EU Should Ease Entry Criteria for Bosnia, Croat Premier Says

The European Union should ease entry conditions for Bosnia-Herzegovina or risk leaving “a problem country” that may destabilize the Balkans, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said.

“Should Bosnia-Herzegovina face the same entry conditions as Croatia recently did, I don’t see a way for Bosnia-Herzegovina ever to conclude negotiations,” Milanovic said yesterday at a foreign ministers’ conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

It took Croatia seven years to finish the 35 negotiating areas, or chapters, which included an overhaul of legal and judiciary systems. The European Commission started entry talks with neighboring Serbia and Montenegro and granted candidate status to Albania. It has toughened entry requirements to avoid shortcomings in rule-of-law issues seen in members Bulgaria and Romania and to reflect waning support for enlargement in the 28-nation bloc since its first expansion in 2004.

Bosnia-Herzegovina was the hardest-hit by the violent breakup of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and lags former partners Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia, which have joined the bloc or are candidates. It’s run by a dual government that splits the country of 3.8 million along ethnic lines between the mostly Muslim Federation and a Serbian part, hampering growth and keeping economic output at less than a third of the EU’s.

Rectify Situation

“Bosnia-Herzegovina has slipped out of EU negotiations’ focus and I want to rectify it,” said Milanovic, under whose leadership Croatia joined the world’s largest trading bloc. “Considering the difficulties Bosnia-Herzegovina had, we need to help it and perhaps find a special way for it to enter the EU.”

With Europe’s economic recovery anemic and anti-immigration parties surging in elections from London to Athens, support for expansion is declining across the EU, with 52 percent against, compared with 37 percent for enlargement, according to the EU’s Autumn 2013 Eurobarometer survey. The U.K., which supported eastern European countries’ entry in 2004, is now pressing for curbs on migration from future members.

Hundreds of people and scores of police officers were hurt in protests in Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo in February in the worst violence since the war ended in 1995. Demonstrators demanded a new government that would end graft and create jobs. The country is due to hold general elections in October.

Peninsular Stability

Hungarian Foreign Minister Tibor Navracsics backed his Croatian counterpart.

“We need to speed up the enlargement process and offer realistic scenarios for applicant countries,” Navracsics said at in an interview in Dubrovnik today. “If the perspective of the enlargement in the Balkans disappears, that would be very bad for the geopolitical stability of the peninsula.”

Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, disagreed, saying there should be a “clear set of rules that must be the same for everybody.”

“EU membership is not about humanitarian assistance, it’s about making the EU stronger,” Lajcak said in an interview at the meeting. “Ultimately, it boils down to political will. Who in the past would have expected Serbia to sit down and talk with Kosovo?”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.