The EU has decided to start accession negotiations with the Balkan country Bosnia-Herzegovina. Council President Charles Michel announced this after talks between heads of state and government at the EU summit in Brussels.

However, the first so-called accession conference will only be organized once Bosnia-Herzegovina has implemented reform requirements that have not yet been met. This includes, among other things, the rule of law in the country and the fight against corruption and organized crime. “Now the hard work must continue,” commented Michel.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “The European peace project is growing – a clear sign of a strong Europe.”

The EU had already offered Bosnia-Herzegovina the prospect of joining in 2003, and it officially submitted an application in 2016. It was accepted into the group of candidate countries in 2022. The reason for this was also the concern that the Balkan country with around 3.2 million inhabitants could otherwise orientate itself towards Russia or China. States such as Austria in particular had recently pushed for Bosnia-Herzegovina to be given the prospect of progress in the accession process.

Accession talks do not necessarily mean joining the EU

It is unclear how long it will take from the start of accession talks to EU accession. Turkey, for example, became an EU candidate in 1999 – and has probably never been further away from membership than it is today. Theoretically, a candidate for membership can never become a member.

Of the six Western Balkan states, only the Republic of Kosovo is not a candidate for membership. However, the country has already submitted an application for membership. For Europe’s youngest state, it was a rather symbolic act: EU membership is currently not within reach for the country, which has been independent since 2008. The main obstacle is that five EU countries – Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus – do not recognize Kosovo.

The heads of state and government’s decision on Bosnia-Herzegovina came on the recommendation of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “Of course, further progress is needed to join our Union. But the country shows that it can meet the accession criteria and supports the aspirations of its citizens to become part of our family,” she said in a recent speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.