BiH has chance to join EU sooner with reforms

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the Prime Ministers of Croatia and the Netherlands, Andrej Plenković and Mark Rutte, said in Sarajevo on Tuesday that BiH has a real opportunity to open EU membership talks, but the implementation of reforms remains a prerequisite for this.

Von der Leyen, Plenković and Rutte were on a joint working visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to encourage the country's politicians to implement reforms necessary for the European Council to make a decision on opening accession negotiations with BiH in March.

They also met with High Representative for BiH Christian Schmidt, who since December has been calling on local politicians to adopt technical changes to the electoral law as soon as possible, to ensure the integrity of the electoral process, which is also a condition for opening accession negotiations.

Schmidt's office (OHR) described the meeting as "extremely important", recalling that BiH has a "historic opportunity" to move closer to EU membership.

After meetings with the highest officials of the BiH executive authorities, Von der Leyen, Plenković and Rutte emphasised at a joint press conference that the door to the European Union is open, but that the implementation of reforms remains a task.

Von der Leyen: Chances should be taken 

The President of the European Commission praised BiH for following the EU's foreign policy and showing the will to implement reforms.

We have seen certain progress, important laws have been adopted, and Bosnia and Herzegovina stands a chance in the European integration process if it continues to act unanimously, said Von der Leyen, recalling that there is still a lot of work ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which must be a unified, integral and sovereign state.

Croatian Prime Minister Plenković said that neither the timing of the visit nor the composition of the EU delegation was a coincidence. He said the visit was an incentive to BiH's executive and legislative authorities to pass laws and provide arguments to the European Commission so that in its report to the EU heads of state or government it would create prerequisites for a consensus on the opening of accession negotiations.

Plenković: An opportunity that should be used 

Plenković recalled that the past two years had brought "tectonic changes" in the enlargement process, with Ukraine and Moldova having been given the opportunity, due to the Russian aggression, for accelerated integration with the bloc. That opportunity has also been given to BiH, which is expected to take advantage of it by implementing reforms because a new one will not be created so soon due to the upcoming elections for the European Parliament.

"My impression is that the message (in BiH) has been well understood and accepted," Plenković said, announcing Croatia's full support to BiH when the European Council decides whether to open accession negotiations.
He dismissed accusations that by avoiding a meeting with the Chairman of the BiH Presidency, Željko Komšić, he showed disrespect for the state.

"That move relates to a problem that has existed in BiH since 2006," said Plenković, recalling that Komšić was not elected by the votes of Croats, and that the Croatian government is fundamentally against it because it considers it important that the equality of the BiH peoples is reflected in the election process.

This approach is the continuation of a consistent policy that will not be abandoned, nor will support for BiH as an integral state, he said.

"Croatia has been the biggest friend and advocate of BiH's European integration process for years," Plenković said, explaining that now the Netherlands, which is among the countries with the most reservations about BiH, has had the opportunity to gain an insight into the dynamics of the current government's work.

Rutte: Basic prerequisite - progress in the implementation of priorities

The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, said that reforms still remain a fundamental prerequisite for the progress of EU candidate countries.

Significant progress is needed in the implementation of 14 priorities before we open negotiations on membership, Rutte said, recalling the conditions set back in 2019.

The chairwoman of the Council of Ministers of BiH, Borjana Krišto, said that it is clear that the European "troika" strongly supports the European integration process of BiH, and in that context she emphasised help provided by Croatia and Prime Minister Plenković.

"I expect that support will not be missing at the beginning of March", said Krišto, alluding to the decision of the European Council, which is expected at that time.

She said that the incumbent government of Bosnia and Herzegovina had achieved significant progress in the implementation of reforms, including full compliance with the EU's foreign policy, through dialogue, compromise and understanding, and that she expected the rapid adoption of a number of new reform laws, including changes to the electoral law.

Krišto stressed that the most important thing was for the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to arrive at the necessary solutions themselves, to avoid their being imposed.

Text: Hina

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