Bosnia and Herzegovina Debate and EUFOR ALTHEA Reauthorisation
Tomorrow morning (7 November), the Security Council will hold its semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), featuring a briefing by Valentin Inzko, the High Representative for BiH, on his office’s latest report (S/2017/922). The Council is also expected to adopt a resolution renewing the authorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) for an additional year.
Tomorrow’s debate comes as ethnic and political divisions among Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs continue to hamper socio-economic reforms and compliance with decisions of the judiciary. Inzko is expected to brief on key issues highlighted in the report, including divisive political rhetoric and polarised positions regarding electoral laws in BiH ahead of general elections scheduled for October 2018. In this regard, the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted its conclusions on BiH on 16 October, which “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”.
Inzko may note the lack of progress among relevant BiH political parties in agreeing to amendments of the election law in the Federation of BiH. On 6 July, the Constitutional Court abolished several electoral provisions it had previously ruled were unconstitutional with regard to indirect elections to the Federation House of Peoples, after a six-month deadline passed for the BiH Parliamentary Assembly to do so. Božo Ljubić, president of the Croat People’s Assembly, the main organisation representing Bosnian Croats, had requested a review by the Constitutional Court last year, believing that the electoral mechanism to establish the upper house in the Federation of BiH resulted in Croats from Croat-majority cantons being underrepresented in that chamber. Council members may be interested in hearing about the impact of the Court’s decision on elections next year and on the formation of a Federation government.
Another issue that Council members may want to hear more about relates to the publishing in the Republika Srpksa (RS) Gazette on 20 September of the June 2015 decision of the RS National Assembly (RSNA) to hold a referendum (scheduled for 19 November) on the jurisdiction in RS territory of BiH state courts and on the authority of the High Representative. On 20 September, President Milorad Dodik of the RS said that the referendum would be suspended, noting the current opposition of the international community; at press time, however, it was unclear whether the vote would go ahead.
A further issue that Inzko may brief on relates to the 17 October adoption by the RSNA of a non-binding resolution opposing BiH’s membership in NATO. This represented a reversal from the previous 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.
At tomorrow’s debate, a number of Council members may express concern about BiH’s divisive ethnic politics and political gridlock, the rhetoric of RS leaders, and the recent referendum initiative. Members are likely to further exchange views on other issues addressed in the High Representative’s report, including polarising rhetoric ahead of the elections next year, BiH Euro-Atlantic integration, and the role of the Office of the High Representative. Russia tends to support the positions of the RS, which it maintains is unfairly blamed for BiH’s problems; it is usually very critical of the High Representative, maintaining that his reporting is not objective.
Negotiations on the resolution reauthorising EUFOR ALTHEA proved less challenging this year compared to previous years. The Contact and Drafting Group for BiH (CDG), which drafts Council decisions on BiH, currently comprises of France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, the UK and the US. Beginning on 24 October, three rounds of negotiations were held in the CDG. Italy, this year’s penholder, circulated the draft to the full Council membership on behalf of the CDG on 30 October. One negotiating session of Council members was held on 1 November before the draft was placed under silence procedure without any further changes. It cleared silence this morning, and is now in blue.
As in previous years, the decision to reauthorize EUFOR ALTHEA was not controversial, as all members in the CDG and the Council support the continuation of the EU-led international force. In the past, difficulties have emerged with Russia over efforts to include a description of the High Representative’s powers, and over including any reference to “Euro-Atlantic” integration. Attempts to include such language were not repeated in this year, making the negotiations more straightforward.
The draft resolution contains some additional language this year based on the current context and developments in the country over the past year, including references to urging the parties to step up efforts on the implementation of the reform agenda in an inclusive manner, after initial progress seemed to have stalled. The draft also calls on political leaders to advance reconciliation and mutual understanding and to refrain from polarising policies, actions and rhetoric. The inclusion of such language relates to concerns over the climate leading up to elections in 2018, also highlighted in the High Representative’s report.