of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s agent to the Court before submitting such a request had proved irreconcilable, increasing tensions within the presidency, he said, pointing out that the situation had ultimately been resolved when the Court made its decision on the non-admissibility of the request.  However, the overall dynamic whereby leading politicians focused disproportionately on ethnically divisive issues — while showing little urgency in addressing the need for real reforms — was a serious cause for concern.

Describing a second negative trend, he said the Republika Srpska authorities had moved to implement their unconstitutional referendum, including “ostentatious celebrations” of the 9 January holiday with the participation of some Serb members of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Armed Forces.  Some Croat politicians had also intensified calls for the “federalization” of the country, which had been understood by some to imply its further ethnic division.  Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rule of law situation also continued to deteriorate, and while the Republika Srpska’s public advocacy for secession had lessened, its call for “independent status” remained part of its official platform.  In that regard, he noted that the lessening of that rhetoric had followed the imposition of financial sanctions by the United States, showing that the international community could have an impact “when we are ready to send a strong message to authorities and leaders who openly reject rule of law and reopen wounds of the past”.

Pointing out that the focus would now likely turn to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 2018 elections, he encouraged the country’s authorities to make the most of the upcoming period and demonstrate to voters that they were able to look past divisive issues and deliver meaningful reforms.  In that context, it was unfathomable that a considerable number of citizens were still denied the basic right to run for office on the basis of their ethnicity, he stressed, urging the authorities to correct the discrimination identified in the so-called “Sejdic-Finci” cases as a priority.  Bosnia and Herzegovina remained a complex political and security environment where negative scenarios could quickly endanger the Dayton Peace Agreement and progress made since its adoption.  For that reason, he emphasized that the European Union Military Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina — known as EUFOR ALTHEA — remained critical, including its executive military mandate, and voiced support for its extension by the Council in November.  “It cannot be assumed that Bosnia and Herzegovina is on a glide path to a peaceful, viable State irreversibly on course for European integration,” he concluded, noting that such a path would continue to require the commitment of its leaders and the support of the international community.

Statements

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said Bosnia and Herzegovina was a country in transition, which required support for it to develop strong institutions.  He urged all parties to the peace agreement to observe all processes that were integral to that settlement, including the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Federation had shown its commitment to implement the reform agenda and he welcomed the high-level dialogue with Serbia.  The focus now must be on properties, strengthening the Parliamentary Assembly and developing the media.  The country required support to improve its energy infrastructure, trade, economic relations and resolve the question of returning refugees and displaced persons.  More must also be done to promote reconciliation.  Progress on European Union integration would help resolve long-standing issues, while also addressing reforms.  It was equally important for leaders to show accountability.  Strong international engagement was needed with measures to improve housing and healthcare, as well as to combat corruption, terrorism and organized crime.  The international community should support the move towards stability and inclusiveness, in fostering ethnic harmony.

VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said the report was one-sided and politicized in its assessments.  He cautioned against accusing Bosnian Serbs, and recently Croats, for all difficulties.  Rather, a focus on dialogue, based on mutual respect, must be taken.  The internal political situation had grown acute, having culminated in a constitutional crisis in February, with politicians carrying out a review of the 2007 International Court of Justice verdict, a step that had gone around Bosnian structures and undermined the country’s authority.  It was part of an alarming trend to create a consensus among all institutions.  The Dayton Agreement and its underlying principles had been under attack since 30 June when the census results had been announced and Bosnian Serb concerns had been ignored.  As such, the decision was made to change the law of Republika Srpska.

He could not agree that celebration of Republika Srpska Day had resulted in deterioration, with concerns over Bosniaks living in that area having “nothing to do with reality”.  The situation there was stable, including in Srebrenica.  Also, one-sided sanctions introduced last year by the United States must be rescinded.  Along with the chronic issues in Mostar, where there had been no elections since 2008, changes to the electoral law had been introduced.  Those changes must reflect the interests of all three constituents in the country.  That was a basic philosophy of the Dayton Agreement.  Also, the High Representative must address the low inter-ethnic trust.  He called for dialogue and cautioned against devising “untruthful stories” about separatists in Banja Luka.  The High Representative had paid little attention to the spread of extremist religious teachings, and the report’s depth left “a lot to be desired,” with a biased attitude towards the Serbs for which the High Representative must apologize.  Moreover, there had been no progress in the drawdown of that Office.  Promoting the Euro-Atlantic agenda was not part of its mandate and he saw no added value in an international presence in the country.  The Russian Federation, as a guarantor of the Dayton Agreement, would continue to promote stabilization in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and was interested in true equality among all three constituent entities there.

