EU executive recommends Bosnia become candidate member

Bosnia moves closer to becoming part of the EU as bloc’s executive advises member states to grant it candidate status.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has moved a small step closer to European Union membership as the bloc’s executive advised member states to grant it candidate status despite criticism of the way the Balkan nation is run.

The recommendation on Wednesday had been hotly anticipated in ethnically divided Bosnia, which is lagging behind several other Balkan nations in being granted candidate status to become a member of the prosperous European club of 27 nations.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi told a European Parliament committee during the presentation of the annual enlargement report that the executive recommends candidate status be granted to Bosnia, pending a slew of commitments for fundamental reform.

Bosnia’s foreign minister welcomed the decision, describing it as “historic”.

“This sends a strong message to the citizens [of Bosnia], one we have been hoping to get even earlier, that our future is as a member of the [EU] family,” Bisera Turkovic said on Twitter.

The commission can only advise which nations should become EU candidates. All member states must agree unanimously on such a step. Varhelyi said he hoped EU members would act quickly, possibly as early as December, arguing that geopolitical changes in the region spurred by Russia’s war in Ukraine made it essential.

Once a country becomes a candidate, it can still take years before membership becomes a reality.

Varhelyi warned Bosnian leaders to move swiftly on badly needed reforms.

“We are doing this for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it also comes with high expectations,” Varhelyi said. “It is for the elites to turn this into reality.”

He said for Bosnia to become a candidate, its leaders needed to implement reforms on issues ranging from the judiciary to battling corruption and pushing through constitutional and electoral changes. Little progress on those issues has been made in recent years.

Even early this week, as widespread fraud was reported in Bosnia’s recent general election, the country’s top electoral body announced it will conduct a recount in the race to become the next president of the Serb-run entity Republika Srpska, a ballot that a staunchly pro-Russian leader was accused of rigging.

Assessments made by the commission in other areas were also not encouraging. It outlined limited or no progress in reforms of public administration, the judiciary, and the fight against corruption and organised crime. To be a candidate, a nation does not have to meet all criteria, but must show a commitment to do so.

Several Balkan countries and Turkey have been waiting about two decades to join and sometimes progress has been held up by objections from single EU member countries.

Ankara applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999, and had to wait until 2005 to start talks for actual entry. It is still far from membership.

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