EU-BiH Stabilisation and Association Agreement: 6th Subcommittee on Justice, Freedom and Security

The 6th Subcommittee meeting on Justice, Freedom and Security (JFS) under the European Union (EU) – Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) Stabilisation and Association Agreement took place on 8 and 9 December 2022 via videoconference. The meeting was co-chaired for the EU by Mr Vassilis Maragos, Head of Unit at the Directorate General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations of the European Commission (Commission), and, for BiH, by Samir Rizvo, Assistant Minister at the Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Commission expressed its satisfaction with the resumption of the SAA dialogue after the interruption in 2021. It stressed its continued support for the EU integration of BiH. The Commission recalled it had recommended Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Council for candidate status, on the understanding that a number of steps are taken. In that context, the Commission stressed the expectation for smooth and regular policy dialogue under the SAA, also in view of addressing such steps, in line with the 14 key priorities set out in the Opinion. The Commission regretted that very little was achieved in the previous two years in addressing rule of law and fundamental rights issues but underlined that there is an important window of opportunity opening up for progressing on reforms that will advance the country on the EU path, provided there is political will to implement the pending and much-needed reforms.

The Commission called upon the authorities to live up to the expectations of the citizens who want and deserve an independent, honest and efficient justice system. To this end, comprehensive new laws on the High Judicial Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) and on the Courts of BiH have to be finalised in line with EU standards, and adopted. In the meantime, BiH should adopt amendments to the Law on the HJPC to introduce integrity measures in the judiciary, in line with recommendations of the European Commission and Venice Commission. The Commission stands ready to support the implementation of this system, including its close monitoring by EU experts. The Commission underlined that BiH should effectively implement the revised National War Crimes Strategy and appoint the Supervisory Body without further delays, as well as adopt the new Justice Sector Reform Strategy.

The Commission reminded that a solid legal framework to effectively address corruption and organised crime across all levels of government needs to be put in place. Effective coordination of anti-corruption bodies and cooperation between law enforcement agencies and with prosecutor’s offices fighting organised crime needs to improve. The track record of investigations, indictments, prosecutions and final convictions in organised crime and corruption cases needs to improve significantly. The Commission underlined the need to ensure that the necessary legal framework to combat terrorism is in place, notably the urgent adoption of new Law on Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing. It encouraged BiH to strengthen efforts to enhance the prevention and countering of all forms of violent extremism.

The Commission recalled that migration management remains a key priority and welcomed significant steps undertaken by the Ministry of Security to improve coordination and boosting international cooperation. It encouraged BiH to continue the efforts for establishing a sustainable migration management system, including asylum and border management, taking robust and joint actions in the fight against smuggling and strengthening effective voluntary and non-voluntary returns for those not eligible to stay, in line with EU and international standards.

With regard to fundamental rights, the Commission stressed that Bosnia and Herzegovina must effectively ensure that all citizens can fully enjoy their rights without discrimination. It reiterated that BiH needs to ensure full respect, protection and promotion of freedom of assembly and expression, and refrain from further actions that adversely impact the exercise of these rights. The Commission also underlined the importance of guaranteeing that the freedom of assembly, the rights of vulnerable groups, Roma and women are further strengthened and fully respected.