EU seeks to revive Bosnia’s membership bid

Sarajevo, March 2014. [ Micha? Huniewicz/flickr]

The European Union agreed yesterday (15 December) to implement a German-British plan to revive Bosnia and Herzegovina’s bid to join the bloc, which rests on a new government’s commitment to reform.

Britain and Germany proposed last month to offer EU funds to Bosnia in return for institutional reform, an initiative that was followed up by the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini with a visit to Sarajevo. EU foreign ministers in Brussels have now promised to back the plan.

“This could be a turning point in Bosnia Herzegovina’s path towards the European Union,” Mogherini told a news conference.

Bosnia is bottom of the pack of Western Balkan states seeking EU membership, hampered by an unwieldy system of ethnic power-sharing set out in the Dayton peace accords which ended the 1992-95 war and divided the former Yugoslav republic into two autonomous regions.

A national government has yet to be formed since an October election, but the inaugural session of the new lower house of parliament last week saw the emergence of a majority seen as backing the German-British initiative to spur economic reform and unlock EU funds.

The proposed framework asks Bosnia to make a written commitment to institutional reform at all levels of state, making it more compatible with the EU, and also to agree an agenda for broader political and economic reforms that would bring it into line with the bloc’s accession criteria.

“There will be work starting tomorrow to draft and agree on a written declaration, a written commitment from the side of the presidency, of the leadership of the different parties and a vote in the parliament,” Mogherini said.

With Bosnia’s fragile economy relying on the International Monetary Fund to meet its budget deficit, the European Union is hoping access to EU funds and eventually its 500 million citizens could help push institutional change.

Political inertia, unemployment and corruption led to civil unrest in February when protesters torched government buildings across the country in the worst violence since the war. 

Since the end of its 1992-'95 war, Bosnia and Herzegovina has had a weak central government and a system of ethnic quotas that has stifled development.

There have been numerous signs that the country’s main ethnic entities - Serbs, Croats and the Muslims, known as Bosniaks lack interest in pursuing a common future. However, the European Commission continues to encourage the unity of the country.

>> Read: Protests over ID numbers highlight Bosnia’s divisions

>> Read: Bosnia postpones census over ethnic disagreements

Nationalists with little shared vision of Bosnia and Herzegovina's future were elected in the three-person presidency last October.

>> Read: Divided Bosnia elects nationalists

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