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European Commission recommends opening accession talks with Bosnia, reform process must be continued

Ursula von der Leyen at the State of the Union 2021; Photo: European Union

Bosnia and Herzegovina has made the greatest progress in recent years compared to the previous decade, said the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announcing that the European Commission will give the green light for the start of the EU accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“The good news is that we will give the green light for the start of negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina…The message from the BiH side is clear, and that is why our message about them must be clear. The future of Bosnia and Herzegovina is in our Union”, von der Leyen said.

According to the EU internal procedures, this EC’s recommendation will be discussed at the Council for General Affairs which be held on 19 March, followed by the summit of the European Council that will make the final decision on this proposal.

Bosnia and Hercegovina became a candidate country in December 2022. The European Council expressed readiness to open accession negotiations with BiH during the Summit in December last year and called on the Commission to publish a report in March on the level of fulfillment of key criteria, which will serve as the basis for the EU leaders’ decision.

Speaking in the European Parliament, the EC President Ursula von der Leyen listed all the laws and measures adopted by the Bosnian authorities in the past period.

“First of all, BiH is now aligned with our foreign and security policy. They have also adopted important laws such as the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interest. It was stuck for seven years. Now it has been adopted, as was the Law on Prevention of Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism. Thirdly, the management of migration flows is improving. We have negotiations with Frontex and an agreement with Frontex that has only just begun. Fourth, the Ministry of Justice agreed that judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia be included in the person’s file. And we also have this steering committee that is finally functioning”, said von der Leyen.

Bosnian leaders welcomed the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen’s recommendation to open EU accession negotiations with BiH, and the first who made public statements on the matter were the Republika Srpska (RS) entity President Milorad Dodik and Federation (FBiH) entity’s Prime Minister Nermin Nikšić.

“I welcome the announcement that there is every possibility that the start of negotiations between the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina will be approved, but without a 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 fulfillment of a great national goal – the life of Serbs in an economic and political space without borders,” Dodik said.

Prime Minister Nikšić said that for him, as one of the leaders of the Troika and the Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is no greater satisfaction than the words of the President of the European Commission.

“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,” Nikšić said.

What next?

Even though Bosnia and Herzegovina has not implemented all 14 priorities defined by the European Commission in 2019, EU Member States will probably make a positive decision on opening EU accession talks with Bosnia.

Nedim Hogić, a researcher at the University of Oslo, believes that in 2019 EU significantly expanded its conditionality for BiH, but than that same conditionality has been narrowed in the last year and a half.

“The EU simply gave up on many things from its 14 priorities because it was too ambitious and unrealistic, while on the other hand, it became evident that everyone in Bosnia wants European integrations, regardless of secessions, desires for constitutional reforms, and conflicts within the country. So, the EU now made a decision that should have been made 10 years ago”, Hogić says for EWB.

According to him, it is not clear if this decision on opening accession will catalyze change and speed up reform processes. However, he believes that at least the negotiating field between BiH and the EU is changing with this decision, because authorities will need to deliver reforms for further progress, not for opening negotiations.

“I see this decision as a positive step because it corrects an injustice towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it is still unclear if it will lead to significant change. It would be highly important to link financial benefits to the opening of chapters and fulfilling obligations from specific chapters. In that regard, if the EU were to set concrete demands, I believe it could motivate the Bosnian authorities to engage in more serious reform processes”, Hogić believes.

He says that Bosnian authorities already made some efforts by adopting several laws. However, he believes that certain laws, such as the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interest, could have been adopted in a better manner.

“Authorities in Bosnia have adopted the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interest, but it could not be implemented until the end of the year because the necessary prerequisites for enforcing the law have not been established. Only in Sarajevo Canton are the prerequisites for implementing this law in place, while, for example, in Republika Srpska, the law is much milder and allows for many abuses. It’s good that the law has been adopted, but there are many reasons for dissatisfaction,” says Hogić.

According to him, the timing of this decision ahead of the European Parliament elections is unfortunate, because it is not clear will the next European Commission will continue with a strong focus on enlargement.

“It would be great if Bosnian authorities, together with other countries from the region such as North Macedonia, lobby to start opening certain chapters”, Hogić concludes.

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