Accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European Union
|Bosnia and Herzegovina's EU accession bid|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European Union is the stated aim of the present relations between the two entities. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been recognised by the EU as a "potential candidate country" for accession since the decision of the European Council in Thessaloniki in 2003. Bosnia and Herzegovina takes part in the Stabilisation and Association Process, and the relative bilateral SAA agreement has been signed in 2008, ratified in 2010, and entered into force in 2015. Meanwhile, the trade bilateral relations are regulated by an Interim Agreement. Bosnia formally applied for EU membership in February 2016, and it remains a potential candidate country until it gets a response from the Council.
The nation had been making slow progress, including co-operation with the war crimes tribunal at The Hague, but this came to a halt in 2011 when the EU refused to ratify the Stabilisation and Association Accord. The process restarted in 2014-2015, with the SAA entry into force on 1 June 2015 and the submissal of a membership application by Bosnia and Herzegovina on 15 February 2016.
1997 Regional approach
The EU established a regional approach to the Western Balkans already in 1997, with political and economic conditionality criteria for the development of bilateral relations. The following year, a EU/Bosnia and Herzegovina Consultative Task Force was put in place to start the process. Since 2006, the task force is replaced by the Reform Process Monitoring (RPM).
Unilateral trade preferences ("Autonomous Trade Measures", ATM) were introduced by the EU for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the year 2000. Trade increased since 2008, and the EU products have been granted reciprocal preference in Bosnia and Herzegovina too. ATMs were suspended from 1 January 2010 by the European Parliament since Bosnia had not adapted the SAA, by then in force, to the accession of Croatia to the Union according to the traditional trade volumes.
Stabilisation and Association Process
A Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) for the five countries of the region, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, was proposed in 1999. In June 2000, the European Council in Feira recognised that all the SAP countries are "potential candidates" for EU membership. In November of the same year, the regional SAP process was launched at the Zagreb summit.
The process towards the signature of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) began in 2003 with a feasibility study by the Commission on Bosnia and Herzegovina's capacity to implement the SAA. The same year, in June, the European Council in Thessaloniki confirmed the SAP as the main framework of the relations between the EU and the Western Balkans, recalling the perspective of accession for all the countries of the region.
The EU Council adopted a new European Partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina on 18 February 2008, setting the short-term and mid-term priorities for EU assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina through IPA funds.
Stabilisation and Association Agreement
- Negotiations and signature
Negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) – required before applying for membership – started in 2005 and were originally expected to be finalised in late 2007. However, negotiations stalled due to a disagreement over police reform, which the EU insisted on centralising away from the entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The SAA was initialled on 4 December 2007 by caretaker Prime Minister Nikola Špirić. The initialing came in the wake of successful negotiations by Miroslav Lajčák in regards to passing his new quorum rules laws and also the commitment of Bosnian and Herzegovinian politicians to implementing police reform. Following the adoption of the police reforms in April 2008, the agreement was signed on 16 June 2008. Reforms promised by the Prud Agreement would "build the ability of the State to meet the requirements of the EU integration process".
An Interim Agreement on Trade and Trade-related issues was signed on the same day as the SAA, and entered into force on 1 July 2008. The Interim Agreement was the legal framework for trade between Bosnia and the EU between 2008 and 2015.
- The blockage of the SAA
The final EU state to ratify the SAA, France, did so in February 2011. The SAA should have entered into effect within 40 days but was frozen since Bosnia had not complied with its previous obligations, which would have led to the immediate suspension of the SAA. The obligations to be met by Bosnia before the SAA can come into force include the adoption of a law on state aids and a national census, and implementation of the Finci and Sejdic ruling of the ECHR requiring an amendment to the Constitution to allow members of minorities to be elected to the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and to gain seats in the House of Peoples. The EU has also required that the country create a single unified body to manage their relations with the EU. The adoption of state laws on the issues above are prevented by the opposition of the government of the Republika Srpska, which considers such issues a matter of exclusive competence of the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- The Croatian initiative
In March 2014 Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusić at a session of the Council of the European Union proposed to other EU countries to grant Bosnia and Herzegovina the status of a Special EU Candidate Country in an aide-mémoire submitted during the meeting. Minister Pusić pointed out that Croatia does not suggest lowering the membership criteria but rather that member states should take a proactive stance in cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina and not just to put high criteria and then just wait for something to happen. Croatia has also proposed that implementation of the judgment in the case of Sejdić and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina should not anymore be a prerequisite for Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress towards the EU, but that this issue, together with the issue of a new constitutional order of Bosnia and Herzegovina, should be resolved after Bosnia and Herzegovina gets the status of Special EU Candidate country in negotiating chapters 23 and 24.
- The German-British initiative
An initiative of the foreign ministers of Germany and the United Kingdom, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Philip Hammond, for the acceleration of the Accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European Union was announced at the so-called Aspen Initiative Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in late 2014. The two proposed that the SAA enter into force without first implementing the constitutional amendments required by Finci and Sejdic, provided that Bosnian authorities approve a declaration pledging their commitment to making the reforms required for European integration. The foreign ministers called on local Bosnian politicians to begin with necessary reforms as soon as possible after a new government is formed after the Bosnian general election, 2014. Many observers estimate that Bosnia and Herzegovina is at the bottom in terms of EU integration among the Western Balkans states seeking EU membership. The declaration was jointly signed by the tripartite presidency on 29 January, and approved by parliament on 23 February. The Council of the EU approved the SAA's entry into force on 16 March 2015. The SAA entered into force on 1 June 2015.
