EU halves funding for Bosnia in human rights dispute - official

SARAJEVO Tue Dec 10, 2013 12:19pm GMT

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SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The European Commission has halved funding to Bosnia because its politicians have failed to agree on how to make the constitution fair for all ethnic groups, an official said on Tuesday.

This is the first time the European Union executive has ever taken such a step, said Joost Korte, the EC deputy director general for enlargement.

"Don't underestimate the political consequences of this," Korte told a news conference in Sarajevo. "These are clear signals to the leadership of this country that there is a consequence for failure to act."

The EU will cut this year's funding by 45 million euros ($62 million) and may also suspend a 2014-2020 funding package because rival ethnic leaders have failed to reach a deal to remove discriminatory provisions from the constitution after two months of intensive negotiations.

The agreement on how to allow minority groups to run for top offices, harmonising the constitution with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights from 2009, was an essential condition for Bosnia to apply for EU membership this year.

"We are stuck with Bosnia-Herzegovina, sadly. There is no progress here," Korte said, adding that unless the authorities put more effort into reaching a deal, the EU would no longer be able to work with them.

Bosnia has been governed along ethnic lines since the 1992-9 war in which an estimated 100,000 people died. The country has split into two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Bosniaks and Croats.

After four years of negotiations, efforts to change the constitution have fallen hostage to political bargaining, in particular a push by Bosnia's Croats to win greater protection of their rights.

Korte said Bosnia also risked losing around a half billion euros in EU pre-accession funds over the next seven years because leaders could not agree on how to distribute the funds.

Bosnia trails other former Yugoslav republics on the path to EU entry. Of its immediate neighbours, Croatia joined the EU in July, Montenegro has begun accession talks and Serbia expects to start by January.

Analysts say parliamentary election scheduled for October 2014 will impede any progress on passing EU tests this year.

($1 = 0.7289 euros)

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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