Bosnia and Herzegovina on the untrodden path to candidate status
Written by: Ajla Cvrljo
Bosnia and Herzegovina always had positive relations with the European Union. The Union is BiH's largest trading partner. The turning point for their official political relations was on 15 February 2016, when Bosnia and Herzegovina submitted the application for the EU membership. In order to start negotiations on accession to the EU, the European Commission in May 2019 identified 14 key conditions, among which only one has been met until now (abolishing the death penalty in the entity of Republic srpska). Considering the previous and current political situation, Bosnia and Herzegovina did not undertake express steps to enhance social and political circumstances. These occasions do not have a prosperous influence on Bosnia and Herzegovina's European integrations. In October 2022, the European Commission suggested the European Council grant the candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is expected to happen in December 2022.
Granting candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova without meeting certain conditions is a pure geopolitical decision due to the current geopolitical ongoings in Eurasia. Many analysts consider that the European Union may apply “the Ukrainian model“ to Bosnia and Herzegovina to close the security circle in Europe. All these unfulfilled conditions may be realized afterward but granting the candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina may result in decreasing the Eastern powers' encroachment into internal affairs. Having a candidate status means that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a few steps closer to entering the EU family but it is still in the gust of Russian winds. In order to make this process faster, European Commission recently proposed 8 of the most important conditions that have to be discussed in the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Inevitably, institutions have to pay attention to four fields when making reforms: democracy and functioning of institutions, rule of law, fundamental rights, and public administration reforms. One of the indirect proposals of the EU integration process, that triggers Bosnian reality, is the abolition of the Office of the High Representative. This condition is not directly set, but “extensive international supervision is not per the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as with the membership in the EU“. When Bosnia and Herzegovina starts to deal with this condition seriously, it may produce a certain political blockade and prolong its accession for a while. Abolishing institutions such as the Office of High Representative would be supported by politicians from the entity of Republic srpska because it would remove one more obstacle in the way of gaining independence. But they have to bear in mind that the European Union will only accept Bosnia and Herzegovina as an integral state. On the other hand, pro-Bosnian politicians may be afraid of the negative use of „blank space“ by Serbian politicians between abolishing the OHR and accessing the EU.
Two months ago, general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina were held, and during the election campaign, politicians and candidates had an opportunity to clarify their ideas about Bosnia and Herzegovina's European Union path but many of them did not focus on this issue. Bosnian society as a whole is in deep insecurity regarding socioeconomic circumstances. Because of that, Euroscepticism is present among people and many of them do not hope that European integrations would bring a brighter future. Let's put hope on one side, but on the other side, official statistical analyses show that above 70% of the population is committed to the European integration and accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU. The fact of the matter is whether the politicians and parliamentarians undertook certain actions in order to fulfill the required criteria just to join European Union, or whether they really did that intentionally to spread European values among people in Bosnian society. During the electoral campaign, left-oriented parties were promising the candidate status in December 2022 if they win. It is obvious that recommending candidtae status for Bosnia and Herzegovina firstly was a geopolitical decision, but secondly, what were the actual predictions for this success before having final election results and a new formation of government. This new formation of government would be the fastest one in the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which might be somehow forced by the European community to accelerate European integrations. The main focus of the EU in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the fight against corruption, which does not fit into Bosnian politicians' actions at all. Delaying the fulfillment of the 14 priorities prolongs the politicians' presence on the political stage.
The question which is permeating through this process is whether the status of Bosnia and Herzegovina would be similar to Albania's and North Macedonia's. These Western Balkans candidate states, with previously fulfilled all required criteria, were waiting for 8 and 17 years just to start negotiations on accession to the EU. This long gap was caused by several EU member states, that are territorial neighbors to these candidate ones, because of some national and ethnic disputes. If we take into consideration that Bosnia and Herzegovina have an unofficial dispute with Croatia regarding the legitimate representation of Croats, as one of the constituent people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is expected that Croatia will block its way to the EU even though if we presuppose that Bosnia and Herzegovina had met all required 14 key conditions. The main fact is that postponement of official negotiations on accession would increase Euroscepticism in society and deepen the strained political and diplomatic relations between two neigbouring states.
Undoubtedly, Bosnia and Herzegovina is decisive in its European integrations but the lack of inconsistency in this official political orientation may result in making this state pay the price. The question is: “Do we really need the European Union“? In today's world, where great powers are trying to knock each other's hands off over the European sky, Bosnia and Herzegovina has to clearly define its attitude and accelerate its integration into the European family. Euroscepticism should be minimized since people in Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot find financial and social satisfaction in any other state of the world but among the EU member states and the only logical move would be integrating this country into the Union. Right now, when we have a distracted world order, Bosnia and Herzegovina has to bandwagon.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Balkan Studies Center (BSC).