Six southern and eastern EU countries are asking the bloc’s foreign ministers to focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina and help the barely functioning Western Balkan country implement key reforms that should boost its dwindling EU membership bid and ease simmering tensions in the region.
The six – Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, and Slovenia – drafted a non-paper on Bosnia and Herzegovina ahead of a meeting of EU27 foreign ministers on Monday (22 March), the Foreign Affairs Council.
The informal document, made available to EURACTIV, stressed that Bosnia and Herzegovina must “remain squarely in the EU focus. Political issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina merit stronger attention of the Council and the European Council”.
More than twenty-five years after the internationally brokered Dayton Peace Agreement halted the bloodiest conflict on European soil since World War Two, Bosnia-Herzegovina remains hostage to ethnic tensions between Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosniaks, with an unwieldy and barely functioning government.
It has dragged its feet on democratic and economic reforms and has barely advanced its EU membership bid.
Using the careful diplomatic language, the non-paper said “the country is still facing significant challenges on its path towards democratic maturity and full functionality as a state”.
An EU diplomat familiar with the issue told EURACTIV the purpose of the document is “to bring Bosnia and Herzegovina to the focus of the EU and mobilise member states’ support for crucial reforms in the country that should be completed in 2021”, including the general electoral law.
The main driver of the initiative is Croatia, an EU member since 2013, which maintains close contact with ethnic Croats in Bosnia. Croatia and Bosnia share a 1,000 km-long land border, a fact that will gain in importance once the former joins the EU’s borderless Schengen area, possibly in the next few years.
The non-paper said the EU should “spare no effort in assisting” Bosnia-Herzegovina become an official candidate for EU membership but also “firmly insist on achieving progress in all areas of concern, never lowering the bar and striking the right balance between conditionality and incentives”.
The document also noted the country’s stagnating economy, fractured political landscape and lack of trust among the three ethnic groups, resulting in a “functional gridlock of the institutions”.
All of this is compounded by the illegal migration of people from Africa and the Middle East, who use the so-called Balkan route to get to Western Europe, and the unfolding humanitarian crisis in the west of Bosnia, where hundreds of migrants are kept in improvised camps.
The non-paper comes on the heels of a recent initiative by nine EU countries to have a strategic discussion on the six Western Balkan countries, which remain outside the EU with little prospect of joining any time soon.
EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the issue in April or May, EU senior officials say.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]