SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia’s two rival autonomous regions adopted a joint four-year program of socio-economic reforms in a rare display of unity on Thursday to boost growth and competitiveness in line with EU recommendations.
The Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Croats and Bosniaks, established after Bosnia’s war in the 1990s, mostly run separate economic policies that obstruct the creation of a single economic space required by investors.
But united in a desire to progress toward EU accession, the regions have adopted a joint reform agenda for 2019-2020 that should create a more unified and competitive economy, their respective prime ministers said after the two governments adopted the program at separate sessions.
“We can agree on anything when they let us negotiate internally,” Serb Republic Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic said in Banja Luka, the Serb region’s de facto capital.
“We do not want any imposed solutions … but we want to actively participate in the creation of new solutions.”
The reform program was drafted by the two governments, with help from an EU delegation and the British Embassy in Bosnia.
The program includes tax reform and harmonization of policies and procedures for registration of companies and issue of work permits.
Both regions aim to cut payroll taxes, improve the business environment and attract investors by improving road and energy infrastructure.
They also plan to depoliticize state-owned companies and improve their efficiency, productivity and transparency and reform the indebted healthcare sector.
Job creation for young people, women and other vulnerable groups is another priority in order to slow the mass exodus of Bosnia’s youth to richer Western countries, they said.
According to estimates of non-government organizations, more than 150,000 Bosnians have left the country in recent years, disillusioned with a society marred by ethnic rivalries and graft.
The embassies of the United States, Germany and Britain praised the new reform package as vital for the improvement of the lives of ordinary people.
They also called for the formation of governments at the national level and in the Bosniak-Croat Federation, which have not been formed a year after a general election due to rival ethnic policies.
Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Nick Macfie