Political power-play may cost BiH 30 million euros 

Bosnia and Herzegovina still stands to lose millions of euros in EU pre-accession funds for agriculture, due to the failure of its two entities to compromise. Will the EU tolerate yet another delay or redirect the funds elsewhere?

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
Political power-play may cost BiH 30 million euros  - NewsMavens
Mostar, BiH. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

politics

Adopting national strategies in any area of governance is always a tiresome task in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Usually, the main opposition to these kinds of documents comes from Republika Srpska (RS), one of the country’s two entities. The arguments against unified strategic plans always follow the same line -- the entity’s government claims that they are unconstitutional because the state level has no jurisdiction over a particular sector and that it should be regulated solely on the entity level.

On the other hand, the European Union continues to emphasize that it will not establish separate rules for Bosnia and Herzegovina in comparison to other candidate states, nor will it communicate with the country’s entities as if they were separate parties in the accession negotiations.

Agriculture is one of the sectors where this clash of positions has been a constant and it has already made a negative impact on the country’s economy. In 2013, Bosnia and Herzegovina lost 5 million euros in IPARD funds (EU’s Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance in Rural Development).

This time, the stakes are six times higher and they depend on two factors -- in order to receive 30 million in IPARD funds for 2018-2020, BiH has to establish the national structures for their provision, and to adopt a strategic plan of rural development on a national level.

Neither of the two conditions is new. On the contrary -- the work on the strategic document has started almost 10 years ago, back in 2009. However, there was no significant progress made until a year ago, when it seemed that things were finally starting to move in the right direction. When the Coordination mechanism on EU issues in BiH was finally established, it looked like the RS Ministry of Agriculture will take an active role in drafting the strategy. But that didn’t last long.

After initially agreeing on the structure and activities for developing the Strategic plan, in late 2016, the RS Ministry notified the state Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations that it will not proceed with the cooperation. The official complaint was that Coordination mechanism isn’t functioning properly and that no progress can be made until it does.

By that time, the EU has already sent a clear message that the 2018-2020 funds will be withdrawn and allocated to another country if BiH doesn’t fulfill its obligations in time - specifically, by the end of 2017.

Although the draft document has been prepared long in advance, it couldn’t have been adopted without the consent of the entity’s government.

In late December 2017, when the clock was already ticking very loudly, several farmers’ associations came out with an angry announcement, accusing the authorities of negligence towards the agriculture sector -- after raising the excise tax, which will probably raise the cost of production, the least they could do is make sure that BiH’s agriculture receives some support to cushion the blow. If they don’t, the farmers stated, they will have a protest on their hands.

The RS Ministry reacted within hours, not by unlocking the process, but by a rather bickering statement, saying that Republika Srpska has its own rural strategy and the “farmers from the Federation of BiH should rather look into their own entity’s situation in that respect”. They did, however, address the actual issue of a required countrywide strategy, by introducing a new, rather unbelievable rationale for their actions:

“We note that the government of Republika Srpska and the ministry in charge continue to insist that this document’s title should reflect its structure. It should, therefore, be titled “The Framework strategic plan of rural development in BiH”."  

Seven days after we published the article recommended here, a surprising new development occured. On December 29 -- virtually the last workday of 2017 -- the Government of Republika Srpska suddenly greenlighted the strategic plan. It’s expected to be adopted on today’s session of the Council of Ministers of BiH, but, in order to become an officially adopted document, it still needs to pass the state Parliament.

It’s hard to say whether this move was a sign of the last-minute realization that agriculture funds are more useful than political power-play, or just another stunt pulled in time to claim that the entity is cooperative, yet at a point when it was already too late for it to have any real effect.

Yesterday, the entity’s prime minister offered an explanation (of sorts) for this last-minute move, when she stated that “the strategy is now a framework document” and, as such, it could receive their support.

Judging by the Council of Ministers’ agenda for the upcoming session, the document title hasn’t changed. There are no parliament sessions scheduled at this point, so it's also unknown when the strategic plan -- by any name -- will be officially adopted.

Last but not least, the official deadline given by the EU has already passed. Whether the EU will tolerate yet another delay, or redirect the agriculture funds intended for BiH to other countries, remains to be seen.

Details from the story:

  • In June 2016, a meeting of the 1st SAA Subcommittee on agriculture and fisheries for BiH was held in Brussels.
  • The representatives of European Commission and BiH discussed “the level of implementation of the SAA and of approximation of the country legislation to the EU acquis in the field of agriculture and fisheries”.
  • The EC representatives stressed that BiH needs to establish the national structures for provision of pre-accession assistance (IPARD funds) to the agricultural sector.
  • They also reiterated that BiH needs to adopt a countrywide rural development strategic plan, as a precondition to activate the IPARD funds.
  • Both were supposed to be put in place by the end of 2017.
  • In late December, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, the EU Special Representative and Head of the Delegation of the EU to Bosnia and Herzegovina, stated once again that no funds will be available for BiH unless the strategic plan is adopted by the year’s end.
  • After months of coming up with different reasons to oppose the strategic plan of rural development, the Government of Republika Srpska finally agreed to the proposed document on the last work day of 2017.
  • The document is yet to be officially adopted at today’s session of the Council of Ministers of BiH and approved by the state Parliament.
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