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Our commitment and destiny lie within the EU, but the speed of our journey towards membership will directly impact democracy and the living standards of our citizens, Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denis Bećirović writes.
For decades, Bosnians and Herzegovinians have been waiting for good news from Brussels. My compatriots, who are no strangers to ill fortunes, always knew that the road to European Union membership is not without significant obstacles.
If anything, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path has been an echo of its domestic troubles, and years of a lack of movement in EU’s own accession plans meant that many came close to losing all hope, despite personal feelings of belonging to the greater European family.
All of this changed, and my country is now on the cusp of opening membership negotiations with Brussels — the final step that ultimately leads to full-fledged membership.
Neither side can let this opportunity to finally unite us under the same banner slip away, especially not amidst the bloodiest conflict on European soil since World War II. Nearly three decades after a gruesome war in their own country, Bosnians and Herzegovinians know full well how much is at stake.
Negotiations imminent — with a caveat
Several EU member states strongly advocated for opening negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) as early as December 2023, aligning its path with Ukraine and Moldova.
However, the European Council ultimately followed the European Commission’s conditional recommendation.
In this way, a message was conveyed to Bosnia and Herzegovina that a decision on the opening of negotiations is imminent, following additional progress that needs to be made in the coming months.
At the same time, it should be noted that Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite numerous internal obstacles, has achieved significant progress in the process of European integration.
A set of important laws was adopted at the state-level Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The Presidency of BiH has signed off on a series of crucial decisions and ratified numerous agreements that strengthen regional cooperation and the European path of the country.
Further delays could come with a price
The opening of negotiations for membership would be an important political signal demonstrating the EU’s readiness to commence a process with Bosnia and Herzegovina that would result in substantial and visible reforms.
This process would undoubtedly have a positive societal effect and would also signify the recognition and valorisation of the progress made along the European path.
On the other hand, further delays and prolonged waiting will inevitably contribute to the loss of enthusiasm and, importantly, erode citizens’ trust in the credibility of European integration.
According to a survey conducted in May and June of last year, 73.3% of citizens support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to the EU.
This represents a robust foundational consensus for implementing reforms along the European path, something that Brussels should not hesitate to capitalise on.
I anticipate that the European Council in March will provide an opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina to demonstrate its dedication to European values — a chance to strengthen and deepen our mutual interconnectedness and cooperation.
The EU is learning from its mistakes
The primary culprits behind the ongoing blockade of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European path are domestic “anti-Europeans”.
They show little concern for EU membership because they understand that entry into the union entails compliance with EU rules and standards.
The European legal environment would mean the loss of existing privileges for many of them and, for some, the loss of freedom as they are associated with criminal activities and corruption.
It is equally important that the EU avoids making new miscalculations concerning Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Some of the major mistakes the EU has made include its unwillingness to consistently implement European principles and standards in BiH; a lenient policy towards destructive politicians who openly threaten the Dayton Peace Agreement and the Constitution of BiH; and a reluctance to sanction extremist politicians who threaten peace in BiH and the wider Western Balkan region.
Had Brussels taken a more decisive stance over the last ten years, Bosnia and Herzegovina would have been spared from many crises, and this part of Europe would have been much more stable.
However, there are indications that a shift is occurring. Following my visits in 2023 to both NATO and EU headquarters in Brussels, along with subsequent trips to Paris, Berlin, Washington, and London, I have become convinced that the West’s support for Bosnia and Herzegovina is gaining momentum.
During my visit to the Federal Republic of Germany, I spoke with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and received clear and unequivocal messages affirming Germany’s support for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Encouraging messages were also conveyed to me by French President Emmanuel Macron. In discussions at the Élysée Palace, President Macron offered steadfast support for preserving the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Anticonstitutional acts must end
And Bosnia and Herzegovina needs more of that same kind of backing. In the coming period, the EU should more vigorously and concretely bolster the country’s pro-European and democratic forces.
It’s essential not to forget that pro-Russian and separatist forces in the entity of the Republika Srpska (RS) intentionally obstruct my country’s European and Euro-Atlantic paths.
For six months now, there has been an overt attack against the fundamental provisions of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement — part of which is BiH’s de facto constitution — and the constitutional order of the country.
The situation is extremely grave. This is not just my personal assessment, but also an often-repeated statement made by almost all key leaders in the West.
In that vein, the West should put a stop to all anti-Dayton Peace Agreement and unconstitutional acts, the first of which is the upcoming 9 January “Day of the RS” celebration in this Bosnian entity, a holiday the Constitutional Court of BiH deemed discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Despite conclusive and binding court decisions, the entity’s leaders persist in unlawfully commemorating it, perpetuating a perilous and systematic attack on the Dayton Peace Agreement and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future.
If attempts to destroy the Dayton Peace Agreement are not stopped, the lack of action might be read as an encouragement to proceed to the next phase of increasing tensions, which could lead to the destabilisation of the entire region.
Knowing what it knows now after nearly two years of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the West can and should prevent the Kremlin’s act of aggression from triggering conflicts in the Western Balkans and further across Europe.
Our destiny lies within the EU
Ever since the country’s independence in 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future has been intricately tied to that of Europe.
Should the EU demonstrate a willingness to leverage Bosnia and Herzegovina’s geopolitical, economic, and cultural advantages positively, it stands to benefit, and so does our country.
Given the evolving geopolitical dynamics, there’s a pressing need for the EU to strategically consider an expedited and more adaptable approach to its enlargement policy concerning Bosnia and Herzegovina and the rest of the countries in the region.
Moreover, the acceleration of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path towards full EU membership would represent not only a reinforced economic and political connection but also the establishment of a new form of solidarity and shared values essential to the European identity on the whole.
Our commitment and destiny lie within the EU, and the speed of our journey towards the union will directly impact democracy and the living standards of our citizens.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is at the heart of Europe, and its rightful place is within the EU.
Denis Bećirović serves as Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
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