November 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 October 2017
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EUROPE

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Expected Council Action

In November, the Council is expected to hold a debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and to renew the authorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA). High Representative Valentin Inzko is expected to brief on his office’s latest report.

The current authorisation for EUFOR ALTHEA expires on 8 November.

Key Recent Developments

Ethnic and political divisions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs continue to create gridlock, hampering socio-economic reforms and compliance with decisions of the judiciary.

There has been no progress among relevant BiH political parties in agreeing to amendments of the election law in the Federation of BiH (FBiH)—the predominantly Bosniak and Croat entity—following the December 2016 ruling of the Constitutional Court that several provisions for electing members to the Federation House of Peoples were unconstitutional. After the six-month deadline passed for the BiH Parliamentary Assembly to amend the law, the Constitutional Court on 6 July itself removed the unconstitutional provisions.  (Božo Ljubić, president of the Croat People’s Assembly, the main organisation representing Bosnian Croats, had requested the court review last year, believing the electoral mechanism to establish the upper house in the FBiH resulted in Croats from Croat-majority cantons being underrepresented in that chamber.)

The Court’s decision to strike down the problematic parts of the law has called into question whether elections next year for the House of Peoples can go forward. This could also prevent the formation of a Federation government. Similarly, as general elections scheduled for October 2018 approach, political leaders in Mostar have still not implemented a past Constitutional Court decision regarding the city’s election law, which has prevented local elections from being held since 2008.

When Inzko last briefed the Council on 18 May, he said that Milorad Dodik, the president of the predominantly Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpksa (RS), had lessened his calls for secession since the US imposed sanctions on him in January for obstructing and violating the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP). In June, Dodik told the news outlet Politico that he would not call for a referendum on RS secession in 2018, which is part of his ruling party’s platform. He indicated, however, that such a referendum could still be held in the future.

On 20 September, the June 2015 decision of the RS National Assembly (RSNA) to hold a referendum on the jurisdiction in RS territory of BiH state courts and the High Representative’s authority was officially published in the RS Gazette, with the referendum to be held in late November. The publication followed criticism by RS opposition parties that Dodik had withheld the decision’s entry into force for two years. That same day, Dodik said the referendum would be suspended, noting the current opposition of the international community. At press time, however, no formal action has been taken to suspend the vote. After a BiH court acquitted Bosniak Naser Oric of war crimes against Serbs on 9 October, Dodik threatened to revive the idea of the referendum, while calling on Bosnian Serb staff to leave state judicial institutions.

There have been increased tensions between Sarajevo and Banja Luka over registering defence property, which is one of the objectives set for closing the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and a requirement for potential NATO membership. On 17 October, the RSNA adopted a non-binding resolution opposing BiH’s membership in NATO. This represented a reversal from the consensus on joining the alliance to which BiH formally applied in 2009. The resolution insists on BiH’s military neutrality and states that all future decisions on the issue should be coordinated with Serbia. 

On 16 October, the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted its conclusions on BiH. Besides confirming its intention to continue EUFOR ALTHEA under a Security Council mandate, the Council “regret[ed] that a divisive rhetoric rooted in the past and an early electoral agenda over the last months slowed down the pace of reform and affected the political climate”. 

Key Issues and Options

Political gridlock, lack of respect for the rule of law, and ethnic divisions remain key issues. With general elections next year, lack of progress on amending election laws regarding the FBiH House of Peoples and the city of Mostar are likely to be of concern. Slow progress in advancing socio-economic reforms linked to BiH’s EU integration and fulfilling the criteria and objectives for closing the OHR are recurring issues.

When re-authorising EUFOR ALTHEA, the Council may call on BiH parties to take steps towards improving the overall political atmosphere, to refrain from unilateral actions and to adhere to the principles of compromise and dialogue.

The resolution could further reiterate that the parties must abide by their commitment to cooperate fully with all institutions involved in the implementation of the GFAP, and thus address as a matter of urgency the outstanding decisions of the Constitutional Court, including its 1 December 2016 ruling concerning elections to the Federation House of Peoples and earlier ruling regarding the electoral system in Mostar.

Council Dynamics

Members regularly express concern about BiH’s divisive ethnic politics and political gridlock. They also have been critical of the rhetoric of RS leaders and recent referenda initiatives, which they view as challenging the GFAP, the rule of law, and BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Russia, however, tends to support the positions of the RS, which it argues is unfairly blamed for BiH’s problems, maintaining that political dysfunction and provocations in the FBiH are overlooked. Russia is usually very critical of the High Representative, believing that his reporting is not objective and that he should focus more on encouraging intra-Bosnian dialogue and trust. While all members support maintaining EUFOR ALTEHA, these dynamics have played out in recent years during negotiations on the resolution in parts of the text that addresses such issues as the High Representative’s powers, political developments and references to Euro-Atlantic integration.

The BiH Coordination and Drafting Group first prepares Council products on BiH. For 2017, it comprises France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, the UK and the US. Italy will serve as penholder on this year’s text.

UN DOCUMENTS ON BiH

Security Council Resolutions
8 November 2016 S/RES/2315 This was a resolution renewing the authorisation of EUFOR ALTHEA for an additional year.
Security Council Meeting Records
18 May 2017 S/PV.7943 The High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, briefed the Council on his latest six-month report on the implementation of the peace agreement (S/2017/379), expressing concern about the lack of progress in addressing the need for real reforms.
8 November 2016 S/PV.7803 This was the semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina.