President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen attends a press conference following a meeting in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 23 January 2024. EPA-EFE/FEHIM DEMIR


EU will recommend opening talks with Bosnia to join the bloc


The European Union’s executive arm will recommend opening membership talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina, a big boost for the most fragile and divided of the countries that emerged after the fall of former Yugoslavia.

“We have realized that it’s not enough to just wait for the Western Balkans to move closer to us,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a speech to lawmakers in Strasbourg Tuesday. “This is why today we will decide to recommend to the council to open accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

The opening of accession talks will need to be approved by EU leaders at a summit later this month.

The move will be a win for Bosnia, a landlocked Balkan nation comprising two antagonistic entities, Republika Srpska and a Muslim-Croat federation, linked by a weak central government in Sarajevo. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who counts Russian President Vladimir Putin as an ally, has long threatened to secede from the rest of the country and has opposed the idea of membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The EU has been looking to accelerate its long-stagnant enlargement process to prevent neighbours from falling under the influence of nations that don’t share its values, such as Russia and China. By pulling Bosnia closer to its orbit, the bloc’s leaders may seek to lessen a strong Russian influence in half of the country and prevent it from breaking apart.

The path to become an EU member is a long and arduous one, and requires the unanimous agreement of all the bloc’s leaders. Croatia was the last country to join, and its application took 10 years before it was formally accepted in 2013.

The war-torn Balkan nation of 3.3 million applied for EU membership in 2016 and was granted candidate status last year. It will join neighbours Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, and North Macedonia, as well as Ukraine and Moldova, which are all at various stages of entry negotiations.

Another Western Balkan nation, Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is recognized as a potential EU candidate, while Russia’s neighbour Georgia was granted candidate status in November.

“The message coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina is clear,” von der Leyen said. “So our message must be clear too — the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies in our Union.”