Bosnia applies for EU membership

Tue 16 Feb 2016

Bosnia applies for EU membership

On 15 February Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) formally applied to join the EU, said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. The Bosnian PM Denis Zvidic announced on 10 February that his country was about to fill in the application form because it has met the preconditions for application. He hoped that in 2017 the country would be granted candidate status. The chairman of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Dragan Covic, submitted its application to the Dutch Foreign Minister, who is currently holding the EU’s rotating presidency, Bert Koenders. Koenders welcomed the application and said the EU was happy to see BiH is back on the reform path but urged its leaders to continue implementing progress.

Application process
According to the EU, the country has still not met all conditions necessary to apply. Following the decision of the European Council in 2003, BiH had been recognized by the EU as a potential candidate. However, the deep divisions between the Serb, Croat and Muslim communities blocked the reforms needed for membership until last year. In 2008 Bosnia signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), but the unsolved wartime quarrels still hindered the necessary reforms for a candidate status and left the country lingering behind its Balkan neighbours. In March 2015, the European Commission said that meaningful progress of the implementation of the Reform Agenda was necessary to consider a membership application. The first stage of the country's accession, which includes the creation of a free trade zone regulated by the SAA, came into force on 1 June 2015.

Coordination Mechanism
In the past few weeks, the European Commission has warned the country that its application will be not credible without implementing measures like the updating of the country’s SAA and the creation of the coordination mechanism. The coordinating mechanism focus on communication between certain levels of government, which would help form the basis of a unified stance on certain issues. Due to its complicated constitutional structure, there are two to four levels of government (depending on the entities and the district) which are: municipal, cantonal, entity and state level. There are 13 constitutions, 13 governments and 13 legislatures in the entire country, each operating independently without following clearly defined aims at a higher level of government, because certain jurisdictions are tied by the constitution to a certain level of government. A week ago it emerged that the country’s Council of Ministers had secretly adopted an agreement on the coordination mechanism. The coordination mechanism for EU matters was already adopted on 26 January but nobody knew about this until the decision was advertised in the country's official gazette on 9 February. Country’s Serb-led entity Republika Srpska (RS) claimed to have been excluded from the negotiation process and asked the Council of Ministers to withdraw the agreement. The coordination mechanism is one of the two key preconditions for approval of candidate status for membership to the EU.

Next step
The next step for the EU will be European Council asking the European Commission (EC) to make an opinion of the application, which can last up to two years. The EC will send a questionnaire to the applicant, containing several thousand questions related to the basic information on the country, its political and legal system, economic potential, population structure, and the degree to which it is aligned with European legislation.

Background

The Dayton Peace Agreement signed in 1995 to end the war in BiH, stipulated the Bosnian constitution. As a result, the political system is a complex and an inefficient one. Bosnia is composed of two political entities, Republika Srpska (49 percent of territory) and the Bosniak-Croat Federation (51 percent of the territory). In addition, the Federation is divided into ten cantonal units. BiH is a highly decentralised state with a mixture of a parliamentary, presidential and half presidential political system. Each political unit has its own governing body, accumulating to 700 elected state officials and more than 140 ministers. As a result, the state system measures approximately 60 percent of the state budget. The High Representative, who is also EU Special Representative (EUSR), is working with the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina and is the highest authority within BiH

Sources: RFE/RL, BalkanInsight, Abouthr, Reuters