MICHELE SISON (United States) expressed her country’s full support for the Dayton Agreement, as well as for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and its progress towards European integration.  That path would require “vision, political will and follow through on commitments”, she stressed, adding that the country would also have to resolve longstanding political issues, including enhancing the rule of law, addressing corruption and improving the political climate for the benefit of all citizens.  Those changes would be especially critical now, before the 2018 elections, she said, echoing concern about any actions aimed at the power of State institutions or at creating further divisions in the Federation.  “United States sanctions against Republika Srpska President Dodik should be a warning” against all those who sought to undermine Bosnia and Herzegovina, she said, adding that while “we are not there yet” she looked forward to the country meeting the requirements set forth by the Peace Implementation Council for the closure of the Office of the High Representative.  In the meantime, she said, the international community should continue to provide support.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) voiced concern that, over the course of the last year, narrow interests — both personal and political — had set back Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress.  The country had returned to the divisions of the past rather than focusing on the future, which had distracted from the achievement of its much-needed reforms.  Drawing attention to the celebrations and referendum held on 9 January, he said the latter had been in direct violation of the Dayton Agreement.  Meanwhile, the actions of some Bosnian Croat politicians who had called for deeper divisions had further distracted from the country’s agenda, and the unilateral request by the Bosniak member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency for a revision of the International Criminal Court’s 2007 judgement in the Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia genocide case was another troubling development.  “This “backward-looking, divisive politicking has no place in 2017,” he stressed.  While there was still a chance for Bosnia and Herzegovina to continue down the road towards European Union integration, that would require its leaders to work together to deliver reforms that would enable it to compete and thrive in the world’s modern economy.  Warning that stability would not be entrenched “until national interests trump narrow interests”, he said the EUFOR ALTHEA mission and its executive mandate therefore remained critical, and voiced support for its upcoming renewal.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), associating with the European Union, said the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina  was in that bloc, with the reform agenda outlining key areas of action to consolidate stability.  The failure to adopt legislative reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) risked jeopardizing progress, and he called on all political forces to fulfil political and economic reforms, as the political leadership would be held accountable for results.  He looked forward to the finalization of the European Commission questionnaire, urging institutions to refrain from raising issues that would divert attention from the European Union track.  Italy expected the electoral law would be discussed in a consensual manner and would set out a functional framework for 2018 elections.  He cautioned against divisive rhetoric, stressing that integration among Western Balkan countries was key to their stabilization and conducive to the European path.  As chair of the Western Balkan process in 2017, Italy was discussing priorities to boost regional integration, with a summit to be held in July.  He urged the redoubling of efforts to advance the five objectives and the two conditions, known as the “5+2 agenda”, for the closure of the High Representative’s Office and looked forward to discussions on a possible reconfiguration of the international presence in the Federation.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, had recently visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, during which time she welcomed progress in the Federation’s European Union accession process.  She also underlined the importance of dedicated implementation of the reform agenda, focusing on challenges regarding socioeconomic development, corruption, organized crime and fundamental freedoms.  Those reforms, including of the election law, had to be pursued in an inclusive, transparent manner in order to be sustainable.  Sweden welcomed the relative calm and stable security situation, although the recurrence of nationalistic rhetoric and incidences of ethnically-motivated disputes was of concern.  Using the Dayton Accords as a framework for peace and stability, the unity of the country would be crucial for its further development, during which the international community must continue to stand with the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) condemned the decision of the Republika Srpska authorities to cease all contact with the Office of High Representative as well as their denial of access to official documents.  Such actions violated the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina and relevant Security Council resolutions.  Political tensions were not unique to Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Recent developments, including an attempted coup d’état in the Balkans, demonstrated that a shift from a post-conflict to a pre-conflict environment was still possible.  Despite condemnations and calls for restraint, Republika Srpska authorities continued their provocative actions.  Recalling discussions before the adoption of resolution 2315 (2016), he said his delegation had pushed for the inclusion in the text of condemnation of the so-called referendum.  However, that language had not been included due to opposition by the Russian Federation’s delegation.  Failure to take clear unified steps against separatist actions of Republika Srpska could destabilize the Balkans, he warned. Despite myriad negative developments, he remained encouraged by the Federation’s recent progress on its path to European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), reaffirming his delegation’s support for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity in line with the United Nations Charter, called on all of the country’s leaders to fully implement the Dayton Agreement.  Further urging them to continue to work for the benefit of their constituents, and to pursue their joint work through dialogue, he added that they should continue to pursue the 5+2 agenda required for the closure of the Office of the High Representative.  Finally, he called on the international community to take a neutral approach in its engagement with the Federation in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France), associating herself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, said Council members all shared the same basic view in support of the aspirations of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s people and EUFOR’s executive mandate.  That unity sent a signal of peace to the region, she said, adding that the European Community strongly supported the Federation’s integration into the bloc.  In that context, she voiced regret for recent episodes that had reopened some of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s past concerns, including the tensions surrounding the request to review the International Court of Justice’s 2007 opinion.  More broadly, she called for greater vigilance against any initiatives that could bring about deeper divisions.  France remained convinced that Bosnia and Herzegovina was moving down the path toward European integration — a prospect widely supported by the Federation’s population, authorities and other stakeholders — and would continue to support it.  In addition, she urged EUFOR ALTHEA to continue to adapt its work to the situation on the ground, particularly as it underwent its strategic review later in the year.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) said progress had been made with the 2016 adoption of the defense review document and signature of the Protocol on the Adaptation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement.  Yet, there had been a resurgence of tensions among Bosnian, Serbian and Croat communities, and frank dialogue among the constituencies was needed.  Noting that Bosnia and Herzegovina continued to benefit from IMF support, he encouraged the three groups to cooperate and foster a will to live together in a stable, strong State that had one voice in the community of nations.  Fighting terrorism was a challenge in the context of returning foreign fighters and migratory flows.  It would be impossible to make progress without strengthening cooperation among all levels of State authorities and all ethnicities.  He advocated international support to help Bosnia and Herzegovina become more resilient and its security forces to overcome the strategic and operational gap.  The Council must continue its involvement in the situation.

