BRUSSELS -- Shaken by growing instability in Bosnia-Herzegovina, senior EU and U.S. foreign policy officials will travel to the country next week for talks with the leaders of the main political parties.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, representing the current EU presidency, said he will travel there on October 9.
“We'll be meeting with the Bosnian party leaders,” Bildt said. “We are worried by the fact that as we are now sort of speeding up the European integration of the region that there's a risk of Bosnia falling behind. And that is not very good. We'll see if we can help them overcome some of the difficulties that are blocking the progress of Bosnia into Europe."
The visit was prompted by the rapid escalation of the latest political crisis to hit the perennial unstable Balkan country. Authorities in Bosnia's Serbian entity, Republika Srpska, on October 1 threatened to pull out of federal government structures because of a dispute over a Bosnian power company.
Bildt sidestepped questions on what practical measures or incentives the EU could hold out to Bosnia.
Bosnia had not originally been on the agenda of a meeting of EU ambassadors earlier on October 2. But the mounting crisis forced the issue onto the table, with EU officials expressing concern the country could "fall apart."
Bildt says he will be joined on the mission by the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg.
The meeting with the leaders of Bosnia's three ethnic communities -- Muslim, Croat, and Serbian -- will take place at Butmir, just outside Sarajevo.
On his official blog, Bildt says that the aim of the EU and United States will be to "initiate a process to try and free Bosnia from its own constraints." But Sweden's top diplomat also notes that "experience shows that this could be difficult."OHR In Question
Bildt said the future of the EU-backed Office of the High Representative (OHR) of the international community, currently held by an Austrian diplomat, Valentin Inzko, will be one of "the issues on the table" on October 9.
Officials in Republika Srpska, led by Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, have repeatedly called for OHR -- whose mandate was established in the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian War -- to be dissolved as soon as possible.
Bosnian Serbs resent what they see as the OHR's interference in Bosnia's affairs.
Bildt said the EU in principle favors scrapping the OHR, which presides over the Bosnian federal government with the power to revoke laws and fire officials, at some unspecified date in future, in order to aid Bosnia's development as a sovereign nation.
"As you know the European Union is a union of sovereign democracies, not of protectorates. So, the presence of the OHR is, of course, blocking both the EU accession process and the NATO access process," he said.
Bildt said the fate of the OHR depends on agreements reached by Bosnian leaders themselves. "At the end of the day it's their country and they have to decide its future," he said.
Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav
Former High Representative Miroslav Lajcak says Bosnia is "not going forward."
, a former high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told RFE/RL in Belgrade that the international community must act "decisively" to save the country.
"Bosnia is not going forward, but backward,” Lajcak said. “Decisive engagement by the international community is needed, because that country was established with the assistance of the international community, and it still depends on its actions. So, I am using my experience in Bosnia and my current position to find the answers to problems Bosnia is facing now."
Using more measured language, Bildt sought to put Bosnia's troubles into a wider regional context. "We are worried [by] the fact that they are not moving forward with the rest of the region moving forward,” Bildt said.
“I mean, Croatia is moving forward, I think Serbia will be moving forward, Montenegro is moving forward, Albania, I hope there will be a positive report on Macedonia as well from the [European] Commission” on October 14, he said. “If Bosnia is left behind -- we've seen that on the visa liberalization issue, where they have slipped behind in a way that's unfortunate. There's a risk that we will see it on other issues as well."A Country Divided
Most of the country's troubles stem from its ethnic divisions. For example, Bosnia's Serbs and Croats are entitled to Serbian and Croatian citizenship, respectively, leaving the Bosniak (Muslim) third of the country to bear the brunt of Bosnia's failure to qualify for EU visa liberalization earlier this year.
The Swedish foreign minister today refused to blame Republika Srpska for the current crisis, which centers on the fate of the national electricity utility Elektroprenos, boycotted by the Bosnian Serbs. Bildt said the EU-U.S. mission would not address that issue.
Bildt sidestepped questions on what practical measures or incentives the EU could hold out to Bosnia. He said what remains on offer is a "road to Europe and all the Euro-Atlantic structures."
Republika Srpska Premier Milorad Dodik wants the OHR dissolved.
Bosnia's leaders, he said, must seize the chance while they can. "When they continue to fight old battles they're missing the new opportunities," he said.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg is also expected to discuss Bosnia's prospects to join NATO.
Bosnian President Zeljko Komsic, Foreign Minister Sven Alkalaj, and Minister of Defense Selmo Cikotic were at NATO headquarters on October 2 to submit an application for a Membership Action Plan -- a key step towards accession to the alliance.
NATO's Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the move, but warned Bosnia needs to strengthen its democracy.
“I believe that the best route to lasting stability in the Balkans is Euro-Atlantic integration, and that includes Bosnia-Herzegovina in NATO," Rasmussen said.
As a stable and democratic country, free of international tutelage, Bosnia would be virtually guaranteed membership in NATO and the EU.
Of the Balkan countries, Albania and Croatia are already members of NATO, with Macedonia being kept out by the row over its name with Greece. Croatia is well on course to joining the EU in 2012, after resolving a border dispute with EU member state Slovenia.
Macedonia is an EU candidate country and Albania is expecting an EU ruling on its application shortly.