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BiEPAG reacts: EU’s decision to open accession talks with BiH could help silence secessionist rhetoric

The European Union agreed to open membership negotiations with Bosnia-Herzegovina, eight years after country first applied for EU membership. Last week European Commission said BiH made sufficient progress in aligning with the EU’s standards for opening accession talks.

Read the latest “BiEPAG reacts” focused on the decision by EU leaders to open membership talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Damir Kapidžić: Opening accession talks is not what BiH deserves, but it is what it gets

Photo: BiEPAG

A political decision was made in Brussels to open membership talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina. This comes at a time when the EU is adopting a stronger and more direct approach to enlargement, moving ahead at a pace not seen in over a decade. It also comes just ahead of EU elections in June and should be read in a context where some progress in reforms among candidate countries is also a win for the outgoing Commission.

The decision is justified by stating that BiH has made significant progress in adopting necessary legislation that will advance it towards EU membership. What is omitted is that there has been enormous external pressure on domestic actors to adopt said legislation and to comply with EU requirements. The significant progress of BiH is still far less than initially demanded, marking a decisive move away from strict enforcement of the 14 key priorities set for the country in 2019. Most notably, there was no progress on adopting a new Law on the Courts or electoral reform.

In BiH, the decision is welcomed by all parties and leaders. This includes Milorad Dodik who is generally highly critical of the EU and is under sanctions by the United States. In an interview, Dodik portrayed future EU accession in light of creating a common space where Serbs can live without borders, departing from his usual rhetoric that emphasizes secession. New parties in the national coalition government that has been in power since 2023, the Social Democratic Party, Our Party, and People and Justice emphasized their role in pushing through reforms that made the difference.

While there is a long way ahead, the decision is a step in the right direction, even if the main credit does not go to Bosnian decision-makers. To sum it up, opening accession talks with the EU is not what BiH deserves, but it is what it gets

Marika Djolai: Progress on the EU accession path brings new obligations

 

Marika Djolai; Photo: BiEPAG

As many hoped for, on 12 March the European Commission (EC) issued a recommendation to start EU accession talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). This decision, which still needs endorsement from all 27 EU leaders, has been seen by some as not ‘earned.’ What motivated this decision and what does it mean for the future of the country?

The EC justified today’s decision by citing the evident progress in reforms that BiH has made. However, the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interest, complementing the previously adopted Law on Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism, was only pushed through the Council of Ministers a few days ago. With its merit questionable, other reasons prevail.

First, this was the last opportunity to propel BiH to the stage of opening EU accession talks before the upcoming European Parliament elections in June 2024 and the appointment of the new Commission, which may not be inclined to continue the current enlargement momentum.

Second, everyone is concerned about Republika Srpska’s secessionism, Dodik’s continuous engagement with Russia and its supporters like Lukashenko, and foreign actors’ malign engagement in this tiny but geopolitically strategic state. These concerns, combined with a desire for stability in this part of Europe, certainly contributed to today’s EC decision. It is also a clear signal of no compromise on BiH’s state sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Surprisingly, there was a notable recent turn in Republika Srpska’s public discourse alongside adoption of the two state laws. In a highly politicized statement last week, Dodik advocated for opening the EU accession talks and slammed EU actors who allegedly use the process to alienate and punish RS. There is little to show he genuinely perceives BiH as a unified state but is now left with less maneuvering space with the EU rapprochement.

Progress on the EU accession path brings new obligations, demands and requirements for the state government and BiH institutions. If it follows its own pace of reforms and trajectories of the other five WB candidates, membership will not happen anytime soon. If it decides to adopt Ukraine and Moldova’s fast-track approach and buries political infighting, BiH has potential to lead the race in an otherwise very complex EU accession path. The current state government has already shown ambition and resilience, to the merit of BiH citizens.

Marko Kmezić: Decision could help silence secessionist rhetoric

Marko Kmezić; Photo: BiEPAG

The announcement of the opening of EU accession talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina is good news. It is positive for BiH, as the process could help silence secessionist rhetoric in Republika Srpska and more deeply entangle the country with the EU. It is also good for the EU, allowing it to showcase enlargement progress ahead of 2024 European Parliament elections. Additionally, it signals a revival of the strained accession process for the Western Balkans and provides hope for Ukraine.

However, the European Commission’s recommendation does not guarantee talks will begin, as all 27 EU member states must approve the decision at next week’s summit. As seen with North Macedonia, this final hurdle can be serious.

Even if talks open, what does it mean for BiH citizens? Accession is a long, complicated process of negotiations that can take years before full membership. Croatia took eight years from the start of talks until accession. Current frontrunners Montenegro and Serbia have negotiated for over a decade without foreseeable end dates.

BiH struggles with initial membership conditions like judicial and electoral reforms. EU criteria will become more precise, targeting democracy and the rule of law – directly challenging so-called ‘state capturing elites.’ This risks negotiating stalemate, as seen in Serbia.

Therefore, in parallel to potential talks, the EU should invest additional resources and technical support in BiH’s civil society. Independent media, institutions, NGOs and citizens are essential to keeping their government accountable on the path to Europe and the EU should support this indispensable part of the process.

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