Monday

16th Sep 2019

Bosnia signs EU pre-accession deal

Bosnia and Herzegovina signed a pre-accession deal with the EU on Monday (16 June) in Luxembourg after weeks of delay, with the move representing important progress in the Balkan country's EU integration process.

The EU welcomed the signing of the so-called Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) - a pre-accession tool designed as a first step for the Western Balkan towards eventual EU membership.

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EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn called it "a milestone that marks a new stage in our relations" and "a gateway for [EU] candidacy".

For his part, Miroslav Lajcak, international High Representative and EU Special Representative in Bosnia, added: "It's certainly a day to remember the same country only 13 years back and also the day to celebrate."

Bosnia and Herzegovina – which has two autonomous regions, the Muslim-Croat federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Serb-inhabited Republika Srpska – was 13 years ago just emerging from the bloody war that followed the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in 1992 – 1995.

But the signing of the SAA now "opens the door" for the country to join the rest of Europe and "leave the past behind," Bosnia's prime minister Nikola Spiric said.

The EU however added a cautious note with Mr Rehn underlining that there is still "much work to do to implement the agreement" and before thinking about full membership of the 27-nation bloc.

For his part, Mr Lajcak also stressed that the road to EU membership could be long and would depend primarily on Bosnia's efforts.

"The European Union has just offered Bosnia its European perspective. We have entered the process but it's up to Bosnia and Herzegovina how long the process will take and when [it] will be able to be rewarded with membership in the European Union," he said according to Reuters.

Before joining the EU, Sarajevo has been asked, among other things, to increase its political stability, strengthen its institutions, as well as to improve its judicial system and the fight against corruption.

Bosnia is the last country from the Western Balkan region, except for Kosovo, to sign an SAA after the adoption of a controversial police reform by the Bosnian parliament in April – set as a condition by Brussels – cleared the way for this to happen.

The document was not signed in April as initially planned because of technical issues concerning the translation of the lengthy document into the EU's 23, as well as Bosnia's three, official languages.

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Europe's credibility is at risk in the Western Balkans, half its member states have warned - but EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Albania and North Macedonia unlikely to start accession talks soon.

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Serbia will never recognise Kosovo, Serbia's foreign minister has said, as the Western Balkans heads into a new period of turbulence.

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