Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs

Developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Discussion

2:00 pm

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Meath East, Labour)
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I remind everybody, particularly those in the Visitors Gallery, to switch off his or her mobile phone, not merely to leave it in silent mode. Mobile phones interfere with the communications equipment with the result that the proceedings cannot subsequently be broadcast.

On the agenda today is a discussion on recent developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina and EU enlargement. We are delighted to welcome Mr. Kurt Basseuner of the Democratisation Policy Council in Sarajevo, Ms Mary Anne Hennessey of the Council of Europe in Sarajevo and Ms Tija Memisevic from the European Research Centre in Sarajevo. We will focus on recent developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina and how Ireland might best support them during its forthcoming European Union Presidency. Members of the joint committee travelled to Sarajevo in September and were delighted on that occasion to speak to Ms Hennessey who gave us a very good insight into what was happening at the time. We look forward to hearing from her on more recent developments in the region. I invite her to make her opening remarks.

Ms Mary Anne Hennessey:

I thank the joint committee for its invitation and hope to bring an additional perspective to its deliberations on recent developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the upcoming Irish Presidency of the European Union.

Since April 2002 Bosnia-Herzegovina has been a member state of the Council of Europe, of which Ireland was a founding member. Unfortunately, ten years on some of the most important accession commitments have not been met. I refer to the obligations of Bosnia-Herzegovina on becoming a member state and will highlight three of them. The first was to ensure the compatibility of all laws with the European Convention on Human Rights, notably the constitution; the second was to ensure the independence and efficiency of the justice system; and the third was to continue education reform and end segregation and discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin within the education system. I stress these three issues because they are essential stumbling blocks to Bosnia-Herzegovina's continued European integration. Taken together, they illustrate a lack of integration of European values in public affairs, administration, civic and political life.

European integration, notably integration with the European Union, is, in large part, a technical exercise. There are many laws to be harmonised and agencies to be set up. However, all European institutions, in particular the Council of Europe since 1949, acknowledge that Europe is, first and foremost, a community of values. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are our common values that underpin all additional structures, be they economic, monetary, community, military or security co-operation. I emphasise values primarily because I wish to emphasise the role Ireland could play in this regard during its Presidency.

On recent developments, I will go back only as far as 2010. In October 2010 most of us believed there were very hopeful signs of modernisation and Europeanisation among the Bosnian electorate when, for the first time since the war, non-ethnic nationalist parties won significantly at the polls and seemed poised to push forward an agenda of democratisation and European integration. However, the old ghosts of nationalism, collectivism, cronyism, corruption and propaganda fought back hard. When a coalition political agreement was finally reached at the end of 2011, 2012 was heralded as the year of Europe for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Instead, it was the year of the Sestorka - the Bosnian word for the "Six", or the six party leaders. The Six made, broke and made new deals, and all the while the business of the people was left aside for the most part. The international community, in which I include the Council of Europe and all international community organisations, acquiesced in this performance by touting political agreements made by the Six and not challenging the extra-institutional nature of this manner of proceeding. In October 2012, just one month ago, at the local elections we witnessed a resurgence of success for the same post-war nationalist-type parties. This was based on the electorate's broad disappointment at the lack of change brought about by those who had won at the 2010 elections. At the end of 2012, we are seeing the third state-level government which was inaugurated only a few days ago. A new configuration of the Six has less than two years, or until the next general election, to make significant progress, not only on European integration but, before that, in fulfilling its Council of Europe obligations. I refer specificially to the Sejdić and Finci judgment of the European Court of Human Rights which requires amendments to be made to the constitution. This must be done before the next elections, in the first place to avoid having membership of the Council of Europe questioned and, second, to allow the SAA to enter into force to move on the issues of EU integration and the application for membership. Many other urgent issues also await attention.

I do not wish to paint only a negative picture. In theory, the new Six coalition has potential because its members have the parliamentary majority required to move the European integration agenda forward, if they prioritise it, take heed of European standards and take advice from the EU delegation and the Council of Europe on the legislation they should propose and the standards they should fulfil. I have a great deal of optimism for Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially its future, judging by the young people and civil society activists with whom I have been able to work. For that potential to be realised in full, however, Bosnia-Herzegovina must first integrate European values. Education and constitutional reform will be essential for this to happen. In addition, the international community must provide a constant and forceful reminder of these values and the centrality of citizens to democracy. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the main values of the Council of Europe but, not coincidentally, they also form the heart of the Copenhagen criteria for accession to the European Union. In other words, they are the ABC of European integration. It goes without saying there seems little point in sitting the leaving certificate examination, to which one might liken the process of EU integration, if one has not first mastered the ABC.

