Britain, Germany say EU's Bosnia offer is a last chance for change

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 16, 2015 12:25 PM

By Maja Zuvela

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Britain and Germany teamed up on Friday in warning Bosnia not to shun a European Union initiative to unblock the Balkan country's stalled bid to join the bloc, saying the offer would not be repeated.

The EU has agreed a plan drafted by London and Berlin to release funds for Bosnia and endorse a long-delayed pre-membership pact in the hope of spurring economic and eventually political reform in a country still dogged by ethnic divisions left over from a 1992-95 war.

The initiative requires leaders of Bosnia's Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs to make a written commitment to institutional reform at all levels of their highly-decentralized state and agree an agenda for broader political and economic changes.

Bosnia's tripartite presidency - comprising a Bosniak, Croat and Serb - has signed up, and the national parliament elected in October is expected to endorse the plan.

But British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, visiting with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said the written commitment would need the signature of all 14 parties that won seats in the election.

Milorad Dodik, the leader of Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic, has voiced doubts, suggesting the European Union wants to dismantle much of his region's autonomy, and it is uncertain whether he will sign up.

"What the EU has put on the table is a good offer and I would say to you candidly, it is an unrepeatable offer," Hammond said in a speech to the Bosnian parliament. "It is in everybody's interests that Bosnia-Herzegovina seizes this opportunity," he said.

Brussels was spurred into action by days of civil unrest in Bosnia in February last year over unemployment, corruption and political and economic stagnation that has roots in an unwieldy system of ethnic quotas laid down in a 1995 peace deal.

Alluding to Dodik's doubts, Hammond denied the EU harbored any "hidden agenda" to centralize the Bosnian state and warned of the risks of failing to act.

"...There is no time for delay, for prevarication or for obstructionism from any quarter," he said.

Steinmeier echoed the warning, telling reporters: "Political party leaders were today unanimous that reform is possible and that they must push it forward. Otherwise, they will face growing social discontent."

(Editing by Matt Robinson and Crispian Balmer)