Bosnia and Herzegovina
Expected Council Action
In November, the Council will hold its semi-annual 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 the latest report of the Office of the High Representative (OHR).
The current authorisation for EUFOR ALTHEA expires on 6 November.
Key Recent Developments
More than a year has passed since general elections took place on 7 October 2018. However, the new national-level BiH Council of Ministers has not yet been formed. Governments have also not been formed in the Federation of BiH (FBiH)—the predominantly Bosniak and Croat regional entity—and in two of the Federation’s ten cantons. The deadlock reflects continued divisions and tensions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. NATO ministers agreed in December 2018 to start implementing BiH’s long-stalled Membership Action Plan, a key step for BiH’s accession to NATO. (The Membership Action Plan is a NATO programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance. Although it does not guarantee future membership, it effectively puts countries on track to joining the Alliance.) However, BiH has not accepted this offer, as Bosnian Serb leaders oppose NATO membership.
In September, the largest Bosniak party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), adopted a declaration expressing the intention to centralise the country’s governance by creating a republic with three levels of authority: state, regional and local. This was strongly opposed by Bosnian Croats and Serbs. An 18 September statement by Inzko deplored “the fact that SDA has decided to formulate its vision about the future of BiH based on a concept which is clearly not acceptable for some”. The statement emphasised that the BiH Constitution guarantees the “sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of BiH” consisting of two autonomous entities, the FBiH and Republika Srpska (RS). The statement said that “any change to the internal organization of BiH must be adopted in accordance with the procedures set forth in the Constitution, which requires a comprehensive process of consensus-building and agreement across the entire political spectrum”.
On 14 October, the EU Council adopted conclusions on BiH that called on the country to proceed with government formation and start work without any further delay. It also welcomed the continued presence of EUFOR ALTHEA and said that it looked forward to the next strategic review in 2021 as a basis for discussion with member states on EUFOR’s tasks and options for the future of the operation. From 7 to 11 October, EUFOR ALTHEA held its annual Quick Response test exercise of the operation’s capability to rapidly reinforce its troops in BiH with part of its reserve forces, which are held at high readiness in partner nations.
The Council held its previous semi-annual debate on BiH on 8 May. Inzko briefed and presented the latest report of the OHR. He emphasised the continuation of divisive and destabilising rhetoric, the need to create governments at the local, state and federal levels and the importance of keeping the country moving forward along the path to integration with the European Union. Milorad Dodik, then-Chair of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Tripartite Presidency, continued to speak out against the country’s statehood and to threaten secession by the RS. (The position of Chair rotates every eight months around the three members of the Presidency, with each of them serving as Chair twice during a presidential term.) Inzko stressed that BiH “still requires the attention and unified approach of the international community”.
Key Issues and Options
Ethnic divisions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs continue to create political gridlock and a dysfunctional state, hampering socio-economic reforms—including BiH’s EU integration—and fostering disregard of judicial decisions. Linked to this is the stalled progress on fulfilling the criteria and objectives for closing OHR. Regarding BiH’s failure to form a government, one of the main areas of disagreement reportedly remains whether the country’s NATO Membership Action Plan should be activated due to the opposition of Bosnian Serb leaders. A further issue, flagged by the High Representative last year, is pressure on BiH from migrants who are increasingly seeking to pass through the country.
Council members largely share concerns over BiH’s divisive ethnic politics and the urgent need for parties to take the necessary steps following general elections in October 2018. Most members are also critical of the RS leaders’ rhetoric, which they view as challenging BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia, however, tends to be more supportive of the positions of the RS leadership and is critical of the High Representative, contending that his reporting is not objective. At the debate in May, where all 15 Council members made statements, Russia said the report of the OHR “was far from impartial” and called for more time to consider the report ahead of the debate.
As in previous years, the decision on 6 November 2018 to reauthorise EUFOR ALTHEA for one year was not controversial, as all members in the Coordination and Drafting Group and the Council support the continuation of the EU-led international force. The BiH Coordination and Drafting Group prepares the first draft of Council products on BiH. For 2019, it comprises Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, the UK and the US.
However, during negotiations last year, Russia broke silence and objected to three paragraphs in the renewal resolution that expressed support for the OHR; appreciation of the High Representative, personnel of NATO Headquarters Sarajevo, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the EU; and the importance of progress towards Euro-Atlantic integration. These three paragraphs had been included in resolution 2183 adopted on 11 November 2014, on which Russia abstained, and have not been included in resolutions adopted subsequently, on which Russia has voted in favour. To achieve consensus on the renewal in 2018, the three references were removed at Russia’s request. Resolution 2443 was adopted unanimously. (For more details see our What’s In Blue story of 5 November 2018.)
UN DOCUMENTS ON BiH
|Security Council Resolution|
|6 November 2018S/RES/2443||This was a resolution renewing the authorisation of EUFOR ALTHEA for an additional year.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|8 May 2019S/PV.8522||This was the Council’s biannual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina.|
|Security Council Letters|
|25 October 2019S/2019/843||This was the High Representative’s report, covering the period from 16 April to 15 October 2019.|
|1 May 2019S/2019/364||This was the High Representative’s report, covering the period from to 15 October 2018 to 15 April 2019.|