Head of the EU Delegation, and EU Special Representative (EUSR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, commented on European Commission Opinion on country’s EU membership application.
Wigemark noted that relations between the EU and BiH had just entered a new and more intensive phase.
“Four years ago, the Stabilization and Association Agreement entered into force as a result of a written commitment endorsed by the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Parliament and all major political parties to work jointly towards the EU integration. Three years ago Bosnia and Herzegovina applied for membership in the European Union. And in February this year, the country finally completed the answers to the European Commission’s extensive set of questions”, reminded Wigemark.
He noted that the European Commission’s Opinion on BiH’s EU membership application “for the first time provides a comprehensive road map for BiH to join the EU”. “It confirms that BiH could join the European Union and outlines the steps necessary to open up negotiations for accession. The EU stands ready to support BiH to make this happen”, said Wigemark.
The EUSR, however, underlined that “for Bosnia and Herzegovina to meet the political and economic criteria necessary for EU membership, a clear commitment and willingness to undertake fundamental change is required at all levels of society”.
“It is not enough to pay lip service and talk about what needs to be done. Concrete actions and change is necessary”, said Wigemark.
According to Head of the EU Delegation to BiH, the European Commission considers that accession negotiations with the EU should be opened with Bosnia and Herzegovina once it has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria.
“Progress in the rule of law is a must”, said Wigemark, explaining that BiH needed to improve the functioning of the judiciary, as citizens deserved a fully independent and professional justice system that can work effectively.
The EUSR underlined that anti-corruption bodies would have to be strengthened and legislation on public procurement needed to be fully aligned with EU standards. At the same time, according to Wigemark, “public administration in Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to become more professional and depoliticized”, while “many public enterprises will need to be de-politicized and restructured”.
“The very first priority in the Opinion stresses that elections must be carried out respecting the same standards as in EU Member States”, said Wigemark, adding that “equality and non-discrimination of all citizens must be guaranteed” in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Furthermore, according to Wigemark, “a national program for the adoption of all EU acquis needs to be developed as a matter of priority”.
“Moreover, to provide legal certainty and before joining the EU, BiH will need to adopt a substitution clause allowing the State to temporarily exercise competencies of other levels of government in case they are in breach of EU law”, Wigemark explained.
The EUSR concluded that transformation needed for BiH to join the European Union “will not be automatic”. “It remains a matter of choice, demanding many steps and decisions. It requires political will and genuine commitment from all segments of society. The speed of the process will be determined by how quickly Bosnia and Herzegovina is able to adjust and start to implement EU rules, standards and regulations”, he said.
“All parties elected to parliaments have one thing in common: they say they support Bosnia and Herzegovina joining the European Union. If these words are going to come true they need to be translated into actions. The EU is here to assist BiH throughout this process”, concluded Wigemark.