EU ministers agree to grant Bosnia candidate status

EU ministers agree to grant Bosnia candidate status
By bne IntelliNews December 13, 2022

EU general affairs ministers agreed on December 13 to give Bosnia & Herzegovina accession candidate status.

The decision, which still has to be endorsed by EU leaders on December 15, comes amid increased emphasis on enlargement following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was a top priority for Slovenia that has been pushing to give Bosnia candidate status for months.

In October, the European Commission decided to recommend that the EU grant Bosnia candidate status despite its slow progress, in an attempt to strengthen Western influence and weaken the Russian influence in the politically divided Balkan state.

European Commission and member state officials confirmed the decision to back candidate status for Bosnia, the fifth of the six Western Balkans countries to become an accession candidate, on December 13.

“Good news: Council recommending candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina is a message to all citizens of BiH that their future is in the EU. Looking forward to the European Council’s endorsement,” Josep Borell, EU’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs, wrote on Twitter.

“Steadfast progress on reforms is key to take this perspective forward,” he added.

“Europe delivers! Today we reached another milestone in the [EU] Enlargement Policy. Council agreed to grant candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina,” wrote Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi on Twitter.

“EU path is open! We have high hope & expectations that 14 key priorities will be delivered for [Bosnian] citizens’ benefit,” he added.

The EU’s special representative to Bosnia, Johann Sattler, noted that the decision was a message to Bosnian citizens who strongly support the EU membership and a clear message to politicians to quickly form state institutions and start implementing key reforms.

Bosnia was expected to be granted candidate status, despite concerns over the lack of reforms in recent years.

Given the calls for secession from the Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska, and the ties between Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik and Moscow, granting candidate status increases Bosnia’s integration with the EU and helps to counter Russian influence in the country.

Future reform progress is still uncertain, however, given the slow formation of governments at state and entity level following the October elections.

Meanwhile, Milorad Dodik, the secessionist pro-Russian leader of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska refrained from comments on the EU’s decision.

On the other hand, Bisera Turkovic, state-level foreign affairs minister, said this was a historic moment.

“The European path is a union of all citizens in the hope for better future. The candidate status comes as incentive and recognition,” Turkovic wrote on Twitter.

“Despite all problems we are finishing this mandate with a huge, historic step towards the EU membership,” she added.

There was no official statement from the government.

However, a survey carried out by Bosnia’s Directorate for EU integration, showed that just 34.7% of Bosnians believe their country will become member of the EU within ten years versus 40.6% a year ago.

When it comes to the country's two entities, the majority of those in the Muslim-Croat Federation believes that EU membership would strengthen relations within the country, while the majority of the Serbs living in Republika Srpska believes that the EU will not survive.

Ahead of December 13, many Bosnians, even those who are most keen joining the bloc, were sceptical, expecting that the country would get another delay.

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.

The authorities in Kosovo have said they plan to formally apply for EU membership this week, even though five EU member states do not recognise Kosovo as an independent state.

Earlier this year, both Moldova and Ukraine were given candidate status, while Albania and North Macedonia were given the green light to start accession negotiations.