BRUSSELS, Feb 21 (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels must take decisions to stop a “critical” crisis in Bosnia becoming worse, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday.
Bosnia has been going through its worst political crisis since the end of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, with Bosnian Serbs challenging state institutions as part of their long-time bid to secede and eventually join neighbouring Serbia.
“The nationalists’ and separatists’ rhetoric is increasing in Bosnia-Herzegovina and jeopardising the stability and even the integrity of the country,” Borrell, who is attending Monday’s meeting, told reporters.
“The ministers have to take decisions about how to stop this dynamic in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to avoid that the country can fall apart in pieces. This is a critical situation.”
The EU should consider sanctions on Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic (RS) and also withhold financial support if the crisis continues to worsen, according to an internal EU document reviewed last week by Reuters.
“The EU could decide to use its financial assistance as leverage,” the document said.
Lawmakers in the RS voted on Feb. 10 to form a separate body to choose judges and prosecutors, effectively pulling the region out of the state’s top judicial institution as part of a separatist agenda.
“I believe the actions and the announcements by (Bosnian Serb leader Milorad) Dodik and the Republika Srpska are extremely dangerous and they are playing with the integrity of the state and this is also a no go,” Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said in Brussels.
“We already are withholding very substantial funds, and we will continue to do so if Republika Srpska does not show any interest to keep the integrity of the state, then they will feel the consequences.”
The United States on Jan. 5 imposed fresh sanctions on Dodik. The U.S. Treasury Department accused Dodik, already subject to U.S. sanctions under a different authority, of corruption and threatening the stability and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Catherine Evans
Photo – European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell. EPA-EFE/ARIS OIKONOMOU / POOL