Bosnia and Herzegovina took a small step towards the European Union on Wednesday with the EU executive advising member states to grant it candidate member status despite continuing criticism of the way the Balkan nation is run.
The council had been highly anticipated in ethnically divided Bosnia, which is lagging behind many other Balkan nations in gaining candidate status to become a member of the prosperous European club of 27 nations. For the EU itself, offering the prospect of membership is a powerful tool in the Balkans, where Russia and China are vying for greater geopolitical weight.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi told a European Parliament committee during the presentation of the annual report on enlargement that the executive “recommends that candidate status be granted” by member states, pending a set of commitments for fundamental reform.
The Bosnian Foreign Minister welcomed the decision, calling it “historic”.
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“This sends a strong message to the citizens (of Bosnia), which we hoped to receive even earlier, that our future is as a member of the (EU) family,” Bisera Turkovic said on Twitter.
The recommendation comes more than 6 years after Bosnia formally applied for EU membership and nearly three decades after it emerged from an inter-ethnic war that lasted more than 3.5 years, part of the breakup of Yugoslavia, which resulted in more of 100,000 dead.
The Commission can only advise which nations should become candidates for the EU and all Member States must unanimously agree on this step. Varhelyi said he hoped member states would make a quick move, possibly as early as December, as the situation in the region spurred by Russia’s war in Ukraine made speed essential.
However, once a country applies, it can take years, sometimes many years, for club membership to become a reality.
Varhelyi warned Bosnian political leaders to move swiftly on much needed reforms.
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“On our side, now we’ve taken a leap, a leap of faith,” he said. “Leadership must now be there to deliver.” He said that to become a candidate, Bosnian leaders needed reforms on issues ranging from the judiciary, to fighting corruption and promoting constitutional and electoral changes. Little progress has been made on these issues in recent years.
Although Bosnia has declared its desire to join the EU since 2003, its quarrelsome ethnic leaders have so far been reluctant to put aside differences and implement necessary reforms. Indeed, Bosnia recently found itself grappling with its biggest political crisis since the end of the 1992-95 war, with the staunchly pro-Russian Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, increasingly threatening to separate the Serbian side. of Bosnia from the rest of the country.
The Commission has carried out several not encouraging evaluations in many areas, showing limited or no progress in reforms of the public administration, the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organized crime. To apply, a nation does not have to meet all criteria, but it must show a commitment to do so.
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Several Balkan countries and Turkey waited around two decades to join, and progress was sometimes hampered by objections from a single EU member state.
Ankara applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999 and had to wait until 2005 to initiate actual entry talks. It is still extremely far from joining.