EU Candidate Status
On October 12, 2022, the European Commission recommended official European Union (EU) candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Considered a potential candidate since 2003, the country only formally applied for EU candidate status in 2016. The recommendation of the Commission does not mean that Bosnia and Herzegovina will be granted candidate status very soon. Nevertheless, it is sending a positive message to the country, signaling EU candidate status in the future if it implements more reforms.

The EU Candidate Status: A Tool for the Country’s Development

Obtaining EU candidate status to bolster development drives many countries to apply to the European Union. However, in order to obtain candidate status, countries must pass specific legal and political reforms.  For instance, the EU may ask countries to work on reducing corruption, poverty and social inequality.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Pathway

On December 2019, the Council of the European Union endorsed 14 key priorities for Bosnia and Herzegovina to obtain candidate status. These 14 priorities are a roadmap for the country in its path to implement strategic reforms to achieve candidate status. Political priorities include aligning its constitutional framework to European standards and improving its judiciary. Economic priorities include improvements in educational quality and energy infrastructure.

Furthermore, the EU has a special process for Western Balkans countries, called the “stabilization and association process.” This process has three aims:  political stability and a quick transition to a market economy, regional cooperation and eventual EU membership. The Western Balkans process provides Bosnia and Herzegovina with financial assistance, trade concessions and assistance for stabilization and reconstruction needed due to the war in the 1990s.

The Progress and Obstacles

The European Commission’s 2022 Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina outlined some progress on the 14 key priorities. The country made some progress in addressing environmental challenges and sustainable connectivity. It also made progress in its migration policies.

When it comes to the economic criteria, the country is slowly establishing a market economy. However, its economic performance is still below its potential. Its Economic Reform Programme does not include enough measures to tackle economic challenges on a national scale, such as the informal economy and unemployment, per the report.

The report also outlined little or no progress in the political sector. A key obstacle is that the country remains politically unstable. Indeed, the political entity representing the Bosnian Serbs, the Republika Srpska is trying to “unilaterally take over state competencies” and is threatening to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina due to potential accession to the EU. The European Commission also noted that Bosnia and Herzegovina did not make a lot of progress when it comes to tackling corruption and organized crime.

The Path Forward

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been seeking to join the EU for almost two decades. To reach the EU candidate status that will foster its development, the country needs to build upon its improvements on the 14 key priorities. It also needs to step up efforts to overcome the obstacles blocking any progress. If Bosnia and Herzegovina uses the support it has gained through the special Western Balkan process, the next report on its progress should be more positive. Perhaps the European Commission’s recommendation is the encouragement that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to improve its EU candidacy potential.

– Evan Da Costa Marques
Photo: Flickr