Bosnia’s lawmakers endorsed on Monday a commitment to reform its economy and address political divisions, potentially unblocking a stalled bid to join the European Union in a step the bloc’s top diplomat called “historic”.
The declaration is a condition of the EU finally endorsing a pre-accession pact with Bosnia, originally signed in 2008, under a new initiative led by Germany and Britain to shake the country out of years of stagnation.
“Today’s endorsement of the written commitment in this parliament enables Bosnia-Herzegovina to finally take a step towards joining the European Union,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a speech to lawmakers.
“This could be a historic turning point for all of us – not only here in Sarajevo but for all Europe.”
Bosnia lags behind its ex-Yugoslav peers on the long road to joining the wealthier 28-nation EU, having struggled to shake ethnic divisions that still languish almost 20 years since the end of a 1992-95 war in which some 100,000 people died.
Spurred by fierce civil unrest last February, the EU late last year endorsed the Anglo-German plan to release funds for Bosnia and endorse a long-delayed Stabilisation and Association Agreement in the hope of spurring economic and eventually more thorny political reforms.
The initiative required leaders of Bosnia’s Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs to make a written commitment to institutional reform of their highly-decentralised state and agree an agenda for broader political and economic changes.
But it took nearly a month for Bosnia’s rival leaders to sign a document drafted by the country’s tripartite presidency. The process was held up by Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik, who has sought closer ties with Russia and is less enthusiastic about Bosnia joining the EU.
Dodik insisted on including specifics of the country’s multi-layered governance in the text and finally signed the declaration last week, paving the way for parliament to endorse the plan.
Deputies from his SNSD party did not attend the session on Monday, leaving the upper house of parliament without a quorum and spoiling plans for Mogherini to address both houses. They boycotted after a request to discuss accusations against the speaker of parliament was rejected.
Mogherini made no reference to their absence.