Bosnia’s main Muslim, Croat and Serb parties agreed Wednesday to form a central government, ending a 14-month political crisis that paralysed the state and blocked further EU integration.
“We have reached an agreement on the composition of the government,” Sulejman Tihic, leader of the SDA Muslim party, told a press conference.
He added that the party leaders also agreed on two pieces of legislation, on holding a census and on distribution of state aid, which Brussels insists on if Bosnia is to take further steps toward joining the European Union.
“None of us are totally happy but it is a good agreement made in the interest of Bosnia, its communities and its citizens,” Tihic said.
Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Covic, whose party will get the prime minister’s post, said “a lot of courage and determination were needed to broker this deal”.
“The agreement shows the level of confidence we have established among us. We believe this is the path to follow to try to stabilise the economic and political situation in Bosnia,” Covic added.
Hardline Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik also praised the agreement as a victory for “compromise and understanding” after months of squabbling over the distribution of government posts.
“After the implementation of the two laws (on the census and state aid) and the formation of the government, Bosnia can apply for candidate status for the European Union,” he said.
Initially Sarajevo planned to apply for candidate status this month but is now expected to do so after the new government is inaugurated in early January.
“Better days are ahead because we reached an agreement on the principles that will allow Bosnia to develop,” said Bozo Ljubic, leader of the second largest Bosnian Croat party.
The European Union special envoy to Bosnia, Peter Sorensen, welcomed the agreement, saying the EU was “encouraged to see that the spirit of compromise has prevailed after months of political deadlock”.
“It is important that the BiH (Bosnia-Hercegovina) political leaders were able to find a solution on the EU related matters... that are crucial for the next steps of BiH on the EU integration agenda,” Sorensen said in a statement.
Since the 1992-95 inter-ethnic war that left almost 100,000 people dead, Bosnia has been divided into the Bosnian Serb-controlled Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation overseen by a weak central government.
The still deeply divided country had been in crisis since elections in October 2010, with the rival Serb, Muslim and Croat leaders unable to form a central government.
The rivalry between the communities also harmed the Balkan country’s aim of joining the European Union and NATO. Bosnia is now lagging behind almost all other Balkans country in progress towards the EU.
Both Brussels and Washington support strengthening the central government’s powers in order to implement political, judicial and economic reforms.
After almost four hours of negotiations Wednesday the main parties in the central parliament representing the three communities agreed that the post of the prime minister would be filled by a Bosnian Croat.
Covic’s party must submit the name of its candidate on Thursday to the presidency.
After being officially named PM designate, the candidate will still have to be approved by the central parliament, but the parties which concluded the deal have a majority there.
The remaining nine ministries in the government will be divided among the political parties of the three communities with the foreign minister set to be from a Muslim party.