WU HAITAO (China) expressed respect for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as support for all ethnicities to live harmoniously.  He welcomed efforts to promote reconciliation and strengthen the rule of law, advocating efforts to consolidate progress and implement the Dayton Agreement so that all ethnicities could share in the peace dividend.  The country’s coexistence among others in the region was in everyone’s interest and the international community should consider the views of all stakeholders by taking a balanced approach to the situation.  He expressed hope that the High Representative would continue to play a constructive role in implementing the Dayton Agreement and that EUFOR ALTHEA would contribute to stability.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) welcomed the signing of the Protocol between Bosnia Herzegovina and the European Union, and took note of the high-level visits made to the region.  She expressed concern over the deteriorating rule of law, including actions that challenged the constitutional order and State judiciary, urging political leaders to respect the Constitutional Court decision.  She expressed hope that its ruling on the review of the election law would be implemented, taking into account the interests of all constituents.  She cautioned against perpetuating divisive rhetoric, stressing that paralysis of State institutions served no one and calling for political differences to be resolved amicably with a view towards reconciliation.  She expressed support for the High Representative in monitoring the civilian aspects of the Dayton Agreement and called for cooperation with that Office.

YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan), while expressing support for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s efforts to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union, also expressed disappointment over ethnically divisive actions perpetuated 22 years after the signing of the Dayton Agreement.  Leaders of each ethnic group must pursue the broader national interest, as opposed to more narrow concerns.  “The current political dysfunction at all levels in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the attempted revision request of the International Court of Justice’s 2007 judgement is deeply regrettable,” he said.  Noting that Japan had long supported reconciliation efforts, he cited a sports project in Mostar for children of different ethnic backgrounds and an agriculture project in Srebrenica.  He urged the Council to speak with one voice in advocating such dialogue.  As a member of the Peace Implementation Council, Japan emphasized neutrality toward different ethnic groups.

SEIF ALLA YOUSSEF KANDEEL (Egypt), welcoming a number of recent developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including better neighbourly relations progressing efforts towards European integration, said the latter would result an important reforms.  Citing the recently completed Strategic Defence Assessment and the signing of the Protocol on the Adaptation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement as two positive examples, he nevertheless voiced concern about the country’s worsening political climate and increasing polarization, as illustrated by the request for a review of the International Court of Justice’s 2007 opinion, the celebration of “Republika Srpska Day” on 9 January, the non-respect by Serb entities of various court rulings and secessionist calls by some parties.  Warning that such activities threatened to damage the Federation’s cohesion and stability, he called upon all political leaders to “move beyond their narrow political interests” and instead prioritize the interests of the population. 

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay), Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, reaffirming Uruguay’s support for the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Underlining the critical importance of the Dayton Agreement — as well as the resulting rule of law and authority of State institutions — he added that all of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders must work towards economic development and the implementation of other necessary reforms.  Meanwhile, the international community should continue to support all three of the Federation’s communities and to advocate for mutual respect and the harmonious integration of all minorities.  In that regard, he strongly condemned the “divisive and belligerent rhetoric” that offended some of those communities or the victims of war, and urged Bosnia and Herzegovina to leave behind the days that had been “some of the darkest in the world”.

MILOŠ VUKAŠINOVIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said his country had intensified efforts to implement the reform agenda, and authorities at all levels had synchronized activities in preparing answers to the European Union questionnaire.  The 2016 signing of the Protocol was an important step towards integration in the European Union, opening a new stage of trade cooperation.  Also, the Chairman of the country’s Council of Ministers had signed a decision which would simplify trade with the bloc, replacing bilateral rules of origin with preferential ones.  Cooperation with regional countries was an important foreign policy goal, and within the framework of the Berlin Process, provided assets for traffic and energy infrastructure.