The international community can play a more constructive role in getting Bosnia-Herzegovina to this point and Ireland, in particular, can be a leader. It has a strong moral voice, not only because of its experience in overcoming conflict through political compromise and with major economic and social reforms. This strong moral voice can be leveraged at the highest political level in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Irish Presidency. Bosnian politicians and citizens will be sensitive to the lessons of Ireland's successes, as well to the possibility of avoiding its less successful experiences. A few days from now Ireland will complete its OSCE chairmanship in office and be able to turn to its EU Presidency duties. During this period the Irish leadership, in emphasising the need for political compromise and the integration of European values, could give a real chance to reform while there is still time ahead of the next general election. If 2013 can be the year of reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina, encompassing constitutional and institutional reform, strengthening the independence of the justice system, the competence of local self-government, parliamentary responsibility and the enforcement of accountability mechanisms, 2014 could be the year of European integration for Bosnia-Herzegovina. The country could be put on the path to sustainable reforms, the integration of European values and EU and euro-Atlantic integration. This is the time to work jointly to ensure Bosnia-Herzegovina will not be a failed state and that its talented young people will have the opportunity to lead their country into the European Union. Artificially pushing forward the process of EU integration, rather than pushing for the integration of European values, standards and practices, would be totally insufficient. I make a plea to the international community to focus on the ABC of values and standards, beginning with those of the Council of Europe - democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Propelled by strong conditionality on the part of the European Union, this approach offers the best hope to achieve concrete results. This is the joint challenge for all of the European institutions: the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the European Union.

This is a challenge the meeting of which is uniquely suited to Irish leadership, both by Ireland's own example and by its strong, confident and principled voice, which should be amplified by its EU Presidency in 2013. I will be happy to discuss any matters in which members are interested.

2:10 pm

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Meath East, Labour)
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I thank Ms Hennessey. We will now hear from Mr. Kurt Bassuener, who appeared before the committee previously and who is very welcome back.

Mr. Kurt Bassuener:

I thank the Chairman and the esteemed members of the committee for inviting me back. It is always a pleasure and an honour to return to Dublin and appear before the joint committee.

This committee and the Irish Houses of Parliament have given greater attention to Bosnia-Herzegovina than has been the case in many other member states of the EU. I applaud them for that because it has delivered important dividends. It is my firm conviction that the principled scrutiny given to Serbia's candidacy for the EU, in the context of the war crimes accountability issue, was one of the reasons Ratko Mladić was discovered and handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for trial. It was not just Ireland that was involved in this regard. The Dutch Parliament took a strong position and the prosecutor compiled a strong report, which affected the political calculus in Belgrade.

This example illustrates the role Ireland can play in the EU during its Presidency. In our discussions with various people, we are aware that the role of the Presidency has been diminished since the implementation of the Lisbon treaty. Leaving aside the Presidency, Ireland, as a member of the 27 member states, can exercise quite an amount of leverage which could be useful in the context of Bosnia-Herzegovina. When I previously addressed the committee, Deputy Creighton, who is now Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, was a member. She recently stated that she recognises the fact that "We cannot force change and reform ... but that we can incentivise it." I would like to concentrate my remarks on that.

Since I last came before the committee, things in Bosnia-Herzegovina have become worse rather than better. It is on the same trajectory and for the same reasons. The pull of Brussels has not been sufficient to compensate for the retreat of the international community from maintaining the Dayton guardrails that were established in order to maintain peace and security in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In essence, the sense one gets from the European Union delegation on the ground, from Brussels and from most member states is that they are trying to prove the EU's transformative power to themselves rather than trying to get traction on the ground in respect of any particular goals of having Bosnia-Herzegovina propel itself into membership of the EU and NATO.

The Dayton accords were built around the interests of the signatories. No surprises there. What they effectively cemented into power was a political-business-organised-crime nexus. It is the same people who run the show across the board, not just in politics but also in the media, academia, business, you name it. There is very little upward mobility in any of those sectors. The democratic machinery does not work. Effectively, it is an oligarchy that we pretend is a democracy. Ms Hennessey just highlighted the point when she referred to the Sestorka, the six party leaders. The European Union and others effectively recognise that fact by meeting with the political deal-makers rather than the constitutionally empowered actors who answer to the six party leaders. That is part of the problem. We are not fooling anybody but ourselves in this masquerade. The citizens get it and the politicians get it. Everybody is a rational actor in that system. We in the international community are the ones with the learning disability in respect of this matter. This is because we do not want to understand why things are the way they are.

