Bosnia and Herzegovina Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic warned on Tuesday that the country was at a critical point regarding European integration processes because an agreement with the EU on the adjustment of a provisional trade agreement, namely the opening of the country's market to customs-free imports from Croatia, had to be approved by the end of this week.
"The situation is critical. It's time we showed maximum responsibility with regard to obligations we assumed by signing the declaration on our commitment to European integration," Zvizdic said at an urgent news conference in Sarajevo, called after Bosnian Serb authorities refused to support the agreement Bosnia and Herzegovina negotiators had negotiated with European Commission officials.
The Serb member of the country's collective presidency, Mladen Ivanic, refused to give his consent for the agreement, making it conditional on the consent of the Bosnian Serb entity government.
In an address to the Serb entity parliament on Tuesday, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik said that he considered the agreement to be detrimental to the entity's interests and therefore unacceptable, noting that customs-free imports from Croatia would destroy domestic production.
Zvizdic recalled that in a special declaration signed in February 2015 the leaders of all political parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina had committed to implementing reforms necessary to take the country towards membership in the EU, which was now to be proven by a concrete move.
"All committed to working actively on that, rather than just paying lip service," Zvizdic said.
He explained that at recent talks with Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak it was hinted that the process of considering Bosnia and Herzegovina's application for EU candidate status could start in mid-July at the latest. That will be conditional on the full acceptance of results of negotiations on the adjustment of the provisional trade agreement.
If that condition is met, the Council of the EU for external relations will instruct the European Commission, at a session scheduled for July 18, to start preparing a report on Bosnia and Herzegovina's candidacy.
"If we miss this chance, I'm not sure we will have another one soon," said Zvizdic.
He said that adjustments to the provisional trade agreement had been "negotiated well" and that Bosnia and Herzegovina was the only country in the region that had been given the possibility to gradually accept quotas for customs-free imports from the EU and increase quotas for the export of its products.
He added that the EC had shown readiness to make more funds available to boost Bosnia and Herzegovina's agricultural sector.
"The real question is why Bosnia and Herzegovina is not absorbing funds intended for agriculture," Zvizdic said, recalling that this was due to the entities' positions resulting in the loss of 80-100 million euros of possible incentives annually.
Farmers in Bosnia and Herzegovina are left without that money because there is no agreement on a single state strategy on agricultural development and there is no agreement because Bosnian Serb authorities insist that it should remain exclusively within the remit of the two entities.