European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker continued his visit to the Western Balkans with a stop in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on February 28 where he continued to promote the EU’s new strategy for the region.
Juncker urged Bosnia’s leaders to overcome their differences and abandon their ethnic and religious differences if they want the country to join the EU, saying, “Nationalism is poison and it is contrary to European values,” Juncker told MPs.
Bosnia applied for EU membership 18 months ago, but Sarajevo’s pace of reforms has stalled while its ethnically divided political factions continue to be at odds with one another over issues stemming from the basic governance of the country.
As part of the peace agreements signed in 1996 that ended the bloody 1992-1995 war that tore apart Bosnia and Herzegovina along ethno-religious lines, the country is split into two highly autonomous entities – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mainly in the centre, south, and west made up of Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats; and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska in the north and east.
Each entity has its own constitution and the leadership of the country is based on a rotating presidency of its three main ethno-religious groups.
Juncker offered support for Bosnia’s decision to apply for EU membership, telling his hosts in Sarajevo, “The choice you made on February 15, 2016, when you decided to apply for membership, is important to you and dear to our hearts. It is this choice that every member country of the European Union has made,” adding, “the EU has never been an obvious option – it has always been, and will remain, a deliberate choice. This deliberate choice is yours and we wholeheartedly support wholeheartedly you.”
Juncker, however, warned Bosnian parliamentarians that the current political paralysis in the country would only result in slowing Sarajevo’s efforts to join the EU.
“The European path demands and will continue to require a lot of effort from all of you – the political leaders, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina – to carry out the reforms needed to further the accession process.”
After being questioned by Bosnian officials about the country’s readiness to join the EU, Juncker was typically coy in response, tell them that he could not give a hard date as to when Bosnia will officially become a candidate member but urged the country’s leaders to focus on the maintaining the spirit of being an EU member, instead of focusing on the date.