In this photo a woman looks through the window next to the giant flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. AP
The advice had been hotly anticipated in ethnically-divided Bosnia, which is lagging several other Balkan nations in being granted candidate status to become a member of the prosperous European club of 27 nations.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi told a European Parliament committee during the presentation of the annual enlargement report that the executive "recommends that candidate status be granted'' by the member states, pending a slew of commitments for fundamental reform.
Bosnia's foreign minister welcomed the decision, describing it as "historic.''
"This sends a strong message to the citizens (of Bosnia), one we have been hoping to get even earlier, that our future is as a member of the (EU) family,'' Bisera Turkovic said on Twitter.
The Commission can only advise which nations should become EU candidates, and all member states must agree unanimously on such a step. Varhelyi said he hoped the member states would make a quick move, possibly as early as December, since the geopolitical changes in the region spurred by Russia's war in Ukraine, made speed essential.
Still, once a country becomes a candidate, it can still take years, sometimes many years, before membership to the club becomes a reality.
Varhelyi warned Bosnian political leaders to move swiftly on badly-needed reforms.
"We are doing this for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But it also comes with high expectations. It is for the elites to turn this into reality,'' Varhelyi said.
He said to become a candidate the Bosnian leaders needed reforms on issues ranging from the judiciary, to battling corruption and pushing through constitutional and electoral changes. Little progress on those issues has been made in recent years.
Even early this week amid widespread reports of fraud in Bosnia's recent general election, the country's top electoral body announced it will conduct a recount in the race to become the next Bosnian Serb president, a ballot that was allegedly rigged by a staunchly pro-Russian leader.
The Commission made several non-encouraging assessments in other sectors too, outlining limited or no progress in reforms of public administration, the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organized crime. To be a candidate, a nation does not have to meet all criteria, but must show a commitment to do so.
Several Balkan countries and Turkey have been waiting around two decades to join and sometimes progress has been held up by objections from single EU member country.
Ankara applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999, and had to wait until 2005 to start talks for actual entry. It is still extremely far from membership.