This is an unprecedented challenge for the European Union because in almost every other instance of enlargement that to which I refer has been enough. Even in the case of Romania and Bulgaria, at least the political elites were obliged to fake meeting EU standards in order to get through the door. They knew that once they were on the other side of that door they would become animals of a different kind and would be less susceptible to pressure. The EU and its member states must ask why politicians in Bosnia-Herzegovina are not impelled by the same incentives. The answer, as far as I am concerned, is that they have already obtained a better deal than any the EU can offer. They can retain what they stole, continue to steal and remain unaccountable both politically and legally. Nothing can trump that.

We do not need new tools to deal with this matter. Instead, the incentive structure within the system must be changed. The biggest difference between when I first arrived in 2005 and now is the sense that the bottom could drop out. While all the unfulfilled agendas from the war were still dominant in 2005 - or were at least still there politically - there was a sense that they could not be met within the lifetime of anyone who was acting politically at that point. Now there is a sense that, because we have retreated and ceased to enforce the rules we are obligated to enforce under the Dayton accords, there could perhaps be an independent Republika Srpska and that we could get away with it. There is also a sense that perhaps there could be a third entity or a Bosniak national state. There are more than these three unfulfilled agendas but those involved are acting without restraint because we are not restraining them. The idea that the European carrot is going to be enough to change this dynamic has proven false for more than six years.

The most recent instalment in this process is a political deal between the ruling party in Republika Srpska and the ruling party in the federation, which is nominally social democratic in ethos. Directly at issue in the context of this deal are the independence of the judiciary, the fiscal sustainability of the state and electoral engineering to stack the deck prior to the next elections. All of this is happening in plain sight and the international community has been very remiss in confronting it. This is because a political deal was done and it was stated that the two parties involved were talking to each other and that at least there might be progress. We want to believe the latter rather than actually believing our eyes. That is the fundamental problem.

How can we turn matters around? Quite simply, by closing the exits and making clear that it is a constitutional problem. The constitutional order is the fundamental basis of all the issues involved. As Ms Hennessey stated - I am sure Ms Memišević will also comment on this - the incentives in the system are such that politicians are not democratically accountable even though they go through electoral cycles. There is no transmission mechanism by which citizens can make their views known. The EU should close the exits and ensure that unless standards are met for real, then those to whom I refer will not get EU taxpayers' money. They have been in receipt of the latter and using it as a way to buy stability up to now. The EU should extricate itself from the partnership dynamic which contemplates an assumption that the political leaders in Bosnia-Herzegovina are its partners.

The potential constituency for European values - and the actual constituency thus far in respect of them - is at the civic rather than the political level. The EU should put the squeeze on politicians by dealing with citizens and accepting their leadership in respect of a number of the issues involved - one of which is the census - on which politicians are not delivering. Doing so will place the latter in a bad position in the context of Croatia's proposed membership and what this will mean for farmers in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I will comment in more detail on this matter during our discussion with members.

When he appeared before the committee in March, the EU's special representative, Ambassador Peter Sorensen, made a comment with which I could not agree more. Ambassador Sorensen stated that the executive mandate of the international high representative and the Chapter 7 mandate of EUFOR should be maintained until a system which can function without them is put in place. The ambassador got some stick for saying this from within the EU but he was right. The so-called restrictive measures - these include freezing assets, introducing visa bans and halting EU funding - were agreed upon by the European Council. At present, all the EU's special representative can do is to recommend to the Council that these measures be applied. All that is needed is for one Greek-Cypriot communist to object and nothing will happen. If the Council states that it is going to take the advice of the special representative and says "Don't talk to us - talk to him", that would be a real stick to use. At present, however, it is completely useless as a tool.

Irish politicians across the political spectrum have already demonstrated both an interest in and a principled engagement on these issues. I encourage them to keep it up. Ireland has already spoken up at COREPER in respect of the attacks on the judicial system, which has proved helpful. I encourage Ireland to continue what it is doing and to use its vote - even beyond its Presidency - to drive the EU towards a principled, intellectually honest and creative approach whereby it can use its leverage in a way that will actually impel forward movement. I think Ireland has the power to do this. I thank members and look forward to the discussion.

2:20 pm

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Meath East, Labour)
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I thank Mr. Bassuener. Our final speaker is Ms Tija Memišević, the director of the European Research Centre in Sarajevo.

Ms Tija Memi?evi?:

Ladies and gentlemen, let me thank the members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs for the opportunity to address them. Given that Ireland will host the Presidency in January makes this an even more important opportunity. The situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina is dire and I welcome this hearing as an opportunity to recruit more support for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina and their future in the European Union. I am putting the emphasis on the citizens and the reason will become very clear when I present my statement. The record of Ireland in dealing with the Western Balkans and Bosnia-Herzegovina in particular, makes me firmly believe I am sitting among friends today.

