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Bosnia set to initial EU agreement

Progress on concluding a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), had been held up for months by the failure of Bosnian leaders to implement long-delayed reforms to their country’s police service.

The EU Enlargement Commissioner, Olli Rehn, arrives in Bosnia on Monday amidst expectations that he is to initial a key agreement after Bosnian politicians agreed crucial reforms. Progress on concluding a Stabilization and Association Agreement, SAA, had been held up for months by the failure of Bosnian leaders to implement long-delayed reforms to their country’s police service. Tensions increased since October when Bosnia’s top international official, Miroslav Lajcak, imposed changes to streamline the functioning of the central government and set December 1 as the deadline for parliament to adopt similar changes to its own procedures.

As the deadline was about to run out, late on Friday the parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) approved a compromise agreement on its disputed procedural system. „The adopted amendments are fully in line with the Constitution and the possibility to block the work of the parliament by not attending its sessions has been, to the extent possible, eliminated”, Lajcak said, welcoming the lawmakers’ decision to endorse his proposals. „It means that elected representatives must come to work and earn their salaries. This is a good day for Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens”, Lajcak said.

The breakthrough was also welcomed by the EU and other international officials. „This is a measure towards the normalization of the political situation in the country,” Rehn said in a statement. On Monday, the statement said, Rehn is to hold discussions in Sarajevo „with the BiH Presidency, the government, and party leaders to confirm whether there is sufficient agreement on the police reform to initial the Stabilization and Association Agreement.” Bosnian politicians said they were hopeful if an agreement was reached on police reform on Monday, the EU would be willing to initial the SAA agreement as early as Tuesday.

BiH’s outgoing Prime Minister, Nikola Spiric, who handed in his resignation in protest against Lajcak’s move to impose changes on his government’s functioning, has scheduled a cabinet session for Monday to press on with changes which are designed to integrate more closely the police forces of BiH’s two largely-autonomous entities. At its meeting the government is due to adopt an action plan based on the recent so-called Mostar declaration of Bosnia’s governing parties which signaled their agreement in principle on police reform. Many Bosnians are hoping that parliament’s approval of the streamlining of its procedures marks a breakthrough in the 18-month stand-off between their country and the EU, which in recent weeks degenerated into one of BiH’s worse political crises since the Dayton peace accords ended the 1992-95 war.

In addition to Spiric’s resignation, during the crisis Bosnian Serbs threatened to pull out of all joint institutions in the country to voice their anger over Lajcak’s decision to reduce the quorum and simplify voting procedures in the government and his proposals for similar measures in parliament. Friday’s compromise solution in parliament is in line with Lajcak’s initiative, but it also contains safeguards prevent „ethnic outvoting”, thereby dealing with the Bosnian Serbs’ concerns that their views might be ignored by a majority consisting of Bosniaks and Croats. With the parliament’s new procedures now adopted, BiH leaders still have to agree on similar mechanisms for the government, or Council of Ministers, based on those imposed by Lajcak. (BIRN)