It is almost two decades since Bosnia ended its civil war, more than 10 years since the EU has recognised the country as a potential member and six years since the country has signed a ‘stabilisation and association agreement’ (SAA) with the EU which is still not in effect. It has fallen far behind neighbouring Croatia that has succeeded in joining in July 2013 and Serbia that has obtained candidate status in 2013.
This delay is essentially due to the inability of its political class to put their house in order and tackle political and constitutional reforms that are a precondition for membership.
It has failed to simplify its 1995 governance structure which had been meant to last no longer than three years or.
Its governance is therefore far too complex, inefficient and expensive for a country with less than four million people, divided into the Bosnian-Croatian federation (!), the Srbska Republic and ten cantons towered by a central government with three rotating presidents.
No surprise that it has not been able to make optimal use of the huge amounts of foreign assistance that it has received from 1996 onward to rebuild its infrastructure and modernise its institutions. Unacceptably high unemployment, especially for youngsters, has become endemic and is posing increasing social and political unrest.
The lack of good governance accounts for the poor business climate and the high corruption index. And it keeps fomenting periodic uprisings across the country, one of which we are witnessing presently with young people demanding jobs, better education and higher living standards.
As long as this situation persists EU member states will, rightly, feel no incentive to push for accession. It is up to the Bosnian political class to make their country fit for it. This should imply profound constitutional changes, as Bosnia will be unable to function as an effective member state with its present constitution.
The EU Commission has left Bosnia for too long in the shadows, preoccupied with more pressing problems in its wider neighbourhood. The new Commission would be well advised to recommend the Bosnian authorities to define the road-map that might finally lead to membership.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 12/02/2014