EU Progress Report 2015 on Bosnia and Herzegovina: There is little justification for the Commission’s optimism

EU Progress Report 2015 on Bosnia and Herzegovina

There is little justification for the Commission’s optimism

with Adis Merdžanović

In his presentation of the 2015 Progress Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in Brussels on 10 November, the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, deemed the country ‘back on the reform track’. In 2015, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement had finally entered into force and there was even ‘some implementation of the Reform Agenda’ passed by the domestic institutions. The positive tone about the developments in BiH is also visible throughout the progress report, especially when compared to the criticism BiH received last year.

While the 2014 report spoke of ‘little progress’ and concluded that there was a ‘lack of genuine political support for the EU’, the 2015 report uses the positive formulation of ‘some progress’ in several policy areas and praises BiH’s parliament for starting to ‘deliver on the legislative agenda’. Such a broad positive message is aimed at keeping the political momentum going, but it is hardly in line with the actual developments in the country, which provide few reasons for optimism.

The 2015 progress report package follows a new methodology. The quality and detail of the information provided has somewhat improved as the progress reports now offer more background information through an assessment of the ‘state of play’ and succinct guidelines on what the countries are expected to do in each policy area. Progress is assessed on a five-tier scale – very good progress, good progress, some progress, no progress and backsliding – allowing for easier cross-country and year-to-year comparisons.

The greater comparability will surely prove useful. The new methodology has led to a clearer presentation of the findings and identification of the tasks ahead. However, the reporting still follows a largely technocratic approach, which fails to prioritise specific policy areas, or aspects thereof, and may prove too stringent for properly elaborating on certain challenges within policy areas.

On a closer read, despite the positive tone of Commissioner Hahn, no policy area in BiH was evaluated as having very good progress. Good progress is noted only in the area of public procurement due to the entry into force of a new law. Several policy areas – for example governance (adoption of the reform agenda) or the judiciary (adoption of a new justice strategy) – show some progress, while there are numerous areas with none.

The most worrying areas are, arguably, those related to the media sector and freedom of expression, where actual backsliding was recorded. As the report remarks: “the institutional and political environment is not conducive to creating the conditions for full freedom of expression”. The document further criticises political pressures on journalists and the lack of transparency of media ownership.

Overall, the report over-emphasises the small steps taken by the country’s domestic political elites without giving proper consideration to the fact that much of the reform agenda remains declarative. The EU will have to spend significantly more political capital to ensure actual implementation.

The report’s assessment of the political criteria does not reflect the seriousness of the political situation on the ground. It brushes over the renewed threat from Republika Srpska, one of BiH’s two federal entities, trying to organise a referendum on the judiciary, and does scant justice to the severity of political patronage and its role during the last elections, which this report assessed as held in a ‘competitive environment’.

Ultimately, the overly positive message the European Commission sent out with this newest report is hardly justified given the political, social, and economic developments in the country.


First published by LSE here:

The full report on Bosnia and Herzegovina is available here