Sunday 11 December 2016

Bosnia submits European Union membership application

Published 15/02/2016 | 09:21

Bosnia president Dragan Covic (left) and Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders participate in a handover ceremony of the EU membership application (AP)
Bosnia president Dragan Covic (left) and Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders participate in a handover ceremony of the EU membership application (AP)

Bosnia has handed in its application for European Union (EU) membership.

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President Dragan Covic submitted the application to Dutch foreign affairs minister Bert Koenders in Brussels. The Netherlands currently holds the EU presidency.

"There is no way back for Bosnia-Herzegovina, we must catch up with our neighbours," Mr Covic said.

He added that the country will speed up the required reforms in the expectation the EU will grant the country candidate status in 2017.

Bosnia first knocked on the EU door in 2008 when it signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the bloc, 13 years after the end of the conflict that left the country ethnically divided.

Unresolved wartime quarrels have hindered the necessary reforms as Bosnian Serbs feared for their autonomy within Bosnia.

This frustrated the Muslim Bosniaks and some Bosnian Croats, who felt they were hostages to the Serb lack of will to reform the country at least enough to attract foreign investments that would kickstart the economy.

The stalemate has produced an unemployment rate of more than 40% and a general feeling of apathy among Bosnians.

In 2014, about 68,000 Bosnians, mostly aged between 25 and 40, permanently left the country of 3.8 million.

Things only started moving with the EU application in 2014 when Bosnian Serbs split their votes between two blocks - one that favours the reforms and one that continues to pursue a separate Serb state.

Pro-EU Serb officials managed to push for the required reforms, enabling Bosnia to submit Monday's application.

"It is a day of celebration for all of us: only 20 years ago, it was in the Balkans where one of the most awful pages of European history was written," said a joint statement from the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn.

Press Association

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