SARAJEVO – After years of delay, Bosnia will officially apply in January to join the European Union, encouraged by the bloc’s positive assessment of its reform progress, the chairman of the Balkan country’s three-man presidency said on Thursday.
Bosnia signed a pre-membership pact on closer ties known as a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) back in 2008, but after years of delayed reforms it was only ratified in June this year when Germany and Britain launched a new initiative to encourage economic development.
The ex-Yugoslav republic lags behind its neighbours on the road to joining the EU. It has struggled to overcome ethnic divisions that linger 20 years after the end of a war in which some 100,000 people died.
If its application is accepted, years of tough negotiations lie ahead and many observers believe Bosnia, politically decentralised along ethnic lines and economically impoverished, is unlikely to join before 2025.
“I would say that, after the signing of the SAA, this is a new historic date for Bosnia,” Dragan Covic, the Croat presidency chairman, told reporters.
Under Bosnia’s complex postwar political arrangements, representatives of the country’s Bosniak, Croatian and Serbian communities serve together as head of state and take turns to act as chairman.
Under its new strategy for Bosnia, the EU asked the leaders of the ethnically divided country to agree a reform agenda and a timetable for its implementation, a task Bosnia has since completed.
But other conditions have remained pending, such as the creation of an effective decision-making mechanism when dealing with the EU, and the adjustment of a trade agreement with the terms of the SAA.
Covic said he expected all outstanding issues to be resolved by the time the application is submitted, though he added it would not be reviewed by the EU before next June.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive, has said the bloc will support Bosnia’s reforms with 1 billion euros (726 million pounds) over the next three years, and a further 500 million euros for investment in infrastructure.
The EU now has 28 member states, including the former Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia. EU candidate countries include Turkey, Albania and three other ex-Yugoslav republics – Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.
(Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Gareth Jones)