I am here as the representative of the civic society in Bosnia-Herzegovina and, more important, that part of civic society which stands for European values and standards. I emphasise this intentionally because this part of civic society in Bosnia-Herzegovina has not been recognised as a partner in the process of European integration. This may sound counter-intuitive, especially judging from the experiences in central and eastern Europe in the 1990s but there is nothing typical regarding Bosnia-Herzegovina, so the dynamic of such relationships is not typical as well. The dynamic relationship between the EU and the Bosnian political structures excludes the citizens and undermines the civic society development and efforts, as they are both perceived as unpredictable elements which can disturb the said relationship. The dominant premise is, even in 2012 which I think is critical, to give priority to stabilisation over democratisation. Needless to say, there will never be stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina nor in any other place for that matter, without the substantial democratisation of society.

Over the years, and especially in the past seven years, the representatives of the European Union and many of its members states have developed a pathological relationship with Bosnian politicians. Bosnian politicians have no interest in EU integration whatsoever, as my colleagues also pointed out in their presentations, and threaten and generate political crises. In response the European Union enters into prolonged negotiations which end in meeting their demands, which I call basically handing out the candies. The resulting deals fall far short of EU standards and norms.

To give but one brief example, in 2011, Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska, threatened to call a referendum on the entire state judicial structure on the territory of that entity. The prime objective was to undermine the authority of the state court, the state prosecutor and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council. At the time, it is very import to note, there was an ongoing investigation on Mr. Dodik, so there was a realistic possibility that he could be prosecuted in that court. On 13 May 2011, the High Commissioner Catherine Ashton travelled to Banja Luka with the offer of a so-called 'structured dialogue' on justice reform between the European Union and Bosnia-Herzegovina in exchange for Dodik's calling off the referendum. Such a referendum would probably never happen, which is important to keep in mind, since once that card was played, it would cease to be a useful tool of blackmail. Ever since, the 'dialogue' has served as a mechanism for politicians in Bosnia-Herzegovina to exert political pressure on the judiciary and dismantle the results already achieved in justice reform, but with the European Union as an accomplice, unfortunately.

The European Union is conditioned to respond in this way. It concedes before politicians even threaten and blackmail. The European Union is in the business of reading their minds and self-censoring. However, EU representatives do not understand one crucial point, namely there is no bottom line to demands and threats by Bosnian politicians since they do not seek reasonable compromise under the given rules of the game; they really want to postpone integration into the European Union indefinitely. Their actions are perfectly rational since the existing system provides them with unprecedented privileges and control. I do not have to point out how detrimental such a relationship is to the mechanism of conditionality, which has proved over time to be the most significant tool in democratic and economic transformation of the society and its readiness to join the European Union.

This dynamic is visible in many other processes and activities besides the 'structure dialogue'. The notion that Bosnia-Herzegovina must have a "co-ordination mechanism" in order to reach state level consensus so that it can speak with one voice with the European Union is yet another political mechanism with the purpose of stalling the reform. Not only does the European Union accept this canard, it has adopted it as its own. The major question is what is there to talk, negotiate and reach consensus about while talking about adopting the acquis communautaire? By choosing benchmarks such as police reform, implementing the outcome of the Sejdić-Finci case, and so on, the European Union also adds to the tension of citizens who wait in suspense for yet another critical political agreement while all other necessary reforms are placed on hold. Such benchmarks, are without exception, served yet again with calls for compromise - a signal that the game is on, a whistle marking the beginning of long holidays for politicians who will pretend for the next five years to negotiate. The result will, as usual, fall significantly short of EU standards and norms, but the European Union will nevertheless greet the agreement with relief.

In its obsession with stability, the EU representatives will extend inappropriate political support to politicians whose power is fading as citizens' disappointment grows. This is why European Union Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, while on an official visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, made sure to visit Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska first before any other state official in a restaurant in Lukavica near Sarajevo, despite the fact that his party lost the recent local elections.

This example brings me to another important point. Štefan Füle was on an official visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Would it not be appropriate if he publicly addressed citizens and their representatives in the Parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina instead of having talks in a restaurant behind closed doors? Many political deals in Bosnia have been made in bars and restaurants with and among the heads of the parties. This practice of circumventing the institutions and accepting political deals reached without going on record must stop. I need not elaborate on the reasons.

The recent political agreement between the social democratic SDP and SNSD, Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, which negatively affects numerous areas of reform, including the judiciary, elections, economy and finance, have also been reached behind closed doors. What is known about the content of the agreement, that is what parties deem sufficient to publish, indicates that their intention is to undermine the existing reform achievements, assume more institutional and social control, put the state in debt and prepare the ground for influencing the results of the next election. The fact that they want to push the agreement through the Parliament through urgent procedure just increases the suspicion among citizens that they are up to no good. Nevertheless the response by international bodies and individual EU member states, with few notable exceptions, have been neutral to positive.

