The 2030 target for accession of Western Balkan countries to the EU could be a welcome boost to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU accession process, but the problem with constitutional change and lack of political consensus needed to make further steps towards opening negotiations with the EU could hinder this ambition.
President of the European Council Charles Michel has pushed for an accelerated timeline for candidate countries to join the EU. “Enlargement is no longer a dream,” he said at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia, where leaders from the region gathered. According to Michel, it’s time to move forward.
“There is still a lot of work to do. It will be difficult. I believe we must be ready – on both sides – by 2030 to enlarge”, Michel said adding that enlargement is still and will remain a merit-based process, which means fulfilling the rule of law criteria, implementing European economic standards, and aligning with Brussels on foreign policy.
Five Western Balkans countries hold candidate status, but the accession process has stalled for several years. One of them is Bosnia and Hercegovina. After Russian aggression, the EU granted candidate status to Moldova and Ukraine, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina in December 2022. The next goal for BiH’s authorities is opening negotiations talks.
The European Commission will publish progress reports on Bosnia and Herzegovina and other Western Balkan countries in October. According to leaders in BiH, they expect a positive assessment and a recommendation from the European Commission for the opening of negotiations.
The leaders of the parties comprising the ruling majority at the state level reached an agreement after a meeting in East Sarajevo on 22 August to introduce three draft laws into parliamentary procedure related to the EU accession process.
Edin Dilberović, Director of the Directorate for European Integration in BiH, says that in the past few months, it has been noticeable that the authorities in BiH have been working diligently and achieving concrete results.
“Several laws have been adopted that represent significant steps towards the realization of number priorities. Among others, the Law on Amendments to the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) Law, the first of four laws related to the rule of law, has been adopted. Additionally, the Law on Amendments to the Law on the Ombudsman for Human Rights, the Law on Free-Access to Information, and others have been adopted. Furthermore, important steps have been taken to advance BiH in the reform of public administration, migration, and asylum management, the fight against organized crime, and more”, Dilberović explains.
Damir Kapidžić, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Political Science in Sarajevo and member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) says for EWB that opening negotiations talks could be a strong incentive for cooperation between members of the ruling majority in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Such an agreement, regardless of its nature and the issues it pertains to, signals the presence of a ruling majority willing to cooperate and make concessions. This can be to open negotiations but also for any other purpose. If there are concrete and strong incentives for such cooperation, such as the opening of negotiations, it will be easier to achieve”, Kapidžić says.
Surprising conciliatory tones from the leaders of the political parties forming the ruling coalition in Bosnia and Herzegovina have come after months of mutual accusations of undermining the constitutional order and breaking coalition agreements. The immediate trigger was the attempts by the President of Republika Srpska to undermine the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the authority of the High Representative, Christian Schmidt, by enacting special laws in the RS parliament.
What are the main obstacles on BiH’s European path?
For EU accession negotiations to be opened, Bosnia and Herzegovina must implement 14 key priorities outlined in the European Commission’s opinion of May 2019 on its EU membership application. These priorities encompass areas such as democracy and functionality of the state, the rule of law, fundamental rights and public administration reform.
Nedim Hogić, a researcher with the Sant’ Anna School of Advanced Studies, says for EWB that there are two fundamental obstacles to BiH’s European path.
“The first is the lack of consensus among the leading political actors on how to implement the remaining priorities. The second is the divisions among external actors regarding whether BiH is ready to open negotiations and what level of constitutional reforms it should or should not undertake”, believes Hogić.
According to him, these different views among domestic actors are mirrored in the international area, making it difficult for BiH to obtain clear criteria that would define the country’s next steps.
“This is most evident in the implementation of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights and the issue of state property, where there are numerous divergent concepts that are not harmonized”, Hogić added.
Damir Kapidžić underlines that obstacles revolve around political effectiveness and political institutions.
“It’s not about institutions themselves being problematic or their decision-making procedures, but rather about political actors (parties, representatives, etc.) who do not embrace dialogue and compromise as essential prerequisites in the political decision-making process”, Kapičić believes.
Contrary to Kapidžić and Hogić, the Director of the Directorate for European Integration in BiH Dilberović says that in the process of the EU integration, they prefer to speak about challenges for which it is necessary to find appropriate solutions, rather than obstacles.
“For the policy and institutions in BiH, it is currently crucial to continue the positive trend regarding progress in implementing the 14 key priorities. First and foremost, it is necessary to adopt the Law on Courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Law on Conflict of Interest Prevention at the state level, and to finalize the process of drafting and adopting the Integration Program of BiH into the EU… It is also essential to ensure that everything that has been adopted is implemented and applied, as this is something that the European Commission also monitors and evaluates”, says Dilberović.
He underlines that for opening accession talks the first is the achievement of concrete results in implementing 14 key priorities, and the second is a unanimous political decision by the 27 EU member states.
“It is up to the authorities and institutions in BiH to focus on their part of the job, which means adopting and implementing as many concrete regulations and other acts as possible, as concrete results are the best argument for progressing to the next phase of the process”, concluded Dilberović.