The new central government of Bosnia and Herzegovina aims to meet all conditions set by the European Union over the next month and apply for membership by the end of June, the Balkan country's new prime minister told Reuters.
Bosnia and Herzegovina experienced the worst of the ethnic-nationalist fighting that accompanied the disintegration of Yugoslavia.
Bosnia's declaration of independence in 1992 triggered a bitter conflict between Serbs, Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats, claiming 100,000 lives. Eventual international intervention under the auspices of the UN culminated in a NATO bombing campaign against Bosnian Serb forces in 1995, which led to the Dayton Agreement that created the current constitution and geopolitical structure.
The conflict involved ethnic cleansing and atrocities. Worst of all was the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, when an estimated 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed by the army of the Republika Srpska and other paramilitary units, despite the presence of 400 armed Dutch peacekeepers in the area.
The country is officially a federation, divided into two partner entities with considerable independence: the Bosniak-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska. Each has its own government, legislature and police force, but the two come together in a central government with an eight-month rotating presidency held equally by a Bosniak, a Croat and a Serb (click here for more information).
The move comes after Muslim, Serb and Croat leaders put an end to the political deadlock that stalled reforms needed for progress towards EU membership and left the economy floundering following an inconclusive election in October 2010.
"I expect that we shall fulfil conditions for submitting the application for EU membership by June 30," Vjekoslav Bevanda, a Bosnian Croat economist who chairs the central cabinet known as the Council of Ministers, said in an interview yesterday (21 February).
Bosnia's rival ethnic leaders forged a political agreement in December that resulted in the formation of the central government and two new laws seen as key for reviving the EU accession bid.
"Passing the laws on the census and state aid was a great achievement, but we now have to implement them," Bevanda said. Parliament must also complete work on harmonising the constitution with European human rights standards, the remaining EU condition, he added.
At the end of the 1992-95 war, Bosnia was split into two autonomous regions linked by a weak central government: the Federation, dominated by Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats, and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska.
The reformist Bevanda, who stabilised the Federation's finances during the 2008-2009 crisis when he served as its finance minister, dismissed analysts' predictions of more politicking and obstruction by ethnically divided parties.
"The atmosphere in the Council of Ministers shows a positive will to implement everything that political leaders have agreed upon," he said.
Bosnia is lagging behind its west Balkan neighbours in the queue for EU membership. Croatia is due to join the bloc in 2013, Macedonia has won candidacy status and Montenegro expects to start accession talks in June.
Serbia and Albania have applied for membership but have yet to be granted official candidate status.
The first priority is to adopt a general fiscal framework for 2012-2014 and the state budget for 2012, Bevanda said, referring to key conditions set by the International Monetary Fund and the EU to unfreeze loans halted over reform delays.
"We have set an ambitious goal... and I am confident that we shall have the 2012 budget passed by parliament by March 31," Bevanda said.