At the same time, between 75% and 90% of citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina support EU membership. One may rightly ask why this massive support never translated into change of political and social narrative towards the EU integration. The answer is, unfortunately, simple. Half of the citizens who support EU membership of Bosnia-Herzegovina make it a condition of their support with demands and ideas incompatible with membership. The reason that citizens do not understand the process and therefore cannot rationally recognise their interest in the process is because politicians control the narrative of European Union integration. They have no interest in having informed citizens and consequently having to take over responsibility for the reforms and be judged by citizens according to achieved results. The EU institutions present in Bosnia-Herzegovina have not done much to develop communication directly with its citizens.

Under the existing relationship between the EU and local politicians, authentic civic society organisations have been perceived as undesired disturbance in otherwise harmonious and stable relationship. When the Initiative for Freedom of Declaration, founded by large group of organisations and individuals initiated the campaign for census questionnaire to change so to allow for freedom of expression in so-called identity questions, nationality, ethnicity, religion and language it met with resistance from both politicians and the EU representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Once the politicians reached agreement to hold a census, both the European Union and the local elites were bent on avoiding public scrutiny. Anybody raising concerns could have potentially caused the postponement of the process. Never mind that census undertaken "under any circumstances" would have far reaching consequences and created insurmountable obstacles to future reforms.

What can be done to change the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina? First, the European Union does not take into consideration the economic and financial aspects of the crisis. Popular support for political parties, considering the poor economic performance and exceptionally high unemployment rate, has been based on public spending. It is reasonable to assume that more than half of the voters for each of the political parties are so-called clients, citizens who cast their vote for a party because their economic and financial security depends on it. The high level of institutional control of all branches of government by political parties and the equally high level of corruption enable parties to serve and demand support from clients. At the same time, parties are running out of money for public spending and serving the clientele. Both entities, especially Republika Srpska, have borrowed heavily in the past year, including from commercial banks and by issuing bonds. Funds from the European Union and international financial institutions in which EU member states have a stake should come with a long list of reform-related conditions attached. At least some of these commitments should be met prior to disbursement of the money.

Second, EU representatives should back civic sector efforts which advocate EU values and standards against local politicians who so far have not been accountable to anyone. They have not been under real pressure from anyone. They have been in a position to wield control over both the European Union and citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Backing authentic civic efforts would immediately create pressure from both directions.

Third, EU representatives, EU institutions, especially MEPs and the parliaments of individual member states, should improve direct communication with citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They are the primary partners and beneficiaries of reforms and EU membership and should be treated accordingly.

2:30 pm

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Meath East, Labour)
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I thank Ms Memisevic and all our guests. The messages we have heard strike a chord with us because they are ones we heard on our visit to the region in September. We visited Slovenia and Croatia before arriving in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We had the opportunity to talk to politicians in these two countries about their views on the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was useful to speak to them beforehand because we were able to form a picture of the political situation in the region. When we were in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we met many organisations and groups. We met politicians from all sides and quizzed them in detail about their intentions with regard to European integration. We had a number of useful meetings with other non-governmental organisations. We met Ms Mary Anne Hennessy who kindly made time to meet us. We also met the European Union High Representative, Valentin Inzco, and Fletcher Burton, the OSCE ambassador. We were extremely impressed by all of them. We have been in touch with Mr. Inzco subsequently. We visited EUFOR forces in Camp Butmir where members of the Defence Forces are stationed and talked to them about the situation in the region. The OSCE showed us the town of Mostar. We went to Stari Most which featured during the terrible war. It was a very useful trip which gave us a much greater understanding of the issues facing the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the difficulties associated with their potential membership of the European Union.