He said Bosnia and Herzegovina had bolstered efforts to strengthen the rule of law, amending the penal code to process those both involved in terrorist group fighting and in facilitating their recruitment.  Judicial and security bodies were implementing a strategy to prevent and combat terrorism, which alongside security measures included de-radicalization efforts by religious communities, educational bodies, civil society groups and the media.  More broadly, the economy in 2016 had grown 2.8 per cent, with exports increasing by 3 per cent, while a strategy for migration and asylum for 2016-2020 was being implemented.  The country had cooperated with EUFOR ALTHEA, notably in capacity-building and training of the armed forces, and continued to provide military and police to other United Nations missions.

JOÃO PEDRO VALE DE ALMEIDA, Head of the European Union Delegation, called 2016 a good year, with Bosnia and Herzegovina having presented itself as a candidate for European Union accession last February.  The European Commission questionnaire would allow that body to issue an opinion on that process.  Providing a view of the constitutional, political, economic and social landscape, it would be the first test of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s institutions to work together across the country.  On the basis of the responses, the Commission would present recommendations to the Council on the status of the candidate and accession negotiations. 

He said such gains had resulted from the Initial Agenda for Reform (2015-2018), and while the new European Union approach had shown results, the implementation of reforms was fragile amid a tenuous socio-political outlook.  “It is time for sincere reform efforts,” he said, without which radicalism and nationalistic tensions could cause long-term instability.  Bosnia and Herzegovina faced difficult decisions regarding the economy and public administration.  The 3 per cent growth in 2016 was a sign that, with the right policies, economic progress was within reach.

But the Federation also suffered from agendas driven by constituency interests, he said, with controversies pulling it in the wrong direction.  The judiciary should not be used to justify a lack of common vision and the constitutional court rulings on the election law must be addressed.  He encouraged authorities to advance the European agenda and establish equality among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs.  The European Union would continue to use all available instruments to support stability, he said, confirming that EUFOR ALTHEA retained capability to support the authorities’ deterrence capacity if the situation so required.  “The doors of the European Union are open and it is incumbent on the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to solidify this clear prospect,” he said.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), aligning himself with the statement of the European Union, recalled that as a signatory of the Dayton Agreement, Croatia had a special responsibility toward the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Therefore, relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina were one of Croatia’s foreign policy priorities and integration into the European Union and NATO was a strategic goal that Croatia would staunchly support.  Croatia hoped to stimulate more cross-border cooperation of local and regional self-government units on both sides of the border, which should result in the implementation of joint projects and better use of European Union funds.  Despite progress in a number of fields, including with regard to the economy, repetitive political crises continued to plague the political landscape of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had a negative impact on reform-oriented processes and prevented the Federation from moving forward and unleashing all its potential.

Croatia was most concerned that political polarization, intensified by years of economic hardships, would increase radicalization and extremism, especially among the young population, he said.  The most urgent political question was reform of the election law, which presented a welcome opportunity to ensure the institutional equality of the three peoples — Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs — and all citizens, as well as a chance to leap forward towards political stability and a more integrated country.  The refusal to implement the decision of the Constitutional Court on the reform of the election law jeopardized the fragile stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina, leaving open the space for further political manipulations which had a destructive impact.  The question of institutional stability was crucial for the Federation to be capable of efficiently and promptly fulfilling its obligations for European integration, and to fight political radicalism and religious extremism.

MILAN MILANOVIĆ (Serbia) said strengthening regional cooperation in the Western Balkans remained indispensable to its European integration.  Ample possibilities existed for cooperation between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, he added, noting recent trends that had caused unnecessary political tensions.  Serbia’s active policy of promoting reconciliation in the Western Balkans and strengthening good-neighbourly relations was “rightful and correct”.  It was important to continue to promote political, legal and economic reforms, strengthen the rule of law and institutions, and pledge allegiance to European values as the only avenue to a more prosperous and stable region.  He also emphasized the need to respect territorial integrity.  In accordance with the provisions of the Dayton Agreement, Serbia remained committed to the maintenance of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Serbia continued to support active dialogue with Bosnia and Herzegovina as the right way to finding solutions and building confidence, he said.  That would help strengthen cooperation, transparency and effectiveness in the work of common institutions, promote confidence among entities and influence the situation in the region in a positive way.  Otherwise, unilateral actions would be taken such as the attempt to institute legally unfounded proceedings to revise the International Court of Justice’s 2007 judgement in the Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia case.  The Court’s rejection of that request confirmed the need for political dialogue to address disagreements and resolve outstanding issues.  Continuation and intensification of political dialogue with Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of the most important elements in the promotion of good relations.  Trade between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was growing and Serbia remained one of the biggest investors in the Federation.

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