SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — The European Commission chief on Wednesday urged Bosnia to speak “with one voice,” regardless of the country’s different ethnic groups, so that it can move forward toward joining the European Union after gaining candidate status last year.
The remarks by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen came as she wrapped up her tour of Western Balkan EU hopefuls in Bosnia’s capital of Sarajevo.
“My first message is basically re-emphasizing that Bosnia-Herzegovina’s future is in (the) European Union and how much we want to have you as a full member,” she said. “The work you’ve done in your first year … shows that the country can deliver.”
As the war rages in Ukraine, EU officials have sought to push the integration process forward and encourage Balkan nations to boost reforms. During her trip, von der Leyen discussed details of the 6 billion-euro ($6.37 billion) package for Western Balkan countries.
The six countries — Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo — are at different stages on their path to joining the EU, a process expected to take years.
Bosnia remains at the back of the queue, plagued by corruption, ethnic and political divisions long after the 1992-95 war that killed over 100,000 people and displaced millions.
Bosnia’s Serb leaders have openly advocated separation from Bosnia, for which their top officials have faced U.S. and British sanctions. Bosnian Serb authorities also have faced criticism for passing laws that critics say curtail freedom of speech and civil society.
In Sarajevo, Bojana Kristo, chairwoman of the Council of Ministers, which is Bosnia’s government, said after meeting von der Leyen that “we should all use this opportunity … and make a significant step forward.”
Von der Leyen also urged Bosnia to make “resolute progress” in democratic reform as it seeks to formally open accession negotiations.
“What we cannot accept is a backsliding on our common values or divisions in any part of your country,” she said. “We all know that to reach this objective to move forward we need Bosnia-Herzegovina to speak and move with one voice and as one.”
“Bosnia-Herzegovina’s future is in the European Union as a single, united and sovereign country,” she added.