Enlargement of the European Union: beyond kyiv, Chisinau and Tbilisi, the 27 are opening the door to Bosnia

Bosnia and Herzegovina is entitled to a special mention in the conclusions validated by the 27 leaders on Thursday, during their first day of the summit: the European Council “is ready to grant candidate status” to this country, it is indicated.

Bosnia and Herzegovina officially requested to join the bloc in early 2016. The European Commission adopted its opinion on this request for membership in May 2019. It had then defined 14 essential priorities with which the country must comply with a view to the opening of negotiations. “We add a step, we now specify that they can have the status of candidate, but that this will be done on the basis of these 14 criteria. The decision should take place before the end of the year,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Thursday evening.

Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia insisted on giving Bosnia candidate status without delay, a point which was not on the agenda of the summit, according to a source familiar with the discussions. But many other countries did not want any runaway, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark or Portugal.

Finally, the European Council sends the Bosnian dossier back to the Commission, asking it to report “without delay” on the state of implementation of the 14 priorities that had been defined.

The European Council already welcomes the “political agreement” concluded between various representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 12 June last, while the particular functioning of this country is still the subject of disagreement between the Serbian entity, the Bosnian Croats and the Bosnians.

Also in the Western Balkans, the Prime Ministers of Albania and North Macedonia, as well as the President of Serbia had been very critical of the press, on their arrival in Brussels and then in a joint press conference after the meeting with the 27. While the doors seem to be opening at record speed for Ukraine, they have not been kind to the Union, accused of having launched fine promises which are slow to materialize, whether for visas for Kosovars or the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia (blocked by Bulgaria) and Albania (coupled with North Macedonia).

Several European sources, however, claim that the atmosphere was not aggressive during the EU-Western Balkans meeting. “Western Balkan leaders see what is happening with Ukraine and somehow want to use this to their advantage. And it works, because the lines are moving a bit,” notes a diplomatic source.

There is a feeling, shared by a majority of the 27 according to this source, that the EU now needs to take action with the Western Balkans, and no longer remain at the stage of words and reaffirmations. Which was confirmed by Alexander De Croo on Thursday evening. “Everyone understands that we have to move forward on these issues,” he says.

At the European table, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who has just lost the confidence of his parliament, explained that this same parliament will, despite everything, shortly decide on a compromise proposed by France in the dispute with North Macedonia. North, which could outline an unlocking trail. The vote would even take place tomorrow, Friday.

On Ukraine, to which the status of candidate is granted (as well as to Moldova), “the signal that we are giving from a geopolitical point of view is clearly a strong signal”, underlines Alexander De Croo. But it will certainly not be “for tomorrow” or even “in 5 years”, repeats the Prime Minister, who insists on the importance of “maintaining the accession process” in its integrity. “They have everything to do.”

In the evening, the leaders discussed, for a first round, the concept of “Wider Europe”, namely French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal for a European political community. Several Balkan countries have expressed their interest, while emphasizing that this cooperation should not replace the enlargement process.

In front of the press, the French president explained that the European political community was also there for the enlargement process which “perhaps will not succeed”. “We are not all destined to live in the same house, but we share the same street. We probably don’t have quite the same standards on the rule of law, we have very distant situations on the economic and social level, which do not allow the single market, but we must strengthen our strategic ties, by defence, geopolitics, energy, infrastructure, projects for the movement of people…”, he explained. On the form that this would take, Emmanuel Macron evokes “real geopolitical discussions twice a year”.

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