Reactions in Bosnia and Herzegovina included the following:
- Željko Komšić, member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressed his support for the initiative at a meeting with the ambassadors of Germany and the United Kingdom.
- Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska, said he supports the initiative as long as it does not affect the constitutional jurisdiction of Republika Srpska.
- The Paneuropean Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina stated that it fully supports the initiative and the letter of the German and British foreign ministers addressed to the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
International reactions included the following:
- High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina: The spokesman of the office of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina stated that the OHR welcomes any initiative that could unblock progress in reforms by increasing the functionality and efficiency of the state and thus speed up the progress of Bosnia and Herzegovina on its path towards the European Union.
- European Union: High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said that she highly appreciates the ideas presented in Berlin and that their aim is for Bosnia and Herzegovina again to begin to move towards European integration.
- United States of America: Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the United States Department of State, said that the United States welcomes and supports the initiative for reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as released by the foreign ministers of Germany and the United Kingdom in Berlin.
- United Kingdom: Philip Hammond stated that regional support is vital for the initiative. He thanked Croatian foreign minister Vesna Pusić for her important work on this issue, and foreign minister of Serbia Ivica Dacic for his valuable cooperation and said that he was delighted they could join the meeting.
- Croatia: Vesna Pusić confirmed that Croatia supports the new German-British initiative for Bosnia and Herzegovina and that this initiative is similar to the original Croatian initiative. Pusić said that Croatia will not only support this initiative, but will also actively participate in it since it is important that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a successful and functional state.
Application for membership
The EU stated early on that Bosnia could not submit a credible application for membership until the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is charged with implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement, has been closed. The failure of Bosnia to meet the conditions for closure of the OHR, including addressing state and military property ownership issues and implementing constitutional reforms, had prevented them from submitting an application until 2016. According to the Foreign Minister Sven Alkalaj, Bosnia and Herzegovina planned to submit an application for membership between April and June 2009. However, an application ultimately was not submitted in this time frame. In February 2010, Alkalaj stated that Bosnia now planned to submit their membership application by the end of the year. This was reiterated by Alkalaj in August. A European Commission source stated in late 2010 that "We believe that in one year's time the OHR will be closed, or at least reduced and moved from Sarajevo", which would clear the way for an application to be submitted.
After more than a year of negotiations following the 2010 Bosnian general election, which stalled progress on European integration, an agreement was reached by the rival parties in December 2011 on the formation of a government which quickly passed laws on state aid and a national census, two key demands of the EU. With the national census scheduled for October 2013, this left bringing the constitution into compliance with the Finci and Sejdic ruling of the ECHR as the lone remaining major obstacle to be overcome before an application could be submitted. Vjekoslav Bevanda, the chair of the Bosnian Council of Ministers, stated in early 2012 that "I expect that we shall fulfill conditions for submitting the application for EU membership by June 30".
In June 2012 the EU Special Representative to Bosnia Peter Sørensen stated that "under ideal circumstances" Bosnia could obtain candidate status by early 2014. The EU presented Bosnia with a roadmap to submitting an application for membership in July 2012. It called for making the constitutional changes required by the Finci and Sejdic ruling by August 31 and addressing public procurement and environmental protection issues by November 1, when an application could be submitted. However, by January 2013 the targets had not been met and the previously agreed to census was postponed from April to October. In December 2015, Dragan Čović, the Chairmen of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the country would submit an application in January 2016. This was later postponed, but on the 15 February Bosnia and Herzegovina formally submitted its application for the EU membership.
In the 2007–2013 budgetary period, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a beneficiary of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) funds. As a "potential candidate country", Bosnia is allowed to finance projects under the first two IPA components, Transition Assistance and Institution Building and Cross-Border Cooperation. The eligibility for the three advanced IPA components will be conditional on Bosnia’s acquisition of EU candidacy status and its implementation of a Decentralised Implementation System, streamlining administrative capacities in order to autonomously manage projects and disburse funds with only ex post Commission controls. The priorities for IPA action for Bosnia are set in the 2008 European Partnership.
Visa liberalisation process
On 1 January 2008 the visa facilitation and readmission agreements between Bosnia and the EU entered into force. Bosnia and Herzegovina took part in the dialogue for visa liberalisation with Schengen countries, launched by the European Commission on 26 May 2008. On November 8, 2010 the Council of the European Union approved visa-free travel to the EU for citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The decision entered into force on 15 December 2010.
CFSP and ESDP operations
In 2004, the European Union Police Mission (EUPM) launched in Bosnia and Herzegovina constitutes the first European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) mission. The same year, EUFOR Althea replaces NATO's SFOR mission.
EU special representative
Peter Sørensen took over the position of EUSR in Bosnia and Herzegovina from September 2011 until October 2014. His post was de-coupled from the one of High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (which will remain in the hands of Valentin Inzko), and merged with the one of Head of the EU Delegation to BiH, aiming at strengthening the EU pre-accession strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was replaced by Lars-Gunnar Wigemark.
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