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EU accepts Bosnia as candidate for membership

December 15, 2022

EU leaders have formally signed off on Bosnia's bid to become a candidate to join the bloc. It's the last step on the road to candidate status, but the path to membership usually takes years.

The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrel in a meeting with the leaders of the six countries of the Balkans, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bosnia is finally being granted candidate status, after years of awaiting a response to its application to become an EU memberImage: Office of the Kosovo President

The heads of state and government of the EU's 27 members agreed at a Brussels summit on Thursday to give Bosnia formal candidate status, as the country seeks to join the bloc.

The move comes as the EU tries to sustain the aspirations of several countries to one day join the bloc, albeit during a period where it's been almost a decade since a new member joined and when nobody's accession appears imminent. 

Other EU candidates include Albania, Moldova, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Also on Thursday, Kosovo formally submitted its application to become a candidate member. 

Moldova's and Ukraine's candidacy were only confirmed last June, after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The European Council's approval on Thursday effectively ratified a decision negotiated, agreed and announced by lower level EU negotiators earlier in the week.

Why was Bosnia named a candidate?

The EU "reconfirmed its full and unequivocal commitment to the European Union membership perspective of the Western Balkans" at an Albania summit, calling for accession talks with the membership hopefuls to be accelerated.

Czech Europe Minister Mikulas Bek said on Tuesday that by granting Bosnia candidate status, member states were "sending a strong message of its commitment to EU enlargement".

The Czech Republic currently holds the bloc's rotating presidency.

The EU's expansion process has been nearly frozen for years. The last country to be granted membership in the union was Croatia, which joined in 2013.

However, Russia's invasion of Ukraine gave the Union more reasons to reconsider alliances with eastern European countries.

Infographic on the candidate status of European countries within the EU
Several EU membership applications have been fastracked this year, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine

EU officials have repeatedly emphasized lately that propping up the bloc's engagement with Western Balkans nations was vital to maintaining Europe's security.

Bosnia formally applied to join the block over six years ago. Only in October did the European Commission recommend granting the Balkans country candidate member status.

However, being a candidate does not necessarily mean the country will be granted membership soon. The path toward membership is a lengthy process full of roadblocks, as candidates need to make several economic and political changes in line with EU rules.

Some hurdles could freeze membership altogether, as was the case with Turkey. A candidate since 1999, Turkey has made barely any progress toward joining, completing or "closing" just one of 35 required areas of policy negotiation — called "chapters of the acquis" by the EU — in the decades since.

What obstacles does Bosnia need to overcome?

Despite becoming a candidate, several obstacles still stand in the way of Bosnia's accession to membership status.

Concerns over the political situation remain, with ethnic divisions in the country of three million people since the end of its devastating war some three decades ago.

Since the end of the war, the country has been run by a dysfunctional administrative system which has failed to a large extent in providing a framework for political development

The country's weak central government connects a Serb entity to a Muslim-Croat federation.

Bosnia and Herzegovina still struggling with reconciliation

To progress to the next stage of formal accession negotiations, Bosnia must make progress on 14 priorities for reform laid out by the European Commision.

In October, EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said the country needed to take reformation steps concerning the judiciary, corruption in the country, as well as some necessary constitutional and electoral changes.

How do Bosnian politicians see the move?

Many Bonsian politicians meanwhile believe granting the country candidate status was long overdue.

"It is time for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to receive a positive message from the European Union," the French AFP news agency quoted Denis Becirovic, the Bosnian member of the country's tripartite presidency, as saying last week.

He nevertheless acknowledged that such a step would only be "the beginning of the real work."

Meanwhile, some Serb leaders have called for closer ties with Russia. Milorad Dodik, the current president of the Republika Srpska entity, vowed to stand in the way of EU accession should it further centralize power in Bosnia.

How divided is Bosnia?

rmt/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)