Photograph: Photo by Brian Eager, used under CC BY

The decision by the European Union (EU) General Affairs Council (GAC) to launch the process that could bring Bosnia and Herzegovina to candidate status for accession to the EU, is an important step for that country and could contribute to defusing political tension, international and domestic officials have said after Bosnia's European path was unblocked on Tuesday.

The possibility of gaining candidate status is motivation for the further implementation of reforms, the Head of the European Union Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, said on Tuesday while at the same time underscoring that now was not the time to speculate on how long it would take before that status was approved.

This decision marks the start of the process in which Bosnia and Herzegovina will attempt to catch up to its neighbours in the region that are already candidates for EU membership. The European Commission will now begin to evaluate in detail the current situation in various areas and sectors in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That will lead to the preparation of an opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina's preparedness to move ahead in the process of gaining candidate status and eventually opening accession negotiations. It is too early to speculate on how long that will take Wigemark said.

He added that the speed and efficiency of implementing necessary reforms will be the the decisive factors in the end on how quickly Bosnia and Herzegovina will progress on its EU path.

The Croat member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency Dragan Covic is significantly more optimistic. Commenting on the decision and conclusions by the GAC, Covic told local media that he hoped that motivation on the European path will help stabilise the overall situation in the country and defuse tension caused by the announcements of the referendum in Republika Srpska (RS) Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He added however that this meant it was time to fulfil all the promises that officials have made over the past ten years.

"We have to clearly realise that we have friends who have opened the door and everything else is up to us...In order to achieve the next step, that is, candidate status, we will have to achieve everything we have promised over the past ten years, he said as cited by the FENA news agency.

GAC's conclusions on Tuesday directly reiterated the need to resolve the problem of discrimination of national minorities in the election process and the implementation of the Sejdic-Finci ruling by the European Court for Human Rights. It is that issue in fact that has thwarted Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress on its EU path. A solution was not achieved because it was Covic in fact who insisted on a "package" deal and to define the mechanism that would prevent Croats from being outvoted in election processes due to their small number.

Covic has now announced that negotiations on that matter will once again be opened and a solution found before the next general election in 2018.

"There is no more playing around. That is a court ruling and it must be respected and we have to inbuild what we want from Bosnia and Herzegovina. There can be no co-existence without equality and I believe that this will motivate us this time to look at Bosnia and Herzegovina in a realistic way," Covic said. He announced that talks on this issue could begin in October with the aim of finding a new way to elect members to the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency and members of the House of Peoples in the state parliament.

Covic considers that the problem over the referendum in Republika Srpska to celebrate January 9 as Republika Srpska Day will disappear of its own accord even though it is now presenting a great challenge to the country's stability and the authority of the Constitutional Court and its ruling to ban the referendum.

"I am confident that authorities in RS will modify their activities concerning the referendum and the entity's day in line with the Constitutional Court's ruling," he said.

The Serb member of the Bosnian presidency, Mladen Ivanic, however warned that disputes over the referendum have obviously worsened the situation in the country. He claimed that the rhetoric being used reminded of war rhetoric which could lead to consequences that "must not be undermined."

"International institutions too should be taking more concern over security aspects in Bosnia and Herzegovina rather than political outwitting," Ivanic told reporters in Banja Luka.

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