• Membership bid comes as Balkans struggle with migrant crisis
  • Bosnia-Herzigovina hardest hit in breakup of former Yugoslavia

Bosnia-Herzegovina applied to join the European Union, the last fully recognized country that emerged from the bloody breakup of former Yugoslavia to bid for membership.

The landlocked country of 3.8 million people, whose government includes a three-member presidency and two autonomous political entities, is among the poorest countries in Europe, with output per capita at about a third of the EU average. Its bid follows a November pledge by former the Yugoslav Republics and Albania to resuscitate a drive for EU entry after Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II rocked the region.

“As some forces across our continent are questioning the very existence of our Union, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s application shows that the need of a united European continent is still strong among our peoples,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement on Monday. After receiving the application, Mogherini told reporters that “a lot of steps have been made, again a lot still needs to be done.”

Bosnia Herzegovina must still work to improve economic growth, the rule of law and boost the functioning of its institutions, among other issues, Mogherini said. There’s no timetable for the country to start membership talks or actually become a member.

Bosnia-Herzegovina was the hardest-hit by the violent breakup of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and lags its former partners. The dual government, created by the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement in 1995, splits the country along ethnic lines between the Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serbian part. The government delayed its EU membership bid by dragging its feet on amending the constitution to implement a European Court of Human Rights decision that citizens of other nationalities, besides the three constituent nations, may run for public office.

Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 and Croatia followed in 2013. Serbia, the largest of the former Yugoslav republics, began official accession talks in 2014, and Montenegro, which began talks earlier, still hasn’t completed the 30 necessary policy areas to be ready for membership. While the European Commission has recommended to open talks with the Republic of Macedonia, no date has been set. Kosovo still lacks recognition as a sovereign state from more than 80 United Nations members. Albania, which wasn’t part of Yugoslavia, is also a candidate.

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