The Irish Presidency will commence on 1 January 2013. The role of the committee will be to head up COSAC, the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs, which comprises the 27 members states, as well as the accession and candidate countries. A two-day plenary session will be held in June. It will be attended by the 27 member states, Croatia, Iceland and some Balkan states. I do not think Bosnia-Herzegovina will be represented at the meeting. The committee is putting together proposals for the agenda for the meeting. One session will be devoted to the issue of enlargement of the European Union and Mr. Inzco has agreed to speak at it. He will speak from his perspective in Sarajevo to the 300 parliamentarians in attendance. We have also invited Stefan Fule, the European Commissioner for enlargement. The meeting will be held in public session and streamed live. Assuming he agrees to attend, he will be subject to answering questions from the floor. Our intention is to ensure the issue of enlargement is placed at the heart of the Irish Presidency. Ireland has benefited tremendously from membership of the European Union and we want to see these benefits extended to other countries as it is essential for peace and stability in the Balkan region. We hope the attendance of persons of the calibre of Mr. Inzco and Mr. Fule at the meeting will help to deepen the understanding of the issues surrounding the potential accession of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I now invite members to ask questions.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the delegates and thank them for their presentations which are among the most interesting I have heard this year. They were provocative and challenging. I was delighted to hear Mr. Bassuener acknowledge the role of this committee with regard to developments in Serbia. I recall the half dozen meetings of the committee on the topic. We were addressed by people who are now welcome and established members of Irish society. They spoke about why they had fled the region. I recall representatives from Serbia who visited Ireland, including the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. I recall with great pride the principled stance taken by all members of the committee which I am pleased to hear was a contributory factor in what happened. It showed what could be achieved by parliamentary committees when they pursued an interest in a matter.

I did not have an opportunity to visit the region in September because I was returning from another engagement. However, I hope to visit it in the future as I have had a great interest in this topic in my five years as a member of the committee.

I refer to the challenging notion in the presentations that we should deal with the people of the region instead of with the elected representatives. I want to hear how this would work. The engagement of western Europe with eastern and central Europe in the late 1980s and into the 1990s was an attempt to force-fit models of a market economy and democracy into certain countries without considering the value of stability. It could be argued that this was a mistake. Cultural convergence and a commitment to the institutions should have been in place first. The presentations have flipped this critique on its head by arguing that the European Union is placing too much value on stability and not enough on challenging it in order to achieve a result. That result would be a sustainable society in which the rule of law would be respected and everyone would be protected.

What are the specific steps we should take to do that? If any external body appears in a country and says it will deal with the people as opposed to the institutions and political leaders, is there not an inherent risk and is that a risk we are taking? I have listened to what has been said. One speaker said, in its obsession with stability - that is strong language - EU representatives will extend inappropriate political support to politicians. These politicians are elected by people. This bureaucratic autopilot will lead to disaster for Bosnia and the EU; it is only a matter of time. The own-goals of nationalism, collectivism and cronyism, corruption and propaganda fall back and fall back hard. I do not dispute that the representatives are wrong about these claims. When I hear people speak of an obsession with stability, it strikes me as being a very strong statement. I would like to tease out that issue. From an Irish point of view, given our role in the Presidency, what specific things do the delegates think we should say or do that would lead to the peaceful and happy society we all want to create?

2:40 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the delegates. I am struck by some of the statements. Like Deputy Donohoe I thought they were talking about the previous Government at one stage. There was a reference to inappropriate political support to politicians whose power is fading as citizens' disappointment grows. There was a reference to deals being made in pubs and restaurants. God forbid, if that were to happen in our country. I agree with what Deputy Donohoe has said. The delegates say there is no support but the difficulty is that whether the EU or civic society like the politicians, unfortunately those are the people who are elected. It was stated that the six leaders made deals, broke deals and made new deals, and all the while the people's business was left mostly aside. I do not know what can be done in this area. By its nature, perhaps the European Union should meet representatives of civic society and mirror what the committee did when it was over where it met politicians, civic society and others. I raised the issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, last week when we discussed enlargement in terms of Croatia. If Croatia's application for EU membership goes ahead I am aware of the impact for Bosnia. Mr. Kurt Bassuener gave figures for agriculture and said he would expand on them. Perhaps he will do so. Given that half of the country's budget goes on agriculture and the standards being sought by the European Union by 30 January-----

Mr. Kurt Bassuener:

They have managed to get a six month reprieve but I do not know how much good it will do them until Croatia's membership on 1 July 2013.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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How low are those standards compared to EU standards? We met politicians from Serbia and people from civic society who said that if Croatia's membership of the EU goes ahead, as appears to be the case - Serbia is down the line and Bosnia is further down the line, if it is even in the line - it will cause instability in the region through the loss of half its income because of various barriers. At the same time there are difficulties in regard to bilateral disputes between Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia which revolve around borders, transit through Neum, access to Ploče harbour and the number and location of veterinary crossings and the impact of EU accession. That will have a huge impact on Bosnian society if Croatia's membership goes ahead. I had a number of questions but they are not relevant given the statement the delegates have made today. I can understand their frustration which could be mirrored in other countries, particularly at this time of austerity. Civic society is losing faith in politicians. The delegates also mention corruption within Bosnian society. I did not realise the extent of it. There is corruption in all society but the picture painted for us in respect of Bosnia is not of a viable state and certainly not a state one would want within the European Union. Are the delegates saying there is a need for change in society? Politicians from abroad cannot initiate that change as it has to come from within Bosnian society. If people continue to vote for those who have created the problems in the past and will create them in the future, I feel helpless on the basis of their presentations today. When replying perhaps they will expand on that area and if there is anything specific that we can do, particularly in regard to standards in agriculture, including not only dairy products but honey. Maybe some flexibility can be shown in that area.

