Wednesday

17th Jan 2018

Bosnia applies for EU membership

  • Dragan Covic (l) signed Bosnia's application to the EU with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini (r) and Dutch foreign affairs minister Bert Koenders (c). (Photo: Council of the EU)

Bosnia and Herzegovina formally applied for membership of the EU on Monday (15 February) in Brussels.

The chairman of the country's tripartite presidency, Dragan Covic, said the move is "an opportunity for us to demonstrate that we can reform our country for the benefit of all citizens".

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The EU describes the application as an achievement, primarily for the people of the Balkan nation.

But despite the niceties, there is little real appetite for enlargement in Brussels and any prospect of full membership is likely to take years.

The former Yugoslav republic remains gripped by poverty, corruption and high youth unemployment. Many of its young people are leaving the country.

The point was partly made by EU neighbourhood commissioner Johannes Hahn.

Speaking alongside Covic, Hahn said "membership is not possible within a couple of months or even a few years".

Instead, Hahn described the application in terms of "concrete European perspectives".

Hahn was broadly following the same line as EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

When Juncker took office in 2014, he told the Western Balkans that "no further enlargement will take place over the next five years”.

But the application is still seen as an important signal for EU leaders that Bosnia may mend its political and ethnic divides.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said it also points towards further European unity.

"It is also a powerful message for the citizens of the European Union that our project of integration is still a powerful one," she said.

'Need to be credible'

Last November, the EU Commission gave Bosnia a positive report on its enlargement process. It noted Bosnia and Herzegovina "is back on the reform track".

In June, an EU pact was launched to deepen political, trade and economic ties with Bosnia.

"This is a year of many challenges, we need to improve our economy but also we need to be credible in order to become a member of the EU family," said Covic.

Bosnia is split into two political and ethnic entities, which renders decision-making complex.

Bosniaks and Croats mostly live in the region of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Republika Srpska is home to mainly Serbs.

The division followed the bloody war in the former Yugoslavia that left most of its infrastructure destroyed. Some 100,000 people were killed.

On Monday, police in the capital city Sarajevo arrested three men wanted by the UN for crimes committed during the Yugoslav war in the early 1990s.

Analysis

Bosnia's EU application masks turmoil

The former Yugoslavia republic said it will formally apply to the EU next Monday. But the country still faces a number of underlying problems that make accession an unrealistic possibility in the short term.

Bosnia political divisions laid bare in census row

Bosnia must publish much-delayed census data before 1 July, otherwise its EU membership bid could be torpedoed. It could radically alter the quota-based governing system put in place after the war.

Analysis

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On his recent visit to China, the French president tried to take advantage of Beijing's 'divide and rule' EU approach and become the country's main interlocutor with Europe - while also calling for more EU coordination.

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