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Bosnia boosted in its bid to become a candidate for EU membership

13.12.22 23:00
European Union ministers on Tuesday endorsed giving Bosnia and Herzegovina the status of being a candidate to join the bloc.

The decision has to be approved by the leaders of the EU's 27 members, who will gather in Brussels for a summit on Thursday.

"This sends a strong signal to the Western Balkan region and above all, to the citizens of Bosnia & Herzegovina," Austrian EU minister Karoline Edtstadler wrote on Twitter.

Candidate status is a largely symbolic designation which recognises that Bosnia and Herzegovina is on track to begin the lengthy and complex accession process. It does not, for instance, automatically trigger the start of negotiations.

But it nonetheless represents a boost for the small country of 3.5 million inhabitants, which applied to join in 2016 and had its bid endorsed by the European Commission in 2019.

The Commission however stressed at the time that the country needed to make progress on 14 key priority areas before advancing further in the EU membership process.

EU leaders said following a summit with Western Balkan countries in June that they stood ready to endorse candidate status but called on the Commission to issue an assessment on the implementation of the 14 priorities.

The Commission's report, released in October, detailed "limited progress" on reforms pertaining to the public administration and "no progress" to strengthen the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organised crime.

It also noted that Bosnia "needs to significantly step up alignment with the EU acquis [the collection of common rights and obligations that constitute the body of EU law and implement]".

How was Bosnia and Herzegovina formed?

The 1995 Dayton Accords which put an end to a three-and-a-half-year ethnic war split the country into two autonomous political entities — the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska -- with power shared among the three constituent peoples: Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs.

This power-sharing agreement has led to political instability in the country.

The EU's executive stated for instance that until spring 2022 political parties based in the Republika Srpska entity blocked legislative and executive institutions at state level and adopted initiatives to unilaterally take over state competences at entity level, in breach of the constitutional and legal order.

They also "obstructed the implementation of EU restrictive measures on Russia with which Bosnia and Herzegovina had formally aligned."

A general election on 2 October led to weeks of haggling with a coalition involving eight parties formed late month placing Euro-Atlantic integration, political stability, the rule of law, the economy and fulfilling the Commission's 14 priorities at the centre of its agenda.

Enlargement and relations with the Western Balkans have shot up higher on the bloc's agenda since Russia launched its war against Ukraine on February 24 in a bid to ensure neighbours align more closely with the EU.

Ukraine and Moldova were granted candidate status in record time while negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia were started after years of inaction.

The bloc has also opened some of its programmes, traditionally only for members, to Western Balkans countries and pledged billions of euros in assistance to boost energy and economic ties, Euronews reports.

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