Candidate Status for Bosnia and Herzegovina – over a decade-old election promise

Author: Denis Čarkadžić

The election year of 2022, like many others before it, is drawing to a close, but Bosnia and Herzegovina is still waiting for candidate status for membership of the European Union. When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU path, the previous mandate – 2018 to date – lacked everything but promises.

The Istinomjer Initiative monitored, among other things, the fulfilment of pre-election promises from programmes of political parties in power at the Sarajevo Canton, entity, and state levels since 2018.

During the 2018 General Elections campaign, Istinomjer recorded the HDZ BiH’s promise to voters that “the upcoming four-year mandate will be sufficient to attain candidate status and initiate negotiations with the EU”. That four-year mandate is at its end and, contrary to the HDZ BiH’s promise, it was not sufficient for Bosnia and Herzegovina to gain candidate status, much less to initiate negotiations with the European Union.

We see how far Bosnia and Herzegovina is from opening negotiations with Brussels in the fact that our country must fulfil all the 14 priorities from the Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for membership of the European Union – published on 29 May 2019, along with the accompanying Analytical Report.

As for the start of negotiations, the Opinion of the European Commission reads that “the European Commission considers that negotiations for accession to the European Union should be opened with Bosnia and Herzegovina once the country has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria and in particular the Copenhagen political criteria requiring the stability of institutions guaranteeing notably democracy and the rule of law. Bosnia and Herzegovina will need to fundamentally improve its legislative and institutional framework to ensure it meets the 14 key priorities”.

In the context of possible candidate status, Brussels has repeatedly called Bosnia and Herzegovina’s attention to the fact that the European Union needs to see “visible” progress in fulfilling 14 priorities before deciding to grant our country the status.

However, progress in this regard was all but visible during the previous mandate. As a reminder, until just a few days before the commencement of the present election campaign, the relevant institutions had only fully accomplished one of the 14 priorities, that of ensuring the proper functioning of the Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee.

Priorities 1, 10, 11 and 14 were only partially met. The first priority, for example, “ensure that elections are conducted in line with European standards by implementing OSCE/ODIHR and relevant Venice Commission recommendations, ensuring transparency of political party financing, and holding municipal elections in Mostar”, was fulfilled only in the part referring to municipal elections in Mostar.

After the BiH Constitutional Court abolished the provision of the Republika Srpska Constitution on death penalty in October 2019, priority number ten was partially achieved, as was priority number eleven, when the Brčko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted a new law on freedom of assembly in line with European standards. The short list of actions towards the 14 priorities also includes the decision of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina to adopt the Public Administration Reform Action Plan.

Finally, on 29 August 2022, just three days before the start of 2022 General Elections campaign, the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted the Law on Amendments to the Law on Public Procurement, fulfilling another of the 14 key priorities from the European Commission Opinion.

The campaign ensued, with new promises by key political actors about BiH’s candidate status before the end of the current year, as pledged by SDA president and BiH Presidency candidate Bakir Izetbegović, among others.

Istinomjer has been monitoring and evaluating the success of political parties in power at the state and entity levels since 2006, during the mandates of 2006-2010, 2010-2014, 2014-2018, and the present one. The citizens of our country have been hearing promises about candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership of the European Union since 2011 – making it one of the longest unmet promises made by party functionaries and officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Granting Bosnia and Herzegovina candidate status is a political decision that should be made by the European Union’s competent institutions. Meanwhile, an increasing number of BiH citizens are deciding not to wait for anyone or anything and to go to the European Union on their own, leaving their home country and moving to one of the member states.

On the other hand, all political actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina say that they “want” to join the European Union but, unlike an increasing number of citizens, they are not doing it. Despite the fact that they have taken on commitments, and continue to make innumerable promises to that end, Bosnia and Herzegovina remains where it is – far from the European Union.

The election campaign is ongoing with candidate status promises pending – just as in 2011.