Council of Europe and EU advocate use of innovative democratic tools to help Mostar as court orders Bosnia-Herzegovina to enable elections in southern Bosnian city.
Members of the European Committee of the Regions urged authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina to find the political will to end a deadlock that has ensured that there have been no local elections in the city of Mostar since 2008. The meeting, which was held in Mostar on 22 October, considered citizen-led ways of forging a consensus to remove a political blockage that is significantly hampering Mostar's development.
A week later, on 29 October, one of the principal speakers at the meeting won a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights
(ECHR), which gave legislators in Bosnia-Herzegovina six months to amend legislation to enable elections to be held in the southern city. Local elections are scheduled to be held across the country in October 2020.
, the chairman of the Western Balkan working group created by the CoR, emphasised that the country's long-term prospects – including its hopes of joining the European Union – depended on having functioning governments on all levels, including the city of Mostar.
(SK/PES), the Committee of the Regions' Rapporteur on the Enlargement Package 2019, said that the electoral limbo in Mostar had resulted in violations of international charters, and was one of the major points of difficulty for the EU, which has made the rule of law its priority in talks.
Ljubo Bešlić, who has served as mayor of Mostar under provisional arrangements, said that the dispute is significantly affecting day-to-day operations in the city, from agreeing strategies and establishing a budget to running city-owned companies.
Two representatives of the local-government wing of Council of Europe – Barbara Toce
, Vice-President of the Congress of the Local and Regional Authorities, and Leendert Verbeek
, chairman of the Congress's Monitoring Committee – laid out findings from the Council of Europe's Reflection Group on Mostar, which was formed in 2017. The Group is promoting the possibility of establishing a form of 'mini-public' – a Consensus Conference – as a means of finding a sustainable legal and political solution that would restore local democracy.
Irma Baralija, a plaintiff in a court case over the Mostar election issue at the ECHR, supported the 'mini-publics' proposal.
Ms Baralija, a teacher who also leads the Mostar branch of a political party, argued that the legal issue prevented her from voting or running in a municipal election. The ECHR ruled in her favour, saying in its judgment
that Bosnia-Herzegovina had "failed to comply with its duty to take measures to protect Baralija from discriminatory treatment on the grounds of her place of residence and to hold democratic elections in Mostar" when it failed to enforce a 2010 Constitutional Court ruling on arrangements for voting in local elections. The court said that it "could not… accept the government's justification for the prolonged delay" – "namely the difficulties in establishing a long-term and effective power-sharing mechanism for the city council so as to maintain peace and to facilitate dialogue between the different ethnic groups in Mostar".
The 1992-95 war left Bosnia divided into two entities, the ethnic Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, populated primarily by Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and ethnic Croats. Mostar is part of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and its population is made up overwhelmingly of ethnic Croats and Bosniaks. Bosnia's Croats and Muslims were allied against ethnic Serbs for much of the war, but the two communities also fought against each other in 1993 and 1994, leaving Mostar split along ethnic lines.
In a separate debate, the EU Special Representative (EUSR) to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Johann Sattler
, highlighted the threat to Bosnia's long-term prospects by the emigration of large numbers of young people and by the logjam over the formation of governments, at state, regional and local level. Innovative democracy tools, perhaps along the lines of the Irish constitutional assembly, were required. The EUSR has funded scholars' research into the use of such tools.
Other speakers at the meeting were Nevenko Herceg, president of the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, one of ten cantons in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Vjekoslav Čamber, director for European integration in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Other CoR members who attended the meeting in Mostar were: Jean-François Barnier (FR/Renew Europe); Pavel Branda (CZ/ECR); Nikolaos Chiotakis (EL/EPP); Nikola Dobroslavić (HR/EPP); Marco Dus (IT/PES); József Kóbor (HU/EA); and Matija Posavec (HR/Renew Europe).