Bosnians Hope For Good News at EU Council

Balkan Insight
Publication date: 
Jul 18 2016

Bosnian leaders hope for positive feedback from the EU Council of Foreign Ministers, which meets on Monday, after the country's Presidency secured last-minute approval of one of the key measures Brussels wanted Sarajevo to fulfil.

"In the past year-and-a-half, Bosnia has made more progress in the EU integration process than in all previous years put together," Edin Dilberovic, head of Bosnia's Directorate for EU integration, told BIRN.

Dilberovic noted that Bosnia has now fulfilled most of the conditions sought by the EU in order to give credibility to Bosnia's membership application, submitted in February.

"The Presidency has accepted the update of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement [SAA] and the creation of a Mechanism of Coordination has been agreed in its essential parts," Dilberovic said.

On Friday, the Bosnian Presidency approved the modification of the SAA, which the EU wanted to see updated in order to take into consideration Bosnia's trade links with Croatia.

Republika Srpska, Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity, had opposed the update of the SAA, claiming that it would damage farmers in the RS.

Last month, Mladen Ivanic, the Serbian member of the Presidency, said he would not approve the updated version of the SAA without the support of the authorities from RS, hardening his position in retaliation for the decision of Bosnia's State Statistical Agency to publish the results of the 2013 census without first securing the agreement of the RS.

Eventually, authorities in Republika Srpska gave a green light to the update of the agreement, after Germany engaged itself and last week offered to help cover any losses felt by Bosnia's agricultural sector.

"What happened ... shows that everybody can take the right decision when they have their backs to the wall," Ivanic said on Friday.

Although it is still not clear whether the discussion of Bosnian application will be part of the agenda of the meeting, Bosnian officials have repeatedly said that the meeting on July 18 would be of crucial importance.

Zora Stanic, spokeswoman of the EU delegation in Bosnia, told BIRN that the EU Council "will request the Commission to prepare an Opinion on the membership application ... only when the conditions are met", pointing out that the preparation of this opinion, which will establish whether Bosnia has met the conditions to obtain candidate status, takes 12 to 18 months.

"If Bosnia's application is not discussed on Monday, this will not happen before autumn," Lejla Ramic Mesihovic, an expert from the Foreign Policy Initiative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, told BIRN.

This would mean Sarajevo - which is already lagging behind other countries in the region on the EU path - losing precious time.

"Currently, the EU Presidency is held by Slovakia, which knows the Balkans well and believes in EU enlargement," Ramic Mesihovic said, noting that after Slovakia, the EU Presidency will be occupied by Malta and the UK.

"At that point, enlargement might not be a priority any more," she stressed.

However, Ramic Mesihovic pointed out that Bosnia "should remain committed to the EU path regardless of the outcome of Monday".

She also stressed that the German initiative had created a paradigmatic shift in the attitude of Bosnian politicians and this was a good sign.

"It shows how the EU policy can be effective in the country, when it deals with concrete support rather than rhetoric or promises," she concluded.

Balkan Insight