Bosnia & Herzegovina has experienced a major government change leading to a focus on aligning with the EU, while a significant human rights ruling challenges the country’s ethnic-based voting system – potentially triggering constitutional reform and reshaping its political landscape – according to ODI Law Partner Mia Civic.
“A change in government has taken place following the latest elections,” Civic begins. “A new coalition has assumed power, and their initial focus has been on adopting laws to align with the EU stabilization agreement. This marks a crucial milestone, especially considering that progress in this regard has stagnated for the past years.”
According to Civic, this encompasses a series of new laws. “One such law is the Freedom of Access to Information Act, which holds immense importance as Bosnia & Herzegovina was previously criticized for its limited transparency. With this legislation, citizens now enjoy unrestricted access to information held within national institutions. While this Act existed before, it has now been harmonized with international and European standards.”
Additionally, Civic highlights the new law on aliens, which addresses migration issues and holds relevance for EU compliance. “Amendments have also been introduced to the law on the Ombudsman for human rights, expanding their powers,” she notes. “Furthermore, there have been efforts to enhance the operations of the High Judicial and Prosecutor’s Council of Bosnia & Herzegovina. These developments collectively make for a significant shift in the country's governance and legislative landscape.”
“At the national level, Bosnia & Herzegovina has also taken steps to improve its business environment, which involves raising the threshold for VAT payers from BAM 50,000 to 100,000,” Civic continues. “Businesses often reached the lower threshold quickly, so this change is beneficial and results in reduced administrative burden and costs. However, it's worth noting that the suggestion to allow businesses to pay VAT at the end of the month was not accepted, meaning they are still required to remit VAT regardless of whether they have received payment for their invoices. There was an opportunity to rectify this situation, but it was sadly not pursued, due to potential stability of the state concerns from the Republika Srpska side.”
“Additionally, a landmark human rights decision came from the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Kovacevic v. Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Civic says. “The court ruled that there had been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol 12 of the ECHR, which pertains to the general prohibition of discrimination. Consequently, the decision deemed our general voting system, which is based on ethnic factors, to be discriminatory.”
“At present, the voting system operates along ethnic lines, with Republika Srpska citizens voting for Republika Srpska delegates and the same in the Federation. Implementing this verdict would necessitate seismic changes, including constitutional reform,” Civic explains. Furthermore, garnering support for these changes is crucial, she says, “since the Dayton Peace Agreement has become one of the basic obstacles in the functioning of modern Bosnia & Herzegovina and its way towards Euro-Atlantic integration. This development may bolster the efforts of those advocating for establishing an actual constitution, and numerous aspects of the current system could undergo transformation.”
“Bosnia & Herzegovina’s ongoing legal reforms and commitment to aligning with EU directives demonstrate the country's overall dedication to promoting transparency, economic growth, and human rights,” Civic concludes.