EU leaders grant Bosnia EU candidate status
BRUSSELS, Dec 15 (Reuters) - European Union leaders agreed on Thursday to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a formal candidate to join the bloc of 27 nations.
"Bosnia and Herzegovina was granted the status of candidate country today. A strong signal to the people, but also a clear expectation for the new authorities to deliver on reforms," European Council President Charles Michel said in a tweet.
General affairs ministers of the EU countries had already agreed on the candidate status for Bosnia earlier this week.
It will be joining other EU candidates - Albania, Moldova, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine - in the process to join the EU, which can take many years and involves complex negotiations on adjusting local laws to match those of the EU.
Kosovo formally applied to join the EU on Thursday.
Bosnia applied to join the EU in 2016 but has been lagging with reforms set out as necessary to progress on the path to the EU over quarrels by its rival Serb, Croat and Bosniak leaders.
The decision to grant it the candidate status was prompted mainly because of a fear that instability created by the war in Ukraine may spread to the volatile Western Balkans region.
"With today's decision, we have shown that we understand the challenges facing Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire Western Balkans," said Robert Golob, the prime minister of Slovenia, who has strongly lobbied for the decision.
"The granting of candidate status is a much-needed signal to third countries, whose malign influence has increased over the years, that we will not allow their negative policies and narratives to prevail in the Western Balkans," Golob said.
Bosnia's international peace envoy Christian Schmidt said the granting of the candidate status was "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for the Balkan country and urged political leaders to prove they can move Bosnia beyond political and economic dysfunction.
Denis Becirevic, a Bosniak member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, said the decision was encouraging.
"(Granting) of a candidate status is a step forward towards the process of the European integration, though a lot of job remains until the opening of negotiations on EU membership for our state," Becirevic said in a statement.
Some analysts say the decision has been due long ago.
"It is great that it finally happens," said Adi Cerimagic, a Berlin-based senior analyst of the European Stability Initiative (ESI) think-tank. "But it will not allow citizens to move more freely or goods produced in Bosnia to be sold more easily, and it will also not open any new EU funds."
Most citizens echoed his words.
"I don't expect much from joining the EU," said Haris Dzonlic, a citizen of Sarajevo. "I don't see that this candidate status will greatly improve our lives and the standard of ordinary people here."
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