"The European Union has just offered Bosnia its European perspective. We have entered the process, but it's up to Bosnia-Herzegovina how long the process will take, and when Bosnia-Herzegovina will be able to rewarded with membership in the European Union," declared Miroslav Lajcak, Bosnia's EU Special Representative (EUSR) as the country signed its SAA (Stabilisation and Association Agreement) – the first step on a long road to possible future EU membership – on 16 June 2008.
The event was of major importance for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the last of the West Balkan states to sign an SAA. Few Bosnians doubt that their country belongs in the European Union. This has given EU policymakers hope that the Europeanization process will be able to overcome, if not heal, the ethnic and political divisions in Bosnia.
However, Bosnia's journey to Europe has been no easy ride. The European Commission opened negotiations on the SAA in November 2005. Although negotiations ended in December 2006, the Commission announced that Bosnia had to meet additional conditions before the agreement could be signed. These included greater progress in co-operation with the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, as well as police reform. Owing to a bitter debate over who should control the police, the latter condition became a stumbling block. In April 2008, after three years of fruitless discussions, the European Commission accepted the adoption of two laws aimed at improving coordination between two state level police forces: the border police and a special force investigating war crimes and other major crimes (SIPA). This cleared the way for the signing of the SAA.
Bosnia, having lost valuable time over the police reform issue, must now decide when to apply for EU membership. According to Osman Topcagic:
"What we have as our goal, as officially defined in parliament, is to get candidate status by 2010. That would mean applying this year […]. We need to show good initial results in implementing the SAA: that we have the [necessary] structures, and that we have a good understanding of the agreement and the obligations [that arise from it]. There must be political will. All parties support the European integration process, and the public – 80% or so, or more – is very much in favour of it."
The signing of the SAA was also seen by some as a precondition for the closing of the Office of the High Representative. That would help improve Bosnia's image, reckons Osman Topcagic:
"I am afraid that we are still seen as a protectorate, as a state where the international community has the final say, where [it] makes the decisions through the High Representative. […] The situation in Bosnia is stable. There is freedom of movement, and there are no economic obstacles between the two Entities; we have a single economic space in BiH. Many returnees, many refugees who were expelled by force have returned. Their properties, which had been taken away during the war, have been given back to almost 100% them. […] There has been solid economic growth of 5 to 6% for several years, which has improved the economic situation. This image of Bosnia is not known to the world."
Even once OHR is closed it is expected than an EU Special Representative Office will remain in place. The EUSR will also provide political guidance to two missions that the EU runs in Bosnia: the EU Police Mission (EUPM) and – as of May 2008 – a 2,200-strong military mission, EUFOR.
The EU has provided substantial financial support to Bosnia: more than 2.5 billion euros from 1991 to 2006, including humanitarian aid during the war and immediately afterwards. 440 million euros are allocated for the period from 2007 to 2011.