The journey of the Sarajevo administration to the European Union (EU) started in June 2003 and Bosnia–Herzegovina was given the status of “potential candidate country” at the Thessaloniki Summit held in Greece. Bosnia–Herzegovina, which started the negotiation process with the EU in 2005, made an official application for membership on February 15, 2016.
As part of the negotiation process, the European Commission sent a questionnaire to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2018 on meeting the conditions for joining the union. However, Sarajevo was asked to develop a national program for the functioning of the Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee and for the adoption of the EU acquis.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is at the end of the list in terms of EU integration among the Western Balkan countries and is a potential candidate country in the current process, seems to be one step closer to EU membership. Because the European Council stated that it was ready to give “candidate” status to Bosnia and Herzegovina on 23 June 2022, and for this purpose, invited the commission to submit a report on the implementation of 14 basic priorities.
So much so that the European Commission Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi announced in his presentation titled the 2022 Enlargement “Report of the commission he made in the European Parliament on October 12, 2022, that a proposal was made to grant the status of “candidate country” to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is a “potential candidate” country. Stating that the EU will continue to monitor Bosnia and Herzegovina on issues such as the fight against corruption, freedom of expression and press, and legal reforms, Varhelyi emphasized the importance of implementing the “14 priorities.”
On the other hand, there is strong support from two Balkan countries, Croatia, and Slovenia, for the granting of “candidate country” status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. So much so that Slovenian President Borut Pahor announced that his country will do everything in its power to grant EU candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, some experts, who argue that this support should be questioned, state that “This support of Croatia stems from its consideration of interests of the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Slovenia expressed its opinion to support Croatia on this issue.”
Varhelyi, who visited Sarajevo on 28-29 November 2022 at a critical turning point in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU membership journey, stated that the doors of the union are open to Bosnia and Herzegovina and said that, if necessary, steps are taken, the country can gain candidacy status within a month. Varhelyi used the phrase, “Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path to the EU is open, but the results are awaited, and we want it to be implemented without further delay. It is in the hands of politicians to make this a reality.” In line with the statements, at the EU Leaders’ Summit to be held on 15-16 December 2022, there was a great expectation that Bosnia and Herzegovina would be granted “candidate country status.”
In addition, the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in Bosnia and Herzegovina signed a coalition agreement with eight Sarajevo-based opposition parties, fulfilling one of the conditions that would bring the country closer to EU candidate country status in December 2022. The agreement consists of three parts: Euro-Atlantic integration, political stability and the rule of law, and social justice and the economy. The agreement, which includes the guidelines, principles, and objectives for the ruling coalition for the 2022-2026 period, it is aimed to bring a new dimension to the politics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, thereby making progress in EU membership and eliminating the situations that prevent the functioning of state institutions. However, the signed coalition agreement excludes the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) led by Bakir Izetbegovic and the Democratic Front (DF) led by Zeljko Komsic, which oppose the electoral law reform that increases the representation of the Croatian-dominated regions.
Understandably, the formation of such a coalition, which is against the Bosniaks, could escalate political tensions. As a matter of fact, SDA President Bakir Izetbegovic stated that it is “heretical” for the opposition parties not to want the SDA in the government while the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) led by Serbian leader Milorad Dodik and HDZ are in the government and claimed that the aim of HDZ is to keep patriotic Bosniak politicians out of power. In addition, Izetbegovic stated that the coalition agreement that left the SDA out of government would be futile.
Serbs and Croats acting together is a critical situation. For this reason, it is believed that Komsic, the Croatian member of the Presidency Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has an important task against the separatist and radical decisions of the Croats in the country in the face of this coalition, which may trigger political instability in the country.
The said agreement signed in Bosnia and Herzegovina can bring the country closer to the EU if political tensions are prevented; however, as stated before, this agreement has already caused tension as it is against the Bosniaks. Therefore, it is controversial and uncertain whether the agreement in question will be long-lasting.
As a result, it is not certain that a concrete decision will be taken at the summit on December 15, 2022, and that “candidate country status” will be given to Bosnia and Herzegovina, even though the process is positive, regarding the granting of “candidate country status” for membership to the EU. Because it is not clear whether Bosnia and Herzegovina fulfil all 14 conditions. In addition, the vote of all member states is required for the status of the candidate country to be granted. In the current situation, while the issue of granting candidate country status is supported by EU member states such as Slovenia, Croatia, and Austria, it is not clear how France and the Netherlands, who oppose the enlargement of the union, will adopt it. Therefore, it would be too ambitious to say that Bosnia and Herzegovina will receive EU candidate state status at the summit to be held in Brussels.
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