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Meath East, Labour)
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I thank Deputy Crowe. The remaining time is limited.

Ms Mary Ann Hennessey:

My two colleagues will have much more to say. Bosnia-Herzegovina is not like any other state, certainly not like any state in the region. It is living with a constitution that was imposed from the outside. It is living with external institutions such as the High Representative that have inordinate power that calls into question the legal sovereignty of the state. For me, the risk of a failed state is real and that raises the stakes. The approach that works in other countries, which is rather superficial, is that one deals with elected representatives, parliamentarians, governments and tells them what clause they have to adopt and what institutions to set up. They do that and then one can wait for the time it takes for this to filter down into the whole society. In Bosnia that does not work and it will not work because the system does not foster it. What I have been trying to say is that for Bosnia-Herzegovnia there is a need for a much deeper approach. The six leaders at the top are not far enough below the surface to make something really change. The constitution needs to change but there is also a need to deal with the institutions. The six leaders are not the parliament or the government, they are party leaders. They do not represent any kind of institution but they are the people making the decisions. This is what I wanted to get across. I want to deal with institutions and standards and with citizens. The conditionality should address that type of deep change. The risk of destabilisation by that approach is less than the risk of a failed state because of the system in place.

Ms Tija Memi?evi?:

I would like to address some of my remarks to the issues raised by the Deputies. Bosnia is not a stable country.

We are trying to make it stable without creating basic foundations for the country to be stable in the long term. Many of the EU representatives who come are intentionally obsessed with stability because they identify particular partners and they are willing to extend them political support through visits and public proclamation and to accept all kinds of inappropriate political compromises which fall short of European standards and norms. They continue counting on those politicians pretending that they will continue with a stable approach. That is all false because it is not grounded in reality.

I do not have a problem with politicians meeting in a bar but I have a problem, as a taxpayer, paying for a parliament because these things happen in the bar but in no other place. They never go on the public record. The problem is not that politicians will sit and talk but that they all the time sit and talk and we never know what is going on and then we are presented with a certain political agreement that the EU will readily accept because member states are just happy that something is going on and they can say "Look they are talking" as if that is sufficient. They then proceed to implement the agreement without ever going through the regular procedures. Nobody goes on the record and that is the problem that we, as citizens in the country, have. That is why we cannot keep anybody accountable.

I also have to go back to the issue of elected representatives. I intentionally made that statement because the Bosnian constitutional and electoral systems are designed in such a way that a high percentage of citizens cannot participate in the political system. For me, the legitimacy of the majority of the elected representatives considering how the system is designed is questionable. This issue will become more obvious, the more we have to approach certain European standards. The first glance at the voters database shows there is something wrong. In the presidential election vote in 2010, 20% of ballots were invalid but nobody investigated this. In the local elections, 25% of ballots were invalid and nobody investigated this. There is a serious problem with our electoral system which undermines this automatic assumption that one is talking to elected representatives. I can go a step further and point out that in this particular case, we are talking about politicians whose party just lost the elections. It is a question of who they are. At that moment, he is not a state official; he is just a politician who is having this marginal position of the presidency of an entity but the EU is still talking to him. The message from it is that one must always take care because these politicians decide one's destiny.

It is not that EU representatives should not talk to elected politicians or that Bosnia should not be a stable state but let us talk about how politicians are elected, let us have a normal partnership relationship with them in the same way the EU representatives should have a normal partnership relationship with me as a representative of the civic sector. One does not have to circumvent them to come to me; that is not the problem. The problem is when I stand for the European standard and the EU does not, they have the absolutely ideal political position. That is what I talking about when I am talk directly to citizens and when I tell them how to treat the elected politicians.

2:50 pm

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Meath East, Labour)
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I would like to give Deputy Halligan an opportunity to contribute. He was a member of our delegation to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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I have visited the country on a number of occasions and I am aware of the complexities involved. I tend to agree with Deputy Crowe that, at the end of the day, it will be left to the people to decide whether Bosnia pushes forward, stays where it is or goes backwards. The education system is dramatically failing because of segregation on ethnic grounds. The country does not have a hope if that continues. Perhaps that could be a starting point. If the children in school now, who will inevitably vote and have a say in the political system, continue to be discriminated against on ethnic grounds, there will not be a hope for the state, as there would not be for any state. None of us is competent to give opinions on Bosnia's political and electoral systems, although I am well up on them because I have visited, but it will go nowhere with an education system that segregates on education grounds in this day and age. Somehow, that has to be dealt with. I have visited schools and all this will do is build up hatred for the entire political system. Groups are being galvanised and they do not now how others think politically and otherwise. Somebody has got to get a grip on the education system. I do not refer to how subjects are taught but to segregation on ethnic grounds. The country will not go anywhere because hostility is being bred year after year.

