Integrating the countries of the Western Balkans into the European Union (EU) has become the priority of the European Enlargement policy. The EU’s commitment towards a European future for these states has been maintained since the Thessaloniki summit in 2003. This particular milestone paved the way for an EU accession, and granted all Western Balkans countries the possibility of gaining potential candidate status.
The accession of Croatia last year showed that the EU kept its promise to integrate the Southeast European countries, even in difficult economic and political times. Southeast Europe is known as a place where several nations have been closely living together for centuries. Yet, the recent past has portrayed this region in a disgraceful light. The rise of nationalistic ideologies and ethno-nationalist rhetoric resulted in the collapse of former Yugoslavia. Such traits are still present today and, indeed, they are considered to be the main obstacle on the path towards EU-membership. In order to ensure the successful integration of the region, and to prepare for the accession process, the Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAA) serve as an important precondition for the path towards EU-membership. The focus, in this regard, relies on reaching the EU standards for democracy, human rights, and rule of law. In the context of the enlargement process, the Copenhagen Criteria, which define the economic and political values as well as the body of European Law, the acquis communautaire, are the prerequisite for EU Membership. On their way to becoming a Member State of the EU, every country in Southeast Europe has to address similar and different issues. As the European Parliament’s Rapporteur, and lead negotiator on Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), I closely followed the country’s development over the last years, and I assessed the progress which has been achieved so far. In order to become a prospective candidate, BiH has to amend the constitution, so as to adopt the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of Sejdic and Finci on discrimination of minorities. It is crucial to address this issue, which has been, and still is, one of the main reasons why BiH is lagging behind, and why this country has achieved hardly any progress concerning European integration. The continuous efforts by Bosnian political leaders to find a common approach to the constitutional reforms have resulted in other issues being marginalized. Another problem, in this regard, is the nature of the constitution itself. The so-called Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) was able to end the war in BiH, but as a constitution, it has proven to be dysfunctional. The recent events in BiH not only highlighted the growing public dissatisfaction and frustration of its citizens, but should also serve as a wake-up call for the political leaders to change their attitude, to consolidate, and to work towards a common future. The anti-privatisation protests in Tuzla, a former industrial centre, turned into a general, nationwide uprising. High unemployment and economic stagnation, which have persisted for years, have pushed people to the edge of despair. Especially many young citizens, even University graduates, who do not have a job and who are completely without perspective, have taken to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with everyday life. The EU’s Head of State and Government, as well as Foreign Ministers, should strengthen their personal commitments to the country, to make sure that the people’s demands and their unhappiness have been heard.