Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

Personal impressions of a diplomatic feast-day

22 Dec 2014

PIC meeting

I don’t know if you read the communiqués of the semi-annual meetings of the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) at Political Directors’ Level. These communiqués have a shelf life of about half a year and will give you an idea of what the PIC members will be talking about in the months to come. After all, the joint statement is a summary of the concerns, ambitions and expectations of the PIC member states, issues that have a direct impact on the political developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And maybe on your personal life as well. Maybe you are not interested at all in what is happening behind the white walls of the OHR building on Emerika Bluma.

But, if you are, read on, because here are some of my personal impressions of the discussions we had:

There was a general feeling that this meeting of the Steering Board took place in a period when some standard features of BiH’s political, institutional and socio-economic situation are not so standard any longer. We all agreed that the potential for positive change seems stronger than it has been for some time.

The causes for this shift were analyzed at length: the frustration of ordinary citizens spilling over in the February protests, the elections of October, the floods that have exposed many politicians, authorities and administrators as incompetent and have made the cost of weak and uncoordinated governments painfully clear. Total economic impact of the disaster: more than 2 billion EUR – and counting. Mind you: this is 15% of Bosnia’s GDP.

The two members of the Presidium we met on Wednesday morning, Messrs. Izetbegovic and Ivanic, acknowledged that things have changed and that they – and politicians on all levels – will have to do something to break out of the stalemate that has gone on for far too long. And that they have to do that soon.

But the to-do list of the political leadership remains as long as ever: Paragraph 7 of the Communiqué lists some of the most pressing issues that need to be tackled without any further delays or excuses.

The Netherlands, just like the other PIC-members, thinks that the recent EU initiative based on an Anglo-German proposal is very well timed. Already, it has moved BiH up on the list of priorities on the political agenda in The Hague and in other the capitals of the PIC members. The initiative will be on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels next Monday.

As you know, the EU asks the Bosnian party leaders to make ‘a long-term, irrevocable written commitment to reform’ in order to make the country ready for membership. The EU, for its part, is prepared to readjust the sequencing of the EU integration process, which means that – for now – ‘intractable issues’ (read: implementation of the Sejdic-Finci and Zornic decisions and the EU Coordinating Mechanism) can be addressed later in the process. But these conditions are not off the table.

This means also that your elected officials can’t hide behind the impossibility to solve ‘Sejdic-Finci’ and have no excuse not to tackle the ‘bread and butter’ issues that directly affect you.

PIC members agreed that, for this to happen, the incoming governments, regardless of the parties that will form the coalitions, will have to make a pivotal break with the past and will have to find a new way of doing politics.

Unfortunately, experience shows that they are not likely to do that entirely of their own free will. Consequently, the seriousness of the international community on conditionality – however sequenced – and its willingness to use financial leverage, if necessary, should not be in doubt.

My authorities insist that from this determination about conditionality follows that there cannot be a place for Bosnia-Herzegovina in the European Union, as long as a vast number of its citizens remain deprived of their right to stand for election to the Presidency and the House of Peoples.

There were other issues discussed in the PIC SB sessions that I would like to highlight:

The communiqué underlines its explicit commitment of the PIC members to the preservation of BiH’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. In these days, when some of the great achievements of the post-Cold War order are under pressure, an obvious point of principle needed to be reiterated: zero tolerance for efforts to undermine the autonomy of the state or to redraw its borders.
Also, the division of this already very modest economic space of 3.8 million inhabitants into two separate units, with different laws on food safety and packaging and with separate regimes for taxes and energy-supply means nothing short of severe auto-mutilation, is utterly irresponsible and needs to stop.

I think the Political Directors were right to call for the formation of governments at all levels as a matter of great urgency, so that the important challenges, as listed in paragraph 7, and the many other concerns of the citizens can be met at last.

But from the two members of the Presidium we heard that the end of February is the moment the written commitment is confirmed and approved by parliament and other political leaders. And this looks like a best-case-scenario. But that means that – almost imperceptibly – another three months are lost for urgently needed socio-economic stabilization.

As said: on all levels, governments need to be formed quickly. May I add: preferably, with a fair share of women in visible and responsible positions? The NGO sector in this country is blessed with many ambitious and capable women, so why not?

Maybe, this “modest window of opportunities” will not only de-block the country’s EU integration path, but will also make progress in defense- and security matters possible. That is why we fully support the appeal of the NATO members of the PIC plus Japan to the BIH authorities to make headway in the registration of prospective defence property as a condition for activating the NATO Membership Action Plan.

For some time now, there are signs of positive developments within Bosnia’s armed forces, as NATO Sarajevo HQ Commander General Petty pointed out to us. One example: a solid showing of the Army in flood relief efforts. Also: the combined efforts of the BiH Ministry of Defense and many international partners to solve the complex but important issue of the storage and disposal of explosives, ammunitions and surplus arms is finally producing results, be it slowly. EUFOR plays a considerable role in this process. A compliment is due to General Heidecker personally, who is leaving Bosnia next week, and to his staff.

That is another reason why my authorities consider the presence of EUFOR still very necessary in the complex and unpredictable environment currently prevailing in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Unfortunately, our Russian colleagues decide to distance themselves from the expression of support by the PIC Steering Board for Bosnia’s progress on the Euro-Atlantic path and, in particular, the effort by the EU to revitalize the reform process in the country: “membership of the European Union is not the only option for Bosnia”. The Russian delegation did not elaborate and kept the meeting guessing what alternatives Moscow has in mind for BiH. Going for it alone? That’s an option only the super-rich, like NATO member Norway and neutral Switzerland, can afford. Or are a Warsaw Pact and a COMECON for the 21st century in the making that BiH could join?

To conclude: next year will see the 20th anniversary of ‘Dayton’, the General Framework Agreement for Peace, of which the PIC is an intrinsic part. The Netherlands delegation certainly hopes this Council will not be needed for another twenty years. The conditions for its closing down are well known – so are the steps required for Euro-Atlantic integration.

So, “this modest window of opportunity” should not be squandered. Let 2015 be a year, not only for remembrance of things past, but also a year that will be remembered for progress achieved and potential unlocked.


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  • 22 Dec 2014, 8:00
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About the author

Jurriaan Kraak
Written by Jurriaan Kraak

Dutch ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina

Jurriaan Kraak was born on 24 August 1951 in Jakarta (Indonesia). He started his diplomatic career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1978. After postings to Mexico and Canada, he worked for twelve years in Brussels at the Netherlands Permanent Representations to the European Union and to NATO. Between 1991 and 1995 he was seconded to the Royal Household as Private Secretary of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix and HRH Prince Claus of The Netherlands and of HRH the Prince of Orange. Prior to his posting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Latvia. He is married and has two children.