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18th Nov 2018

Bosnia believes in EU membership by 2015

Despite its many internal problems, Bosnia and Herzegovina could join the EU by 2015, the country's foreign minister has said, adding that he expects Nato accession to materialise even earlier.

"For Bosnia and Herzegovina it will take at least four, five years to get there [achieve EU membership] …If it's not 2013-2014, maybe 2015," Bosnian foreign minister Sven Alkalaj told a group of journalists in Sarajevo on Thursday (23 April).

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"By that time the EU will have overcome the economic crisis, it will definitely overcome its internal problems," he added.

Mr Alkalaj's comments come as a certain number of EU member states, including France and Germany, are warning that no further enlargement can take place before the bloc's institutional deadlock is broken and the Lisbon treaty is ratified.

The EU has also acknowledged that the global economic crisis is likely to distract member states from the enlargement process.

Bosnia's foreign minister remained optimistic, however, stressing that Sarajevo hopes to file its application for EU membership this autumn.

"It will very much depend on us and when we are ready to join the EU. I think there won't be a reason for any further disturbances," Mr Alkalaj said.

According to him, Bosnia's membership of Nato is even closer in time than that of the EU, as "the path to Nato is very much advanced."

"We hope that in May we will present our application to the membership action plan, which is in a way a door knock to full-fledged membership of Nato, which we expect to acquire …most probably in 2011."

Bosnia's demons

Bosnia and Herzegovina – which was 14 years ago just emerging from the bloody war that followed the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in 1992 to 1995 – has two autonomous regions, the Muslim-Croat federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Serb-inhabited Republika Srpska.

Its complicated internal functioning and constitution, as well as the animosities between the country's three leaders, have considerably slowed reforms.

At the end of last year Brussels multiplied warning signs to Sarajevo, criticising the government's lack of "a sense of urgency or responsibility to overcome the stalemate" on most issues.

Mr Alkalaj acknowledged Bosnia had serious difficulties advancing with its key constitutional reform, and added that this is unlikely to change before the next elections in the country in 2010.

The reform is currently blocked by Republika Srpska insisting on keeping a high degree of autonomy, while the federation pushes for a stronger centralised state.

But although this issue should be solved before Bosnia becomes an EU member, it should not hinder the accession process itself, the minister argued.

The international presence in the country in the form of an EU mission and international envoy with strong governing powers is not incompatible with Bosnia becoming an EU candidate either, he said.

Additionally, "the role of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) is definitely diminishing, it's a matter of months I would say for closing it. I don't see it beyond June 2010," Mr Alkalaj pointed out.

Visa deal to avoid 'brainwashing'

The minister also insisted on the need to achieve full visa liberalisation with the EU, saying this is especially important for young people in Bosnia who can be "easily brainwashed" and "lured into nationalistic views" if they are isolated and not allowed to travel freely.

Visa requirements were imposed on the western Balkan countries in the aftermath of the 1990s Yugoslav war, with the EU promising as far back as 2003 to start talks with the countries' governments to reverse this.

Brussels has indicated it could recommend lifting the requirements in the first half of this year for those countries that have carried out enough reforms.

According to its assessment, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro are currently the most advanced in that respect, while Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina are the least prepared.

Isolation risk

But Mr Alkalaj warned that if Brussels proceeds with lifting the visa requirements for other countries of the region and not for Bosnia, this could create problems for the Muslim population of the country.

"Practically all Bosnian Croats" currently have dual citizenship and Croat passports, meaning they can already travel visa-free. If Serbia obtains a visa-free regime, Bosnian Serbs "will do the same and apply for Serbian passports."

"So, the remaining group which will be in a way ghettoised is the Bosnian Muslims, not having this opportunity …This will be a wrong political message," Mr Alkalaj said.

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