EU leaders agree to open membership talks with Bosnia

European Union leaders have agreed in principle to open membership negotiations with Bosnia-Herzegovina. (Photo/Reuters Archive)

European Union leaders have agreed in principle to open membership negotiations with Bosnia-Herzegovina, even though the Western Balkan country must still do a lot of work before talks can begin.

The 27 leaders gave the political green light at a summit in Brussels on Thursday after the European Commission — the EU's executive arm — last week agreed to start talks in spite of deep lingering ethnic divisions in the nation with 3.2 million inhabitants.

"The European Council has just decided to open accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Congratulations!" EU Council president Charles Michel said.

"Your place is in our European family."

Michel followed it up immediately with a warning that a lot of work remains to be done before the country can join.

"Now the hard work needs to continue so Bosnia and Herzegovina steadily advances, as your people want," he said.

In the summit's conclusions, leaders emphasised the need for Bosnia to continue taking "all relevant steps set out" by the Commission, which include economic, judicial and political reforms as well as better efforts to tackle corruption and money laundering.

Bosnia is riven by ethnic divisions, even decades after the 1992-95 war that tore the country apart, leaving more than 100,000 people dead and millions displaced.

In 2022, Bosnia was granted candidate status. In order to join the EU, candidate countries must go through a lengthy process to align their laws and standards with those of the bloc and show their institutions and economies meet democratic norms.

'Necessary requirements'

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said upon his arrival in Brussels that a lot of work still needs to be done before Bosnia can really get into the thick of negotiations with the bloc.

"It's crucial that Bosnia will fulfil all the necessary actions in the Commission's TRs report so that you really will have ticked all the boxes," Rutte said.

Gitanas Nauseda, the president of Lithuania, said he supports Bosnia's candidacy, but with strings attached.

"We have to respect the rules, rules of game, implementation of all necessary requirements," he said.

Negotiations would likely take many years, and many more political and economic reforms would be necessary to achieve membership.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he was "very much for" moving a step forward "after the many efforts that have been made in Bosnia-Herzegovina."

"As a whole, the states of the Western Balkans also must be able to rely on us," he said.

"The promise that they would be able to become members of the European Union was made … more than 20 years ago in Thessaloniki, and now we need the next steps."

Elvira Habota, the chief Bosnian official for European integration, said Thursday's decision "carries with it a wave of optimism for citizens, institutions, authorities and the whole Bosnian society".

Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of six nations from the region—the others are Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and North Macedonia—that are at different stages of the EU membership process.

Their entry to the bloc has been stalled for years.

But after Russia's war on Ukraine, EU officials are more keen on trying to lure them away from the Kremlin's influence.

In addition to the incomplete internal reforms damaging its bid, Bosnia is still ethnically and politically divided, and is perhaps the most fragile of the Balkan countries.


Source: TRT