‘Brexit will affect EU enlargement in Western Balkans’

Deutsche Welle
5 Min Read

Bosnia has lifted a key blockage on its road to EU membership, with help from Berlin. But the Balkan country is facing other serious obstacles, says regional expert Alida Vracic.
The presidency of the ethnically divided Balkan country last week approved an updated Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU. This was one of the main conditions required by the European Union in order to grant Bosnia membership candidate status. The adoption of the updated SAA had been opposed by representatives of Bosnia’s Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), who argued that it would adversely affect farmers. After Germany promised to help Bosnia ease the effects of the deal on farmers, the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, accepted the updated SAA.

DW: Germany, along with Great Britain, reinforced its engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was only after Berlin’s intervention that the Republika Srpska accepted the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union. What do you make of Germany’s renewed role in Bosnia?

Alida Vracic: Germany is the key decision maker for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also more widely for the region. From my point of view, there are no other alternatives. Of course, there are the influences that one can mention when it comes to the Balkans, such as Russia, Turkey, China or even Arab countries. But so far, according to surveys conducted in this region, the citizens (of Bosnia and other Balkan countries) still believe that the EU is the best option for them. This is why I don’t think we should worry about other influences very much, but focus on what can be done in these countries. Germany isvery up-to-date with what is currently going on in Bosnia and each and every country in the region.

Politicians and experts in Bosnia and Herzegovina stated that Great Britain lacked credibility in its attempts to help the Balkan country on its road to the EU. To what extent has the British-German initiative in Bosnia been jeopardized by the result of the Brexit referendum? How will the Brexit affect European integration?

Under these circumstances, you can expect the UK to have a less dominant influence on Bosnia. So far, Britain has been extremely active with international aid and in political processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but that could change. Thinking that the Brexit will not affect EU enlargement as a whole would be naive. We should also be awareof the lessons we have learned from EU enlargement: The question is whether EU countries are ready to accept new members. But that doesn’t mean that the countries of the Western Balkans should not have high aspirations: This is where they could bring an even more visionary approach to the EU.

Local analysts warn that the current Bosnian constitution is not ready for the European Union – and that international officials have deliberately closed their eyes to this problem. Could Bosnia and Herzegovina be part of the EU with the present constitution and its political class?

Under the current constitution, many things could have been done but have not because of a lack of political will. I wouldn’t say that the constitution is perfect. I think it should be replaced with a much better one that comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina itself – a genuine document that we all agree on (the country’s constitution is based on the Dayton Agreement from 1995 that ended the war in Bosnia). The current constitution serves as an excuse for not taking responsibility for decisions.

On the other hand, I doubt that the current political leaders will take the country to the European Union. These people have been part of the establishment for many years now. I don’t see any new forces with fresh ideas and new visions for the country.

Alida Vracic from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin is an expert on the Western Balkans and EU enlargement policy. She has been the Executive Director of the “Populari” think tank in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo since 2007.

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