(Adds details from annual enlargement report)
BRUSSELS, Oct 12 (Reuters) – The European Commission recommended on Wednesday that Bosnia and Herzegovina be granted the status of candidate to join the European Union, on the understanding that it reinforces democracy and takes other steps.
“Wind of change is once again blowing through Europe and we have to capture this momentum”, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive arm said in a speech. “The Western Balkans belong in our family and we have to make this very, very clear.”
In its annual report on EU enlargement, the Commission said Bosnia should bolster democracy, the functionality of state institutions, the rule of law, tackle corruption and organised crime, guarantee media freedom and migration management.
Some Western Balkans countries’ patience in the EU’s waiting room is wearing thin, and critics of the slow pace of further enlargement of the bloc say it leaves space for Russia and China to extend their influence in the region.
Von der Leyen said the EU’s opponents look at the Balkans as “a geopolitical chessboard” seeking to “drive a wedge between the region and the rest of Europe.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, commenting on the move to recommend candidate status for Bosnia, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had underlined the importance of EU enlargement and its geopolitical significance.
“It is a long-term investment into peace, prosperity and stability for our continent,” he said. (Reporting by Charlotte Van Campenhout and John Chalmers, Editing by Louise Heavens)