The Stabilisation and Association Council (SA Council) between the European Union (EU) and Bosnia and Herzegovina held its fifth meeting on 19 July 2023 in Brussels.
The meeting was chaired by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, represented the European Commission. The Delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was led by Borjana Krišto, Chairwoman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, accompanied by the Deputy Chairpersons: the Minister of Defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina Zukan Helez and the Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina Staša Košarac.
The EU welcomed the new milestone in EU-Bosnia and Herzegovina relations reached with the decision of the European Council in December 2022 to grant the status of candidate country to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This decision opens a window of opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina on its path to the EU through swift implementation of the pending reforms and adaptation to EU standards.
The EU welcomed the prompt entry into office of executive and legislative bodies at state and entity level, following the general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 2 October 2022 and the reform steps taken so far, while calling for intensified efforts to deliver on reforms, ensuring that they consistently meet European standards.
The EU also expressed serious concern over the legislative initiatives and announcements in the Republika Srpska entity that run counter to the EU path of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including secessionist rhetoric and putting into question the constitutional order of the country. The EU deplored the adoption of legislation in the Republika Srpska entity on the inapplicability of the decisions of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the entity. This legislation has no legal basis. The EU urged the entity Parliaments to swiftly appoint the vacant judges to the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in order to ensure its unimpeded functioning. The EU furthermore stressed that all political leaders need to engage in constructive dialogue to address internal political issues as a matter of priority.
The EU reiterated the unequivocal commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU perspective as a single, united and sovereign country. The EU urged all political actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina to refrain from and renounce provocative divisive rhetoric and actions, including questioning the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the country, and to end the glorification of convicted war criminals, as well as to actively promote reconciliation.
The EU also underlined the urgency for Bosnia and Herzegovina to move forward on its EU path, in particular via fulfilling all 14 key priorities for the opening of EU accession negotiations identified in the Commission Opinion as endorsed by the Council in 2019.
The EU strongly called on Bosnia and Herzegovina to develop and adopt a national programme for the alignment with EU acquis (NPAA). On public administration reform, the EU welcomed the implementation of the comprehensive strategy on public finance management by all levels of government.
The EU underlined the need to reinforce the rule of law and take decisive steps to strengthen the judiciary and the prevention of and fight against corruption and organised crime. The EU welcomed that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Council of Ministers adopted several strategies (on terrorism, organised crime, money laundering, migration) and draft laws (notably on integrity in the judiciary, on conflict of interest, on torture prevention). The EU stressed that parliamentary adoption of these legislative initiatives, fully in line with European standards, will contribute to addressing the Opinion key priorities and related steps.
The EU welcomed the final entry into operation of the contact point for cooperation with Europol, after several years of delays, and expressed expectations for Bosnia and Herzegovina to achieve concrete results in the fight against organised crime.
The EU called for the urgent adoption of legislation on anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism, in line with the EU acquis, in order to avoid Bosnia and Herzegovina from being again grey-listed.
The EU welcomed improvements in migration management and stressed the need for Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure more efficient access to asylum, and to swiftly conclude the Frontex status agreement. The EU called on the need for Bosnia and Herzegovina to improve alignment with EU visa policy.
Concerning human rights and minorities, the EU welcomed the adoption of action plans for the social inclusion of the Roma and on the rights of LGBTI persons. The EU recalled that, as an Opinion key priority, Bosnia and Herzegovina should ensure a safe and enabling environment for civil society, notably by upholding European standards on freedom of association and freedom of assembly. In this regard, the EU expressed serious concerns about the legislative initiatives to criminalise defamation and target civil society in the Republika Srpska entity, which if adopted would mark a clear step backwards, and called for them to be withdrawn.
The EU stressed the importance of guaranteeing freedom of expression, assembly and association, gender equality, the protection and inclusion of vulnerable groups, and of ensuring inclusive and quality education for all. Following the commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide, the EU urged all political actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina to take concrete steps to promote an environment conducive to reconciliation in order to overcome the legacies of the war.
The EU welcomed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s active participation in regional cooperation, including the common regional market, and encouraged Bosnia and Herzegovina to swiftly ratify last pending regional mobility agreement.
The EU welcomed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s significant improvement of its alignment with EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, signalling its commitment to the EU path, and stressed that restrictive measures need to be fully implemented.
Through its military Operation EUFOR Althea, the EU supports the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina in maintaining a safe and secure environment. The EU welcomed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s strong support to the executive mandate of EUFOR Althea and its continued presence for stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The EU underlined the opportunities offered by the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans and the European Green Deal. Within the Energy Support Package for the Western Balkans (IPA 2023), Bosnia and Herzegovina received €70 million in budget support with the aim to protect vulnerable families and small businesses affected by the rising energy prices, while advancing energy transition and diversification. The first instalment of €63 million was disbursed in May 2023.
The Stabilisation and Association Council also held an exchange of views on developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the regional situation in the Western Balkans.