The 7th Subcommittee meeting on Justice, Freedom and Security (JFS) under the European Union (EU) – Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) Stabilisation and Association Agreement took place on 6 and 7 December 2023 in Sarajevo in hybrid format. The meeting was co-chaired for the EU by Ms. Mary Teresa Moran, Deputy Head of Unit at the Directorate General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations of the European Commission (Commission), and, for BiH, by Mr. Samir Rizvo, Assistant Minister at the Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Commission expressed its satisfaction with the resumption of the SAA meetings in person following years of restrictions. It stressed its continued support for the EU integration of BiH and recalled its recommendation to the Council to open accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina once the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria is achieved. In that context, the Commission stressed the expectation for tangible progress in the area of Justice, Freedom and Security, in line with the 14 key priorities set out in the Opinion, and underlined that reforms to strengthen the rule of law will be key for Bosnia and Herzegovina to take full benefit of the proposed Growth Plan for the Western Balkans. The Commission stated that steps and commitments were made towards the fulfilment of the key priorities and to address the steps specified in the Commission recommendation for candidate status since the last Sub-Committee meeting, but that overall, further efforts are required to use the full potential of its positive momentum. It encouraged the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to act swiftly and to deliver on the much-needed reforms in view of the Commission reporting to Council on progress at the latest in March 2024.
The Commission reminded the authorities of their responsibility to live up to the expectations of the citizens who want and deserve an independent, honest and efficient justice system. In this regard, the Commission welcomed the adoption of the amendments to the Law on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) introducing integrity measures in the judiciary, however it called upon the authorities to revise the provisions which had been introduced without consulting the Venice Commission. It is a remaining priority to adopt a comprehensive new law on the HJPC and a new Law on the Courts of BiH in line with EU standards. The Commission welcomed the appointment of the Supervisory Body monitoring the National War Crimes Strategy and looked forward to its continued effective implementation.
The Commission reminded the expectation that a solid legal framework to effectively address corruption and organised crime across all levels of government is put in place. This supposes effective coordination of anti-corruption bodies and cooperation between law enforcement agencies and with prosecutor’s offices fighting organised crime. This also supposes that track record of investigations, indictments, prosecutions and final convictions in organised crime and corruption cases should improve significantly. The Commission took positive note of the Europol Joint Contact Point having been put in operation and welcomed the effective opening negotiations between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Eurojust to conclude an international cooperation agreement. The signing of a working arrangement between the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the European Public Prosecutor Office (EPPO) was also highlighted as a positive step. It further looked forward to the necessary legal framework to combat terrorism being put in place, notably with the swift adoption of a new Law on Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing. It encouraged BiH to strengthen efforts to enhance the prevention and countering of all forms of violent extremism.
The Commission welcomed the adoption of the strategy and action plan for 2021-2025 on migration and asylum, as well as the adoption of the Law on Foreigners, and called for their swift implementation. The Commission encouraged BiH to continue the efforts for establishing a sustainable migration management system, including asylum and border management, taking robust and joint actions in the fight against smuggling and strengthening effective voluntary and non-voluntary returns for those not eligible to stay, in line with EU and international standards.
With regards to the fundamental rights, the Commission underlined the importance for Bosnia and Herzegovina to effectively ensure that all citizens can fully enjoy their rights without discrimination. It stressed the importance of strengthening gender equality and taking effective measures to prevent and combat gender-based violence. The Commission regretted that there was backsliding in guaranteeing freedom of expression. It made clear that the legislation criminalising defamation in the Republika Srpska entity marks a regrettable and undeniable major step backwards and goes against the expectations that accompanied EU candidate status, as would the law targeting civil society organisations as “foreign agents”, if fully adopted.