European Union leaders approve opening accession talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina

European Council President Charles Michel with Borjana Krišto, Chairwoman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia & Herzegovina
European Council President Charles Michel with Borjana Krišto, Chairwoman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia & Herzegovina Copyright European Union 2024
By Mared Gwyn JonesEuronews
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Bosnia and Herzegovina is a step closer to entering formal talks on its accession to the European Union after the bloc’s 27 leaders green-lighted the move on Thursday.

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It comes eight years after the Western Balkan country first applied for EU membership, and just nine days after the European Commission said it had made sufficient progress in aligning with the bloc’s standards, values and foreign policy to enter negotiations.

"Your place is in our European family," European Council President Charles Michel, responsible for brokering the unanimous approval, said on social media platform X.

"Today’s decision is a key step forward on your EU path. Now the hard work needs to continue so Bosnia and Herzegovina steadily advances, as your people want," Michel added.

The decision was immediately welcomed by Borjana Krišto, Chairwoman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who "sincerely" thanked EU leaders and Charles Michel on X. 

"Mutual determination and effort have resulted in achieving the necessary level of compliance with the requirements and criteria. We remain strongly determined to continue the work that will result in further progress and development of Bosnia & Herzegovina," she added. 

While all EU member states support the country’s accession in principle, some - such as Denmark and the Netherlands - had expressed concerns that there were still loose ends in the constitutional and electoral reforms Bosnia was expected to complete before it was considered ready for accession talks.

In the Dutch parliament, a motion tabled by the centre-right New Social Contract (NSC) party calling for the talks to be postponed was narrowly voted down on Wednesday, allowing caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte to back the opening of talks in Brussels on Thursday.

“We will support the Commission’s proposal to open negotiations,” Rutte confirmed upon arriving at the summit. “But it is crucial that Bosnia does a lot more.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of five Western Balkan countries recognised as official candidates to join the EU. It is currently the only one of those countries yet to enter formal accession negotiations.

Deeply entrenched ethnic divisions and delays in constitutional, judicial and electoral reforms have prevented the country from catching up with its neighbours on the path to EU membership.

But Bosnia and Herzegovina counts on the staunch support of a group of countries known as the ‘friends of Bosnia’, which include Austria, Croatia, Italy, Hungary, and Slovenia.

In order to speed up the Western Balkan country’s bid, these countries have floated making Ukraine and Moldova’s progression on their membership paths conditional on Bosnia’s own advancement.

Speaking ahead of the summit on Thursday, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said: “It is true that there are still outstanding issues, but that was also the case with Ukraine, since the accession negotiations only start when these points have been met.”

“The same process as for Ukraine should be just as suitable for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Austria is promoting this,” the chancellor added.

Ukraine and Moldova are both a step ahead of Bosnia, as EU leaders already green-lighted talks in December.

But both countries also face a hurdle before negotiations can get going. The so-called negotiation frameworks - designed to steer talks between Brussels and both Kyiv and Chișinău - need to be unanimously approved.

Diplomatic sources talking on condition of unanimity suggested Hungary could block the adoption of those frameworks.

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