[VEČERNJI LIST] Someone who is bringing Erdogan to BiH, having Russia as a partner, is not supportive of EU and NATO
Interview with Željana Zovko, Member of the European Parliament
BiH is faced with one of its most uncertain years – no political agreement was reached on changes to the Election Law, increase of tensions is expected and the migrant crisis threatening. According to Željana Zovko, Member of the European Parliament, an internal agreement must be reached in the country. She expects the EU and the USA to help the country to find a way out of the crisis with the joint efforts.
Q: How do you comment that no agreement on the Election Law has been reached yet?
A: The Election Law restored within the constitutional framework will speed up the EU accession path of BiH and will also harmonise the Bosniak-Croat relations in the long run. On the other hand, if no changes are introduced to the Election Law, the country will have to face negative effects thereof – a standstill, political instability, lack of satisfaction and stagnated accession path to Europe.
The current radicalisation of the public debate raises concern as well, leading to further deterioration of political relations. I pointed out to that at the conference “Legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia”, where I mentioned the most recent verdict of the Court and the so-called joint criminal enterprise, on which basis collective responsibility is used as an excuse for rejecting all legitimate requests of the BiH Croats.
Q: What consequences may that have for BiH?
A: If the Constitutional Court Decision is not implemented, the majority nation would continue electing the political representatives of the smaller nation, causing eventually the absolute political standstill in the country and in the process of implementation of its key economic and institutional reforms, which are indispensable for the progress in the decision-making process on the BiH candidate status. We should not forget that the BiH Progress Report 2018 of the European Commission mentions the urgent changes to the Election Law within shortest time possible, as required by the Constitutional Court Decision, as one of top priorities for the country. By not implementing the Constitutional Court Decision, the country would actually admit to the European Union and other partners that it does not respect the rule of law, what would certainly bring into question the EU Council decision on the country’s candidate status. Any divergence from the European path will not only increase the level of influence of the third non-European countries in BiH, but may additionally destabilise the situation in BiH, but also in the wider region.
Q: How do you comment the recent attempts of Bosniak political parties and some lobbyists close to them of laying the blame on HDZ BiH and Croat political parties by disputing the Constitutional Court Decision in the Ljubić case.
A: The Bosniak leaders simply refuse to accept that the Constitutional Court restored to Croats the rights guaranteed by the Dayton Agreement, of which they have been deprived since 2002. Therefore, it is quite logical that they are pointing finger to the weaker one. Considering that direct attacks on the Constitutional Court are subject to sanctions, the Bosniaks’ leader Mr. Izetbegović have recently said that SDA cannot take a decision on implementation of the Decision, what means that he is not capable of admitting to his voters that the Federation of BiH continues existing as a consociation, a federation with authority divided among the federal partners, including equality in the institutions which protect the collective rights – the House of Peoples, for instance or the state Presidency.
With the Constitutional Court Decision, Croats may not be expected to accept to be a second-class nation and to wilfully give up the rights which they had so hard time to get back – that may certainly not be taken for serious political consideration.
Q: What is the purpose of the proposals to reduce the role of the House of Peoples or even to dismantle this institution?
A: Petritsch’s amendments allowed the Bosniak parties to have the Federation of BiH under full control. Before the Constitutional Court Decision, no voices were raised to reduce the role of the House of Peoples. If the Bosniak parties’ requests for symmetry were targeted at making the Federation into a union of two large cantons – two electorate units, which would be electing the two members of the BiH Presidency, such a proposal would be following the logics of structuring the Federation and achieving any level of symmetry in relations with RS. At the point of time when the Constitutional Court of BiH and Western partners call for the Dayton role of the House of Peoples, the Bosniak parties propose something completely opposite.
Q: The hearing on the Balkans and BiH was held in the US Congress a couple of weeks ago. You personally appealed to the USA and EU to engage more intensively. Do you find it realistic?
A: In the debate with the Commissioner Hahn, recently held on the session of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I pointed out that Matthew Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia stated in the US Congress that BiH had to implement reforms in order to speed up its accession path to Europe. The USA is highly aware that destabilisation is threatening BiH unless it implements the required reforms, but a destabilised BiH is certainly not in the interest of the USA. The European Parliament Resolutions clearly state the importance of coming up with key institutional solutions, which must follow principles of federalism, decentralisation and legitimate representation. Let me remind you that the Commission announced its more intensive engagement in the Balkans in its most recent Enlargement Strategy, whereas in its most recent BiH Progress Report 2018, it stressed the importance of changes to the Election Law, as required by the Constitutional Court. I believe that the USA and EU are aware how dangerous the status quo in BiH is, but I am not certain whether they are willing to take the leading role in the process of looking for a solution and finally correcting the inadequate policies led in BiH.
Q: Some Bosniak lobbyists label Croats as Russian agents.
A: I don’t agree with such a thesis. The Bosniak elite presents itself as a partner to the USA and as supporters of EU integrations. However, these days they’ve been busy organising a huge pre-election gathering in Sarajevo for Erdogan, the President of the country which parts ways with the European Union and turns to Russia. After such moves taken by the Bosniak parties, the only conclusion left is that only the Croats are true and the most reliable partners to the Western countries and the EU.
Q: May any step forward towards the EU integration may be expected in the elections year?
A: The year 2016 was crucial for BiH, because its EU application was presented and a coordination mechanism established. However, the year 2017 was the year of stagnation, because economic and social reforms were not worked on. Answers to the EC Questionnaire were delivered only in the course of this year. It is very important that the EU announced in its Enlargement Strategy that it would engage more intensively in the Balkans, including BiH, in order to assist the countries in implementation of required economic, political and institutional reforms, which are important for their accession to the EU. This includes more funds from the pre-accession help instrument in the coming period. However, I do not see progress of BiH towards the EU integration without implementation of key institutional and political reforms, including implementation of the Constitutional Court Decision.
Q: To what extent has the Republic of Croatia been helping BiH and the Croats to achieve equality also in the European Parliament?
A: The Republic of Croatia has been helping the BiH Croats a lot. That is its constitutional obligation. Croatia and BiH share 1000 km of their state borders. Therefore, a stable and safe BiH is in the interest of Croatia. The Croatian MEPs raised the BiH issue at the European Union level, what is clearly reflected in the European Parliament Resolutions from 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. I was actively working on the last one with my colleagues. Thanks to Croatian MEPs, the most recent EP Resolution stresses the importance of implementing the key changes, including the reform of the Election Law in order to base it on the principles of federalism, decentralisation and legitimate political representation.
The credit for the fact that the European Commission has clearly changed its rhetoric in this context and recognised the importance of urgent changes to the Election Law goes to the Croatian MEPs and their communication with the EP colleagues. The European Commission even mentioned this as one of top priorities in its most recent report.