Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, head of the European Union (EU) delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), on Wednesday delivered here the European Commission’s opinion on the country’s membership application.
The opinion stated that BiH is overall at an early stage regarding its level of preparedness to take on the obligations of EU membership and needs to significantly step up the process to align with the EU acquis and implement and enforce related legislation.
“Thank you for joining us here today for this landmark occasion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path to the European Union. As of today EU-BiH relations enter a new and more intensive phase,” Wigemark said.
Four years ago the Stabilisation and Association Agreement entered into force as a result of a written commitment endorsed by the Presidency, the Parliament all major political parties to work jointly towards EU integration. Three years ago Bosnia and Herzegovina applied for membership in the European Union. And in February this year the country finally completed the answers to the European Commission’s extensive set of questions.
“It confirms that BiH could join the European Union and outlines the steps necessary to open up negotiations for accession. The EU stands ready to support BiH to make this happen. But for BiH to meet the political and economic criteria necessary for EU membership a clear commitment and willingness to undertake fundamental change at all levels of society is required. It is not enough to pay lip service and talk about what needs to be done. Concrete actions and change is necessary,” Wigemark said.
Based on the answers to almost 4,000 questions posed by the Commission as well as many other sources of information, including assessments by experts from all 28 Member States through so-called peer reviews, the Opinion includes an in depth analysis (the analytical report) consisting of more than 170 pages of the extent to which BiH presently meets EU standards.
The Opinion covers the main areas of the European integration process; that is, political criteria, economic criteriaand the ability to assume obligations of EU membership(Copenhagen criteria).
The European Commission considers that accession negotiations with the EU should be opened with BiH once it has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria. Any final decision as to when to open negotiations will be taken by the EU Member States.
In this regard specific 14 priorities are identified in the areas of Democracy and Functionality; Rule of Law; Fundamental Rights and Public Administration Reform.
“BiH needs to improve the functioning of the judiciary; BiH citizens deserve a fully independent and professional justice system that can work effectively. This includes more effective cooperation among law enforcement bodies and between police and prosecutors offices. Rule of law also means to fight corruption and organised crime in a systematic way. A track record – not only of indictments but also of convictions – in high level cases of corruption and organised crime will be one of the benchmarks used to evaluate the effectiveness of the judiciary,” Wigemark explained.
“Anti-corruption bodies will have to be strengthened and legislation on public procurement needs to be fully aligned with EU standards. In general, public administration in BiH needs to become more professional and depoliticised. Political parties and their representatives should not be involved in public administration.
“To this end, citizenship rights must be ensured, meaning that any citizen, irrespective of his or her ethnic background or affiliation to a group, has the right to vote and be elected. Equality and non-discrimination of all citizens must furthermore be guaranteed, including by implementing the Sejdic-Finci case law,” Wigemark said.
The Constitutional Court will need to be reformed, including addressing the issue of international judges. All judgements of the Constitutional Court will have to be implemented.
Finally, the Commission recommends that further socio-economic reforms are adopted by BiH in line with the general economic reforms agreed by all EU Member States.
The Opinion will now be forwarded to the 28 Member States of the European Union for their consideration, a process that is likely to take some time. The Commission recommends that Member States discuss the Opinion once governments at all levels in BiH have been formed.
In the meantime, it is essential that BiH demonstrates an ability to handle EU requirements. And those requirements cover all areas addressed in the Opinion, not only the 14 major priorities.