With the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian War, the Balkans, already an unstable region, have become even more fragile. Frozen ethnic and religious conflicts and problems are one of the main causes of instability in the region, while corruption and economic problems are obstacles to a sustainable environment of prosperity and stability.
The process of harmonization and integration with the European Union (EU) and other Euro-Atlantic institutions, which is one of the foreign policy priorities of the countries in the region, is considered as a remedy for the existing instability. However, in the current process, it is seen that the EU membership processes of the Balkan countries, except Croatia and Slovenia, have been protracted and there has been a mismatch between the parties. However, recently, it is seen that the EU has been increasing its presence in the region and the harmonization and integration process with the Balkan countries has been prioritized again.
While the risks of the Russia-Ukraine War undoubtedly lie behind this change in the EU’s approach to the region, the energy and security crisis has also played a decisive role in this conjuncture. In this context, the fact that Bosnia-Herzegovina, one of the countries in the region, has recently gained EU “candidate country” status after many years is a significant development. Mentioned in 2003 as a “potential candidate country”, Bosnia and Herzegovina officially applied for EU membership in 2016. Bosnia and Herzegovina, which obtained the status of “candidate country” after a nearly 20-year adventure, has achieved an important development.
Bosnia and Herzegovina still has many shortcomings in terms of candidate country status. In particular, the complex political system created by the Dayton Peace Agreement and the political gridlock this system has allowed is one of the main problems in the country. On the other hand, the separatist rhetoric of the leaders of the Republika Srpska (RS), one of the constituent entities of the state, and their steps to block the decision-making processes in the government are among the most important obstacles to achieving sustainable stability.
In addition to all these, the fact that the political and economic institutions in the country are far from being inclusive and that most state institutions are run based on ethnic elements and are plagued by corruption further exacerbates the problems. In fact, the European Commission’s 2022 report on Bosnia and Herzegovina, published a few months before the country was granted candidate status, addressed these problems, and stated that Bosnia had not sufficiently fulfilled the necessary conditions for its journey with the EU.
As such, the granting of candidate country status to Bosnia shortly after the publication of this report left a question mark. At this point, it should be noted that the “candidate country” decision taken in December 2022 was not essentially for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s citizens; it was a political, geopolitical, and strategic decision.
In this framework, when the move for “candidate country” status is analyzed, it can be stated that it is an attempt to prevent Panslavism from spreading in the region.
Considering the threats and risks posed by the Russia-Ukraine War in the Balkans, the decision taken by the EU becomes more understandable. As a matter of fact, the EU, which has recently been showing efforts to increase its visibility and its room for manoeuvre in the region, has been trying to attract Bosnia-Herzegovina to its side due to its strategic location and the presence of elements within the country that are known to have close relations with Russia and has been endeavouring to prevent possible challenges arising from this country.
At this stage, one should not ignore the recent political developments in the country. The fact that the general elections held in October 2022 were held in a democratic environment despite many controversial situations and that the results of the elections signalled a change was influential in this decision. It is not a coincidence that the decision coincided with an agreement on the ongoing government formation process in the country. As Jasmin Mujanovic points out, the Russian-Ukrainian War has been decisive in these developments.
On the other hand, when we look at the reactions of politicians in the country, we see that while most of them welcomed the decision, some of them made criticisms that were not entirely wrong. For example, Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Chovic, who personally submitted the application for EU membership in 2016, stated that it took a long time for the decision to be taken, that Bosnia could remain in this status for years, but that their goal was to achieve membership as soon as possible. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik stated that he would have been more optimistic if the decision had been taken a few years ago; referring to the Russian-Ukrainian War, he underlined that this decision was a belated reaction to the existing injustice and that they did not care much about this decision. Denis Bechirovic, the new Bosniak member of the Presidential Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, stated that this decision was encouraging for all Bosnian citizens.
It is possible to say that the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina generally welcomed the decision, but lost most of their expectations in this protracted process. This is because the decision is not expected to have tangible economic and social benefits.
As a result, Bosnia and Herzegovina is not expected to experience major changes after obtaining “candidate status.” However, it is thought that the political instability in the country can be prevented with the decision taken. In the background of the decision lies the EU’s effort to prevent instability in the Balkans after the Russia-Ukraine War.
 “EU potvrdila kandidatski status za Bosnu i Hercegovinu, čestitke evropskih lidera”, Radio Slobodna Evropa, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/bosna-i-hercegovina-eu-kandidatski-status/32177770.html, (Date of Accession: 04.01.2023).
 “Key Findings of the 2022 Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina”, European Commission, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/country_22_6093, (Date of Accession: 04.01.2023).
 “‘Osmorka’, HDZ BiH i SNSD potpisali ‘historijski’ sporazum”, Al Jazeera Balkans, https://balkans.aljazeera.net/news/balkan/2022/12/15/osmorka-hdz-bih-i-snsd-potpisali-historijski-sporazum, (Date of Accession: 04.01.2023).
 ““Ukrajina učinila više za EU perspektivu BiH nego ijedan domaći političar!”“, Slobodna Bosna, https://www.slobodna-bosna.ba/vijest/280581/jasmin_mujanovic_otvoreno_ukrajina_uchinila_vise_za_eu_perspektivu_bih_nego_ijedan_domaci_politichar.html, (Date of Accession: 04.01.2023).
 “Šta znači kandidatski status za Bosnu i Hercegovinu?”, Radio Slobodna Evropa, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/bih-uslovi-preporuka-status-kandidata-eu/32079385.html, (Date of Accession: 04.01.2023).