November 14, 2014 / 4:33 PM / in 3 years

EU must set reform agenda for Bosnia: think-tank

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The European Union needs to spell out much more clearly economic and political reforms required from Bosnia’s leaders in exchange for helping to accelerate its accession bid and unlocking funds for the Balkan country, a think-tank said on Friday.

In a report entitled “Retreat for Progress in Bosnia”, the Democratisation Policy Council (DPC) criticized a British-German plan for Bosnia unveiled in Berlin last week as too “modest” and as failing to set adequate reform incentives.

Britain’s ambassador to Bosnia, Edward Ferguson, told Reuters the initiative, which aims to reboot ethnically divided Bosnia’s stalled EU bid, would be on the agenda of EU foreign ministers at a meeting on Monday.

“What we want to do as quickly as possible is to turn this from the UK-German initiative into a new EU strategy that is signed up to by all members of the EU,” said Ferguson.

But the DPC, which promotes democracy and accountability worldwide and is funded by a U.S. private foundation, said the plan fell far short of what was needed in Bosnia, where an unwieldy system of ethnic power-sharing put in place after the Yugoslav wars of 1992-95 has stymied reforms.

“The elephant in the room remains – a political structure that includes zero incentives for reforms or accountability to citizens, and allows for fear and patronage to be the dominant drivers of social and political life,” the report said.

“(The EU should) set the initial reform agenda instead of allowing political leaders to do it according to their own interests,” DPC said in its recommendations.

“If the aim is to get Bosnia prepared for membership, the EU cannot afford to be coy or modest in its demands,” it said, urging “consequences” for those who question Bosnia’s integrity as a nation state - a clear rebuke to Bosnian Serb leaders who often threaten to secede from the loose federation.

In their initiative, Germany and Britain hope to inject momentum into Bosnia’s EU bid by dangling the carrot of EU cash and putting economics ahead of political reform.

With Bosnia’s fragile economy reliant on International Monetary Fund handouts to cover a growing budget deficit, Britain and Germany hope the attraction of access to EU funds can help push institutional change.

Nationalist parties triumphed in elections in October and the complex political system has hampered the formation of a stable government, dimming hopes of swift progress with the EU.

Editing by Gareth Jones

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