During the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003, along with other Western Balkan states, Bosnia and Herzegovina was identified as a potential candidate for the EU membership. Fulfilled with optimism, in 2005 Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) negotiations were officially launched in Sarajevo.
But, what makes Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) a specific case in comparison to other Western Balkan countries is that is composed of two autonomous entities (the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, with a third region, the Brčko District, governed under local government). It has a bicameral legislature and a three-member Presidency including members of each major ethnic group. All together it makes BiH a less functional state where political practices are mainly based on the so-called self-referential ethnopolitics. Usually, it seems that elected politicians are engaged in a permanent electoral campaign based on accusing each other of their failures.
Another important date on the European path of Bosnia and Herzegovina was June 2012 when the EU and BiH started the High-Level Dialogue on the Accession Process in order to put the EU integration process to the foreground of Bosnia’s agenda and give it a new boost. Later in first months of 2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina submitted its application to join the EU and the same year the EU Council invited the Commission to present an opinion on Bosnia application. It was again a period of optimism as the EU acceptance of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for EU membership indicated that the country is back on its European track. But, more than year later there has not been made any significant progress in the fight against the corruption. Also, rule of law remains hindrance in Bosnia’s EU integration.
Even though BiH has made some formal progress towards the EU, the substance of the EU integration has been weakened substantially in the previous years, considers Vedran Džihić member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG).
In addition, Džihić stated that the EU has shown weak and inconsistent policy of conditionality towards Bosnia due to various EU internal crises in the recent time.
On the other hand, it is already well-known that both the President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik and the Bosniak member of the Presidency Bakir Izetbegović are not willing to make any kind of compromise in BiH possible. The main reason they behave only in accordance with their personal and clientelistic interests is to secure and prolong their political survival.
Currently, one of the urgent issues is a delay of answering the European Commission Questionnaire in order to enable Bosnia and Herzegovina to get candidate country status. It seems rather unusual that the potential EU candidate country shows to a certain extent an “amateurism”, by not delivering answers to a questionnaire and that the process is taking much longer than in any other Western Balkans country, exceeding the deadline they have promised their citizens.
In his latest visit to BiH, EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn showed his lack of patience with promises of Bosnian authorities to deliver answers in the “next few weeks”. Also, disapproval came from Milorad Dodik who immediately after Hahn’s visit announced that there will be no final answers to the Questionnaire if there is no political compromise made on major issues. Furthermore, politicians together with different levels of governments and institutions that have different data made it mission impossible to finish this Questionnaire on time as promised. This Questionnaire is important in terms of publishing a document by the EU that will explain how far or close are Bosnian institutions and legislation from the EU standards.
Some more optimism comes with the information that appeared in media last days about the enlargement strategy for Western Balkan countries to be published in February, where it is suggested that by 2025 Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo should “move further on the European path” or that “negotiations with these countries have far advanced”.
However, Bosnia has to make progress in reforms and become a more functional state in order to achieve opening accession negotiations. In December during his visit to Bosnia, Commissioner Johannes Hahn noted that “the only way to move forward in the EU integration process is to achieve concrete results on reforms”.
In December 2017, Brussels meeting that might reinvigorate the European integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina took place during which the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denis Zvizdić met with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Policy and Security Federica Mogherini. Both of them agreed that BiH must continue the existing momentum in order to get closer to the EU.
On the other hand, this year will be the election year in Bosnia and Herzegovina which could be quite politicized and EU integration might be slowed down again. Any postponement of the enlargement process makes the situation in countries of the Western Balkans worse and if the enlargement does not happen soon, it might not be possible for 10 or 15 years. There are many reasons and some of them are Euroscepticism, rising nationalism, authoritarian leaders or even Turkey and Russia that might replace the leverage that the EU have today in the Western Balkans.
Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States