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28th Jan 2023

Bosnia recommended for EU candidacy, but Serbia warned

  • EU commissioner for enlargement Olivér Várhelyi told Bosnia's political elite to start reforms quickly (Photo: European Commission)
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The EU Commission on Wednesday (12 October) advised member states to grant Bosnia and Herzegovina candidate status.

The decision came as part of the commission's annual assessment of countries aspiring to become EU member states.

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The candidate status for the ethnically-divided country is dependent on dozens of reforms on corruption and organised crime, judicial freedom, media freedom, asylum rules, the the electoral law and the constitution.

"It is in the EU's strategic interest and essential to their own stability and prosperity that all six Western Balkan gets into the EU as fast as possible," enlargement commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said.

Várhelyi said he expect that a decision by EU leaders on the candidacy status in December is feasible.

Bosnia's foreign minister welcomed the decision, describing it as "historic."

"This sends a strong message to the citizens [of Bosnia], one we have been hoping to get even earlier, that our future is as a member of the EU family," Bisera Turkovic said on Twitter.

Várhelyi said this means that, after the recent elections, the Bosnian "political class should quickly set up all the institutions and should start working".

"We are doing this for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But it also comes with high expectations. It is for the elites to turn this into reality," Várhelyi said.

EU member states must agree unanimously on granting candidate status to an aspiring country.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine was a geopolitical earthquake across the continent, putting the spotlight on enlargement as one tool for Europe to consolidate its position.

The EU, in June, already granted candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, and to Georgia with conditions, with the Russian aggression speeding up the accession process.

"[The] wind of change is once again blowing through Europe and we have to capture this momentum", EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a speech on Wednesday.

"The Western Balkans belong in our family and we have to make this very, very clear," she added.

Nevertheless, becoming an actual EU member is still expected to take years.

Some Western Balkans countries' patience in the EU's waiting room is wearing thin, with critics saying it leaves a vacuum in the region which is being exploited by Russia and China.

The commission is screening Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Turkey as well.

'Priority'

Meanwhile, Serbia has been criticised by several MEPs for not aligning with the EU's sanctions policy against Russia.

The commission's report noted that "Serbia did not align with the EU restrictive measures against Russia", and its "alignment rate" on council decisions and declarations by the EU's foreign affairs chief dropped from 64 percent in 2020 to 45 percent in 2022.

The EU executive also said in its report that as "a matter of priority", Serbia needs to fulfil its commitment to align with EU sanctions.

The commission also said Serbia needs to robustly tackle all forms of disinformation.

Opinion

Why Bosnia & Herzegovina is not ready for the EU

Due to a total capture of the country's institutions and economy by corrupted ethno-nationalist elites, Bosnia & Herzegovina did not advance on key reform areas such as democratisation and improvement of the rule of law — arguably even backsliding.

Opinion

How can Serbia ban EuroPride yet still hope to join EU?

Bowing to pressure from radical-nationalist groups and the deeply-conservative Orthodox Church, Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić announced last week EuroPride 2022 would be cancelled –– even though he legally lacks the authority to do so.

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