Bosnian experts present U.S.-backed plan for reform

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SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnian legal experts presented on Wednesday a U.S.-backed plan to reform one of the Balkan state’s two autonomous regions, a month after it was warned that its bid to join the European Union would be frozen without constitutional changes.

Bosnia’s Serbs, Muslims and Croats differ over how to change a governing structure enshrined in their 1995 peace treaty dividing it into a Serb Republic and a Muslim-Croat Federation with a weak central government in Sarajevo.

The last internationally-sponsored effort to advance constitutional reform foundered three years ago because rival communal leaders could not agree on any notable measure.

This is why Washington, main sponsor of the Dayton peace deal, commissioned independent Bosnian experts to draft constitutional amendments but this time applied only to the Federation, according to U.S. Ambassador Patrick Moon.

“The structure of the federation is the most complicated and expensive of any government structures in Bosnia,” he said.

Divided into 10 cantonal administrations, the Federation is a complex web of ethnic power-sharing symptomatic of Bosnia’s unwieldy ruling system that encourages political gridlock.

The experts proposed cutting the number of deputies in both houses of the federation parliament as well as their salaries, now among the highest in the Balkans.

This could speed up decision-making in parliament, where smaller parties now trade votes for benefits, and trim government spending that accounts for an onerous 45 percent of the Federation’s GDP.

The experts also recommended abolishing the posts of federation president and two vice-presidents and replacing them with the existing parliamentary presidency.

Political parties will debate the proposals and deliver their verdict in the autumn, but some senior political figures were quick to come out against the blueprint.

Bosnian Justice Minister Barisa Colak, a Croat, said that scrapping the positions of federation president and two vice-presidents would disadvantage Croats, the smallest of the three main ethnic groups in the ex-Yugoslav republic.

“This is a good step in the right direction but I don’t think there will be the political will to push the changes forward,” said Jakob Finci, president of Sarajevo’s Jewish community in Sarajevo.

Finci, along with Sarajevo’s Roma community, won a case at the European Human Rights Court in 2009 ordering Bosnia to amend its constitution and allow members of minority groups to run for top government offices.

That was a major condition set by the EU for Bosnia to apply for membership, but has become hostage to political maneuvering by Serb, Croat and Muslim leaders seeking concessions in negotiations with the EU.

On April 11, the EU enlargement commissioner warned that Bosnia’s EU accession bid faced being “frozen” and a planned election next year declared invalid without urgent reform of its constitution.

(Additional reporting by Maja Zuvela- Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Mark Heinrich)

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