The European Commission decided on October 12 to recommend that the EU grant Bosnia & Herzegovina candidate status despite its slow progress, in an attempt to strengthen Western influence and weaken the Russian one in the politically divided Balkan state.
Bosnia formally applied for EU membership in February 2016, but it took three years for its politicians to complete and approve the questionnaire sent by Brussels. Meanwhile, reforms in the deeply divided country have been stalled for years.
Despite that, Bosnia was hoping to get an EU candidate status along with Moldova and Ukraine in June. However, Brussels said the country had made no reforms and did not grant it the status of a formal candidate.
“We are recommending today to the Council to grant candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are infusing a positive dynamic into the process and hope for the region to take the chance and follow up on it by implementing key reforms,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell said in a statement on October 12 accompanying the publication of the country's progress report.
“We are not only assessing the performance of partners, but of future member states. The assessments we make now are also about the kind of Union we want for the future. And it is clear that we believe in the European future of our partners. Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine brings into strong relief the importance of EU enlargement, which takes on a new geopolitical significance. It is a long-term investment into peace, prosperity and stability for our continent,” he added.
The EC praised Bosnia for taking some steps to reinforce democracy, the functionality of state institutions, the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organised crime, guaranteed media freedom and migration management in the country.
In its progress report, the EC noted that Bosnia’s Republika Srpska has blocked state-level legislative and executive institutions until spring 2022, leading to an almost complete standstill in reforms during that period.
On the other hand, the government of the Muslim-Croat Federation remained in office for the full 2018-2022 term in a caretaker capacity, which gave it some limited capability for reforms.
Bosnia consists of two autonomous entities – the Federation and Republika Srpska, as well as of the autonomous Brcko district. Each of them has its own parliament, government and president and there are also state-level institutions.
The EC noted that Republika Srpska has been pushing to unilaterally take over state competences, including on taxation, the judiciary, defence and security, and dismantle state institutions, endangering the country’s EU accession perspective.
Moreover, parliamentary parties could not agree on a solution for constitutional and electoral reforms to bring the constitution in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The Council of Ministers took no steps to develop a national programme for the adoption of the EU acquis. Due to political obstruction, the Ministry of Finance and Treasury hindered the smooth organisation of the October 2022 elections by withholding the required funds,” the report noted.
Bosnia has also made limited progress on public administration reform (PAR). Public administration’s functioning on all levels has deteriorated due to the lack of a political decision-making body to steer PAR and insufficient implementation of the action plan and capacities to promote the PAR agenda.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina is at an early stage of preparation as regards its judiciary. No progress was made in this area over the reporting period. The independence and impartiality of the judiciary did not improve,” the report noted.
It added that the local authorities must take urgent measures to restore public trust in the judiciary and strengthen its integrity.
“The lack of political commitment to judicial reform and the poor functioning of the judicial system continued to undermine the citizens’ enjoyment of rights and the fight against corruption and organised crime,” the EC noted.
Bosnia has also failed to make progress in fight against organised crime.
“Political leaders and judicial institutions failed to tackle widespread corruption and actively blocked progress, leading to long-term stalling and increasing signs of political capture. The continued lack of progress at all levels increases the risk of backsliding. Political leaders and judicial institutions need to urgently remedy the situation,” the report reads.
Although there have been some indictments for high-level corruption, the overall track record on preventing and repressing corruption was not sufficient, due to operational inefficiency and political interference.
“There are systemic shortcomings in the operational cooperation between law enforcement agencies fighting organised crime, due to non-harmonised criminal legislation, weak institutional coordination, and a very limited exchange of intelligence,” the EC noted.
In terms of economic criteria, Bosnia is at an early stage of establishing a functioning market economy. The internal market remained fragmented due to worsening cooperation and coordination of economic policymaking at state level and among the entities.