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22nd Sep 2021

Concern voiced over lack of EU progress in Bosnia

EU officials have told Bosnia Herzegovina that the bloc stands behind its progress towards stability and European integration but stressed that Sarajevo needs to fulfil key conditions if it wants to move forward.

"The European Union will stick to our commitment to your European perspective at the same time, we expect you...to fulfil the conditions for closer EU integration," said Dimitris Kourkoulas, the EU ambassador to Bosnia Herzegovina, at a conference in Sarajevo last week.

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The conference – organised by the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation – was set up to help speed up talks on the EU-Bosnia Stability and Association Agreement (SAA) - the legal step before gaining EU candidate status.

Deep divisions between the two political entities that together compose the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina - the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina representing ethnic-Croats and Bosniaks and Republika Srpska representing the ethnic-Serb minority - are delaying the treaty.

The rift has seen Bosnia fail to push through EU-demanded police reforms and a new constitution designed to pull the country together, with Bosnia also tarnished by insufficient cooperation with the UN over war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic.

Effects of further delay

"We from the side of the European Union need you in order to complete the ambitious goal of creating a continent of democracy and stability," Mr Kourkoulas said.

Full scale EU engagement in the Western Balkans came about as a response to several armed conflicts in the region in the 1990s, with the bloody wars in Bosnia and Kosovo still fresh in Brussels policy-makers' minds.

"Let's be honest, progress of this country towards the European Union has been slowed down in the last 12 months," he said, adding that "the blame for any further delay lies with all political forces and their inability to reach an agreement."

"If your political system is not capable of producing results in the police reform area within two years of intensive efforts, I am wondering how many decades this country would need to reach agreements on the remaining reforms," Mr Kourkoulas said.

He explained that further delays could have serious negative effects for the country – not only concerning European integration but also for its economic and social development. He pointed out that Bosnia is losing out on regional and global investments that could lead to much needed economic growth in the country.

Time to bury the hatchet

Bosnian prime minister Nikola Spiric, who was also attending the conference on Friday (13 April) said his country had to overcome its internal differences and move on together.

"The only thing that will take us to Europe is the weakening of nationalism," he said, adding that "we have wasted so much time - while most people tried to bury the hatchet, we used it."

Bosnia saw some of the worst fighting in the Balkan wars during the early and mid-1990s with around 100,000 to 110,000 civilians and soldiers killed and 1.8 million displaced, according to the latest research in 2005 by the European Journal of Population.

"I hope that this year, which is 50 years since the EU was formed, will be the year when Bosnia Herzegovina will sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement," said Mr Spiric. "I will not hesitate to spend my time and energy to realise this goal," he added.

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