While NATO ministers last week agreed to half-open the door for Bosnia and Herzegovina to join the alliance, EU diplomats told EURACTIV that the European Union wanted to "militarily disengage" from the Balkan country, where it maintains numerous peace-keeping forces.
EU diplomats said several of the bloc's member states wanted to "militarily disengage" from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), even though they keep thousands of peace-keepers and law-enforcement experts there (see 'Background').
The comments were made last Thursday (22 April) as NATO ministers were meeting in Talinn to agree to offer Bosnia a Membership Action Plan (MAP). In NATO jargon, a MAP serves as an ante-chamber for membership of the now 28-member military alliance. In practice, the MAP phase can take up to several years to complete.
Up to now, NATO membership has always preceded EU accession for East European countries. The last countries to join the alliance were Croatia and Albania last year, and the last to be granted MAP status was Montenegro.
NATO attached conditions to BiH's membership bid. A NATO spokesperson said that the alliance would only accept Bosnia's first annual reform plan under the MAP programme when defence property, such as bases, had been registered as belonging to the state and for use by the defence ministry.
The NATO spokesperson further commended BiH for having made "significant" progress on reform, for having destroyed surplus ammunition and arms, and for contributing troops to NATO's mission in Afghanistan.
Symbolically, BiH, where thousands of Western peace-keepers are stationed, sent an infantry unit to join the NATO's operation in Afghanistan.
The fact that BiH is on track to join NATO may seem like as a paradox as NATO and EU countries are engaged in costly efforts to preserve peace and enforce law in the war-torn country, diplomats conceded.
A number of countries want to disengage from the EU's military operation in BiH, ALTHEA, a Western ambassador said, but any decisions would depend on the outcome of general elections in BiH to be held in October, he added.
Fifteen years after the Bosnia war, the conflict between the country's ethnic Serb, Muslims and Croat community has changed in nature, observers say. Once violent, relations between communities today are now characterised by mutual obstructions to building a common future and a quasi-feudal allegiance to local corrupt leaders.
The elections could either mark communities' desire to seize the opportunity for BiH "to become a normal European country" or exacerbate these negative trends further, a diplomat said.