Nearly 10 months after Bosnia and Herzegovina’s last round of elections, the leaders of country’s three main ethnoreligious groups finally reached an agreement to form a central government on 4 August, news that the European Union welcomed which prompted Brussels to called for Bosnia’s often fractious government institutions to begin functioning normally, without any further delays, to ensure that EU standard reforms continue to be implemented.

“The agreement by the political party leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina to form a new Council of Ministers – facilitated by EU Special Representative Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark – is an important step forward for the country and its citizens,” the bloc’s statement said.

According to an EU Spokesperson, the formation of a government is also crucial for the country’s advancement in its stalled European integration process.

“The political parties have firmly committed to establish functioning authorities and to continue with the implementation of necessary legislative and socio-economic reforms as well as with concrete steps in the key area of fighting corruption and organised crime.”

The agreement lays out the principles for the formation of the new Council of Ministers. It was signed by the heads of the three largest parties in the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina – Bakir Izetbegović, representing the majority Muslim Bosniaks; Dragan Čović from the Croat Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina; and the Moscow-backed Serb ultranationalist Milorad Dodik from the Republika Srpska-based Alliance of Independent Social Democrats.

Under the terms of the agreement, the new Council of Ministers will consist of three Bosniak, three Croatian, and three Serbian ministers, plus one minister representing those who do not belong to the three main national-religious groups.

A representative from Dodik’s party will take over Chairman of the Council of Ministers, whose role is to act as de facto state prime minister. The Serbs will also be in control of the ministries that oversee communications, transport, foreign trade, economic relations, and refugees.

Izetbegović’s Party of Democratic Action will control the foreign, security, and defence ministries, leaving Čović’s Croatian faction to chair the finance, justice, and civil affairs ministries.

If the three parties are unable to form a government within 30 days, the new agreement will be invalidated. The most divisive issue that has kept the three leading parties from signing a deal for nearly a year has been over whether to activate Bosnia’s NATO Membership Action Plan, MAP, an essential first step toward full accession to NATO.

The Western-aligned Bosniaks and Croats are in favour of immediately activating the MAP, but Bosnia’s Serbs, who are heavily backed by Russia’s political and military support, are vehemently against joining NATO and have vowed to reaffirm the Republika Srpska’s military neutrality, which would effectively block moves by the government to continue with any further integration or enhanced cooperation with NATO.

The 1992-95 Bosnian War killed more than 100,000 people and left two million displaced by the conflict. The war became known for its brutality and the nearly four-year-long Siege of Sarajevo, the longest of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. Bosnia’s war was also noted for multiple acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide that culminated in the massacre in Srebrenica in July 1995 that saw the Army of the Republika Srpska of convicted war criminal Ratko Mladić execute more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in Europe’s worst act of genocide since World War II.

Under the terms of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, the country was split into two separate entities – the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska – both of which are overarched by a relatively weak federal government and a rotating presidency.

The presidency rotates every eight months between a Bosniak, a Serb, and a Croat and focuses on carrying out responsibilities tied to international affairs. In addition, the Bosniak-Croat entity and the Republika Srpska each have their own presidents.

Dodik has long sought Russia’s support in helping to unify with neighbouring Serbia and who regularly honours Mladić and fellow convicted war criminal Radovan Karadžić – the leader of the Serbs in Bosnia during the war – has regularly threatened to unilaterally secede from the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but has thus far received little support from his Kremlin allies or from the Serbian government in Belgrade, the latter of which has shown no inclination that it wants to see Bosnia’s current borders redrawn.