Croatia's position in solving the problems of Bosnia and Herzegovina Croats is weakened by the president and the prime minister being out of sync, Croatian MEP Tonino Picula, recently appointed the European Parliament's rapporteur on the enlargement strategy, has told Hina.
Last week EU leaders granted Ukraine and Moldova candidate status, but France, Germany and the Netherlands were against granting it to BiH as well.
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic and PM Andrej Plenkovic support granting BiH candidate status, but Milanovic wants carte blanche for the country while Plenkovic agrees with the European Council's conclusions that it must occur in step with changes to BiH's election law.
Picula says this weakens Croatia's position and that it enabled Slovenia to take the chance to present itself as the main advocate of BiH's European future.
This shows how harmful it is when one does not practice an agreed policy which must follow vital national interests, he says.
Although Milanovic and Plenkovic advocate granting BiH candidate status and agree that its election law needs to be changed, the perception is that this is just about a personal conflict between politicians, he adds.
The political elites in BiH would rather fight than deal with the problems and the same applies to the most influential politicians in Croatia, who are using BiH to square accounts, Picula says.
EU enlargement is not just a “technocratic” but also a political process and geostrategic reasons play a part, he says.
As for why BiH has not been granted candidate status, he says that unlike Ukraine, BiH has internal divisions over EU membership.
Moldova is burdened by some internal doubts about European integration, but it is an immediate neighbour of Ukraine with Russian presence on its territory, Picula adds. “On the other hand, nobody is endangering BiH from outside, it is being endangered from within.”
He says there is no “coherent vision” in BiH as to the direction it should take, although everyone officially talks about the need for European integration, including the Serb member of the BiH Presidency, Milorad Dodik.
He adds, however, that no one believes Dodik and that associating with his policy is hurting the justified demands of BiH Croats.
If the Croatian policy in BiH were focused more on reaching an agreement with the Bosniaks, “it would be easier for us in European institutions to push for the only solution which guarantees stability and a future,” he says, referring to a reform of BiH's election law.
Although he is critical of the political groups pushing for a civic concept which, he says, actually hides an aspiration towards BiH's unitarisation, Picula says that in fighting that, the Croats should not side with Dodik.
Politically siding with Dodik is not leaving a good impression in Brussels when there are justified and strong arguments in favour of BiH's reform, he adds.
Picula says Dodik keeps announcing that the Serb entity will leave BiH, which is why he is under sanctions, and that he supports Russia's policy on the Western Balkans and Ukraine.
He goes on to say that the EU must formulate a clearer policy “with less reservations” about the Western Balkans.
There is “a huge debt” to North Macedonia and accession negotiations should begin with it and Albania, while visa requirements should be lifted for Kosovo citizens, he adds.
Picula will draw up a European Parliament report on the enlargement strategy which needs to be approved by a majority of its members.
The document should summarise the positive effects of enlargement as well as say why the enlargement policy has stopped in the last ten years, he says, adding that the document should be a guide to other institutions, primarily the Council and then the Commission, “which should adapt to the new circumstances and put the enlargement policy into new formats.”
Picula says the EU must expand its influence in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, or other geopolitical actors will increase their presence there, causing additional pressure for the EU.
He is sceptical about other forms of regional cooperation in Europe such as the Open Balkan initiative or Emmanuel Macron's European Political Community as part of which, since there will be no enlargement soon, the EU would cooperate with European countries sharing it values.
“The solutions should be sought in well-structured negotiations between the Commission and the accession candidates and in assisting potential candidates… In the Western Balkans, we have a surplus of cooperation platforms and a lack of real progress.”