5th EU-BiH Stabilisation and Association Committee held

The 5th meeting of the Stabilisation and Association (SA) Committee between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the European Union took place digitally on 26 November 2020 in Sarajevo. The meeting was co-chaired for Bosnia and Herzegovina by Mr Edin Dilberović, Director at the Directorate for European Integration, and for the EU by Ms Michela Matuella, Head of Unit for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Directorate General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations of the European Commission (Commission).

The SA Committee took stock of the most important developments of the past year in the areas of democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights and public administration reform (political criteria), as well as economic criteria. The meeting discussed also developments in the approximation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU acquis in most areas covered by the SA Agreement (SAA), such as trade, agriculture and fisheries, industry and internal market, innovation and culture, information society, social policy, transport, energy, environment and climate change. The implementation of the EU financial assistance was also reviewed.

The EU side noted that Bosnia and Herzegovina achieved limited progress in fulfilling the key priorities from the Commission’s 2019 Opinion on its EU membership application. It also positively noted that positive steps have been taken in the recent months to address some of the key priorities from the Opinion, including legislative amendments to allow holding local elections in Mostar.

The two sides discussed that more progress is expected on reforms, in particular as concerns the rule of law. Pending the adoption of the new Law on the HJPC and Law on Courts of BiH, Bosnia and Herzegovina should swiftly introduce targeted amendments to ensure the effective verification of declaration of assets of judges, prosecutors, and HJPC members. Integrity and accountability are key to restore the trust of citizens in the judicial system, as highlighted in the recent “Pravo na pravdu” public debate of 24 November 2020. COVID-19 procurement scandals also showed the urgent need for legislation on public procurement and on conflict of interest in line with European standards. Cooperation with Europol and Frontex has to be stepped up. On migration, Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to take urgent action to avert a humanitarian crisis; the EU stand ready to support.

The EU delegation highlighted that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to develop a common action plan of socio-economic reforms; full coordination among executives is required to respond to the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU has offered a macro-financial assistance loan of 250 million EUR to support structural reforms.

The EU delegation recalled that Bosnia and Herzegovina should continue improving its alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. It should pursue regional cooperation in view of the establishment of a Common Regional Market for the Western Balkans, as announced at the November 2020 Sofia Summit, to foster economic growth. This initiative also includes a regional agreement on travel with ID cards in the Western Balkans.

The EU delegation highlighted that Bosnia and Herzegovina should finalise its WTO accession and withdraw measures for the preferential treatment of national bidders in public contracts, which are not in line with the SAA. It should accelerate connectivity measures and infrastructure investments, as well as the alignment with the environment acquis as foreseen by the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans. The EU delegation recalled the strong commitment of the EU to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European integration process and support through technical and financial assistance, as highlighted by the Economic and Investment Plan unveiled in October 2020.

Both sides agreed on the agenda of the next cycle of sub-committee meetings which will discuss in more detail the challenges of legal approximation and capacity building in all areas under the SAA.