BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is to halve funding to Bosnia after its leaders failed to reach a deal to amend the constitution, dealing another setback to the country’s hopes of EU membership.
Talks between EU enlargement chief Stefan Fuele and Bosnian leaders last week raised hopes they were near an agreement to remove discriminatory provisions from the constitution that have blocked the country’s bid to join the EU.
But after talks in Brussels on Thursday, Fuele said the commitments made by the Bosnian sides, still divided along ethnic lines some 20 years after the wars that split Yugoslavia, had not been met.
The lack of a solution blocked Bosnia’s path to EU membership and made it difficult to justify the EU giving funds to help it prepare, Fuele said in a statement on Thursday.
He said the EU would launch a legal procedure to cut Bosnia’s pre-accession funding by 47 million euros (40,065 million pounds), or more than half, in 2013 - although the procedure could be stopped if a constitutional solution was found soon.
The failure to make progress has dashed hopes that Bosnia would receive a favourable annual progress report from the European Commission next week that could have opened the way for the Balkan country to apply to become an EU member.
Bosnia has been governed along ethnic lines since the 1992-95 war that killed an estimated 100,000 people.
For almost four years, Bosnia’s leaders have failed to agree on how to amend the constitution in line with a European Court of Human Rights ruling that said it discriminated against minorities by reserving high public office for Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims.
The arrangement reflects the power-sharing terms of a peace accord that ended the war, but was challenged by a Bosnian Roma and a Jew in a landmark case in Strasbourg.
Negotiations 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.
Bosnian leaders said efforts to find an agreement would go on, based on an EU-drafted summary of their proposals so far.
“If they (the EU) assess that we can reach an agreement around this proposal in bilateral talks, they would then organise a new meeting and the signing of the proposal,” Dragan Covic, head of the main Bosnian Croat HDZ party, told the Anadolu news agency.
Having the anchor of an EU accession process and the reforms that are inherent is crucial to attracting much-needed foreign investors to an economy still recovering from the war.
Of Bosnia’s immediate neighbours, Croatia joined the EU in July, Montenegro has begun accession talks and Serbia expects to by January.
Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Alison Williams