European Commission recommends start of accession talks with Bosnia

European Commission recommends start of accession talks with Bosnia
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says Bosnia took "impressive steps forward" to prepare for accession. / European Union, 2024
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia March 13, 2024

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on March 12 that Bosnia & Herzegovina will get a green light to start EU membership talks, as the country has been pushing hard to fulfil all key requirements over the past year under the governance of pro-Western Prime Minister Borjana Kristo.

The move was expected as the EU has set four key priorities to Bosnia to unblock the negotiation process: the start of cooperation talks and adoption of three laws. Earlier in March, Kristo wrote to EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi to inform him that the government is about to adopt the last required law.

“In these years, we have shifted gear in our approach to the region. We have realised that it is not enough to just wait for the Western Balkans to move closer to us. It is not enough to say that the door is open. We must also take responsibility and support their path towards our Union in any possible way,” von der Leyen said in a speech on March 12.

She added that earlier the same day the College of the EU analysed Bosnia’s progress before taking a decision.

“Since we granted candidate status, Bosnia & Herzegovina has taken impressive steps forward. More progress has been achieved in just over a year than in over a decade,” von der Leyen noted.

She praised the country for fully aligning with the EU’s foreign and security policy, the adoption of key laws, such as on the prevention of conflict of interest which had stalled for seven years and the law on anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing.

Bosnia has also progress in the management of migration flows with negotiations on a Frontex agreement ready to begin after the country’s tripartite presidency endorsed the negotiating framework.

Bosnia’s Ministry of Justice has agreed to include in the domestic criminal records the judgements of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

“Of course, more progress is necessary to join our Union. But the country is showing that it can deliver on its membership criteria, and on its citizens' aspiration to be part of our family. This is the reason why today, we will decide to recommend to the Council to open accession negotiations with Bosnia & Herzegovina,” von der Leyen said.

“The message coming from Bosnia & Herzegovina is clear. So our message must be clear too. The future of Bosnia & Herzegovina lies in our Union,” she added.

The news, although expected, was hailed by Bosnian political leaders.

The first to comment was Milorad Dodik, the secessionist pro-Russian president of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska, who said he was welcoming von der Leyen’s statement but added that without an approved date it does not mean much.

“It should be said that the opening of negotiations is the result of the enormous and crucial contribution of Republika Srpska in that process. For us, the European path is important because it represents the fulfilment of a great national goal – the life of Serbs in an economic and political space without borders,” Dodik also said.

Nermin Niksic, prime minister of Bosnia’s other autonomous entity – the Muslim-Croat Federation – said there was no greater satisfaction than the words of von der Leyen.

“So, we are not talking about ourselves, we are not bragging, but from the highest European position it was said that in one year of the new government at the state level, we have done more than our predecessors in ten years,” Niksic said.

“I am especially glad that this opening will bring benefits to all citizens of BiH, which will mean easier and faster access to European funds, and by creating a European political climate in BiH and a European business environment, we will open space for large foreign and domestic investments, new jobs and the stay of young people in this country,” he added.

The US ambassador to Bosnia Michael Murphy also welcomed von der Leyen’s announcement, saying that the US strongly supports Bosnia’s EU membership path. At the same time, Murphy accused Dodik and Dragan Covic, the leader of the main Croat HDZ BiH party, of working for Russia’s interests.

“It is very important that once the negotiations are opened, a clear signal to be sent that the path towards future is in Brussels, not in Moscow,” Murphy said.