BRUSSELS Bosnia has not met the criteria for European Union membership and the bloc's 28 countries are far from agreeing to take in the ex-Yugoslav republic, diplomats in Brussels said after Sarajevo announced it would file its application next month.
Politically decentralized along ethnic lines following a 1990s war that killed 100,000 people, and still economically impoverished, Bosnia is lagging behind its Balkan neighbors on the path to joining the EU.
Sarajevo nevertheless said on Tuesday it would officially apply to join on Feb. 15, the day before a meeting of EU ministers responsible for issues including enlargement talks. The application would need their unanimous backing.
Speaking in Sarajevo on Tuesday, the Croat chairman of Bosnia's rotating presidency, Dragan Covic, said that submitting the application would be to show "our clear determination to open talks on membership with the European Union, nothing else."
But EU diplomats said Bosnia has not implemented all the reforms needed for membership and that EU members are still "far from" an agreement to back any application, without which the Dutch presidency is unlikely to put it on the table.
An assessment in Nov. 2015 of Bosnia's convergence with EU norms and standards made clear the country still had much work to do, from amending its constitution, reforming the judiciary and the economy to fighting corruption, safeguarding human rights and freedom of expression.
Brussels also wants Bosnia, with its complex matrix of governments in different regions, to have one effective decision-making organ to deal with the EU.
The EU also requires that Bosnia adjusts its 2008 pre-membership Stabilisation and Association Agreement to reflect changes after Croatia, another ex-Yugoslav republic, joined the bloc.
"It's up to a country to decide when to officially file the application. But it has been communicated clearly in the past that Bosnia needs meaningful progress on at least these two points to make its application more credible," said one diplomat.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo, Editing by Catherine Evans)