SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia must press ahead quickly with reforms to keep alive its hopes of being named a candidate to join the European Union by the end of next year, EU enlargement chief Johannes Hahn said on Monday.
Hahn said the ethnically divided Balkan country had made good progress on its EU path last year but must now make good on pledges made last month in Brussels when it handed in its application to join the 28-nation bloc.
The next step in the EU’s complex application process would be for member states to ask the bloc’s executive Commission to prepare an opinion on Bosnia. The Commission would then send Bosnia a questionnaire asking for detailed economic, social and legal information.
“If we get this (progress on reforms) by the end of April, beginning of May, it’s very likely that we, the European Commission, can be tasked ... already before summer to submit the questionnaire to Bosnia,” Hahn said after meeting Bosnian Prime Minister Denis Zvizidic in Sarajevo.
“Then we can keep this ambitious timetable to have a final decision about the future status of the country by the end of 2017.”
Bosnia formally applied to the EU in February despite misgivings among some EU diplomats who thought the country - still plagued by post-war ethnic rivalries, organized crime and corruption - had made insufficient progress on reform.
The existence of multi-layered governments created under the Dayton peace accords that ended Bosnia’s 1992-95 war has obstructed decision-making and stifled development.
Bosnia must continue social and economic reforms and publish the results of its 2013 census, Hahn said.
Without the prospect of EU membership, Bosnia risks being left behind by neighbors who also emerged from the violent 1990s break-up of Yugoslavia and who either already belong to the bloc or are far further down the road to membership.
Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Adrian Croft and Mark Heinrich