On Wednesday, October 12th, the European Commission released its annual enlargement report, in which it recommends granting Bosnia and Herzegovina official candidate status for EU membership. This status, however, is tied to a series of reforms expected by the European Commission, including necessary developments in the fields of democracy, functionality of state institutions, rule of law, and of fighting corruption. Only once these criteria are met, which is usually a process of several years, further steps will be considered.
Vice president of the European Commission Josep Borrell said in a statement that “we are infusing a positive dynamic into the process and hope for the region to take the chance and follow up on it by implementing key reforms.” He stressed that the European Commission is not only assessing the performance of partners but of future member states, which “are also about the kind of Union we want for the future.”
“And it’s clear that we believe in the European future of our partners. Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine brings into strong relief the importance of EU enlargement,” said Borrell, “which takes on a new geopolitical significance. It is a long-term investment into peace, prosperity, and stability for our continent.”
The decision was welcomed in Bosnia. Foreign Minister Bisera Turković took to Twitter and described the announcement as a “historic” moment and a “strong message” for Bosnian citizens, adding that Bosnia’s “future is within the European family.”
However, there’s still a long road ahead before Bosnia becomes a member of this family. Olivér Várhelyi, European Commissioner for neighborhood and enlargement, noted that the EU expects “the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to make full use of this opportunity and to make the following reforms as soon as possible.” The enlargement report presented by Várhelyi pointed to “political turmoil” and “legislative standstill” as two of the many issues keeping Bosnia from fulfilling European standards. Settling somewhere between a promise and a threat, Várhelyi reminded Bosnians that “granting candidate status is an offer that comes once in a lifetime and with very high expectations,” while emphasizing the need to proceed “swiftly” with the “work on reforms and on the fulfillment of the 14 key priorities in the Commission’s opinion.” Várhelyi reminded Bosnians that “this is not an offer for the political class, it’s an offer for the country.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina is just one of many countries in the Balkan region and beyond that is in the process of applying for EU membership. Most recently, Albania and North Macedonia opened accession negotiations with Brussels. Kosovo, whose independence status isn’t even fully acknowledged by all EU member states, and Georgia are being considered possible future candidates. With the latter having recently been granted “European perspective” status, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, referred to the “wind of change” that is “once again blowing through Europe,” stressing that “we have to capture this momentum,” as “the Western Balkans belong in our family and we have to make this very, very clear.”