Mr. Kurt Bassuener:

The reason education is in such a parlous state is it is part of the life support system of the ruling system. The Dayton Accords created a ruling elite that is the most stable political class in Europe and the most impervious to change because they have no interest in change. They want to generate the next generation of voters. This is an interest-based system and everybody is a rational actor in it, citizens and politicians included. People know how bad it is and their level of distaste with the political elite is not the problem. They know they are being lied to, robbed, divided against each other and intentionally scared but they are still scared. One is fighting Maslow's pyramid. The one thing external actors can do is take fear out of the equation, which they are legally obligated to do, by maintaining a safe and secure environment. It should be made clear to everybody, politicians and citizens alike, that as long as the Dayton constitution is there, it will be enforced and Bosnia cannot join the club unless it changes because it is too screwed up and the EU has enough screwed up members as it is. That is the reality but there is a false dichotomy between having hard power instruments and the EU. Hard power instruments are a force multiplier and enabler for the EU's soft power; they are not antithetical to it. It is a false theological debate that is often had in Brussels, which is unproductive.

Corruption is usually referred to as if it is an opportunistic infection and if a state has the right laws and institutions, it can deal with it. It is in the institutional DNA of the Dayton system. It was designed to facilitate corruption. That was the point. It was not incidental; it was the reason. It is the main course, not a side order. Corruption cannot be dealt with until the constitutional order is dealt with.

Deputy Crowe referred to agriculture. This is a concrete example of the way the EU could operate. I agree with Deputy Donohoe that the EU must deal with the elected politicians but it does not need to deal with them on their terms. EU representatives should deal with them on their terms. The Bosnian leaders at least profess to want to join the club even though they do not mean it and that gives EU representatives leverage over them rather than the other way round. They should not dance to their tune. Croatia became a candidate in 2005. The Bosnians have seen this coming for seven years and they are this far behind because they were able to play the shell game and avoid responsibility.

It would have been different had there been a single point of contact. The European Commission used to demand that it had an agricultural ministry for its own purposes and thereby ensuring that it had somebody to deal with when it came to discussing the Common Agricultural Policy. It meant that there was a single point to blame if a country let everything slide. Why is there no agricultural ministry, one which the EC does not ask for anymore? It is because it is so politically radioactive. As far as the Republika Srpska is concerned, state competences are evil and it wants to hoard things even if it means letting down its farmers.

Within the existing confines of existing mandates, how could the EU approach this with its delegation on the ground? That is simple. Tell Joe Farmer how many euro he will lose per head of cattle, the amount of hectares of farmland that will be lost, or beehives, because honey was mentioned earlier. The EU should clearly state how much will be lost and who is to blame. It should ask not to be blamed and state that the EU has an open door but its standards must be met. It should also name individual politicians. There is no reason that such steps cannot be taken other than a sense that it is bad manners and it is not the way that things are supposed to work. That is the way things work in Bosnia. If it is made clear that one has a floor through which one cannot drop then one will have civil mobilisation on all of the outstanding issues. If it is made clear that the fear factor cannot be leveraged then the committee would be amazed at how quickly things can move forward across the host of menu items that the EU has. Issue by issue, chapter by chapter and sector by sector, everybody is protecting some kind of racket and everybody knows who is doing what. The committee has a crowbar to open it up and I encourage it do so.

My last point is on what an individual member can do. When he or she visits Bosnia please tell the citizens what it will take for members to be able to sell the reasons for Bosnia joining the EU to his or her constituents. Tell them what a member can say with a straight face. There has been a lot of happy talk and there is a false struggle between being pro-enlargement and being intellectually honest. The only way one can be pro-enlargement without importing problems is to tell the truth to Irish citizens and to Bosnians and I encourage members to do so.

3:00 pm

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Meath East, Labour)
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All of the European Union affairs committees will discuss the issue in Dublin in June. I suggest that Mr. Bassuener contact some of the committees in advance and perhaps talk to them in order to raise awareness of the matter. If he does then they can pose specific questions to the Commissioner if he attends and to Mr. Valentin Inzko. I thank the delegation for attending today.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.15 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 December 2012.