September 30, 2014
It almost went unnoticed in today”s hearing of Johannes Hahn, Commissioner-designate for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, in front of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs commitee. But a little sentence will surely make for further discussion.
In the fade out of one of his many statements on the challenges in Bosnia, Mr Hahn said, that the country must move “from the Dayton logic to a Brussels logic”. MEPs in the commitee did not follow up on the line and Mr Hahn did not provide any explanation. Also, being explicitly asked about it in the press conference following the hearing, Mr Hahn did not further illustrate what he meant exactly by this statement.
The fact, though, that his press team (supposedly) retweeted the following tweet during the hearing, adds to the suspicion that the new Commission might actually rethink the EU’s policy towards Bosnia.
— James Ker-Lindsay (@JamesKerLindsay) September 30, 2014
But moving away from the “Dayton logic” would mean no less than fundamental constitutional changes. Today’s system builds on the agreement signed in Dayton, Ohio in 1995 to secure peace in Bosnia after three years of bloodshed and a brutal and genocidal war. According to the agreement, the multi-ethnic country was seperated into two political entities: one republic – Republika Srpska, dominated by Bosnian Serbs – and one federation – of muslim Bosniaks and Croats.
On the one hand, the Dayton Agreement secured peace in Bosnia in 1995. On the other hand, it has kept the country in political stalemate ever since. Today, in the eyes of most observers, Dayton is the biggest obstacle of a positive political and economical development of Bosnia, which faces unemployment over 40 per cent and whose economy has basically not grown since 2008.
Since Bosnia to this day is supervised by the international community, a change in EU policy could in fact be the overdue game changer for the country. A change that at this point in time is more needed than ever before.
2014 saw a number of big events that even worsened the dire situation in Bosnia. Failed wage bargains in the industrial town of Tuzla in February led to violent protests all over the country. Buildings had been set on fire, people had been injured. Following the protest, people started to organize themselves in plenums in order to get in control of their own destiny and no longer depent on inactive and corrupt politicians for their prospering. But the people’s plenum only lasted for a few weeks, until large parts of the country have been severely hit by the biggest floods in a century.
Whether the Juncker Commission is really up for the change has yet to be seen. On October 12th, people in all parts of Bosnia will head to the polls to elect a new leadership for their country, including the three presidents, the House of Representative and the leaders of the entities.
Perhaps key foreign policy figures in the new Commission wait for the outcome of the elections, to go ahead with these plans, announce them and eventually start putting them in place once they will enter office on November 1st. Or, perhaps Mr Hahn’s little side remark, is nothing to be further concerned with - which, of course, would not change anything - fewest of all the troubling situation for the people in Bosnia.
If there is one cause for optimism that came from 2014, it’s the fact that the unrests and the needs caused by the floods did not trigger any ethnical conflicts. That might be yet another signal that the country, almost 20 years after the end of the war, is ready to move on. The EU, for its part, should not hesitate to assist in this endeavour.
Full disclosure: My attendance at the ongoing #EPhearings2014 has been made possible upon invitiation by Michel Reimon, Austrian MEP and member of Greens/ALE, and funding by the European Parliament.Author : Bernhard Schinwald