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EU warns Bosnian membership bid will be 'frozen' without reform

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(SARAJEVO) - Bosnia's bid to become a member of the EU could be "frozen" if the country fails to implement constitutional changes to allow people from the Jewish and Roma communities to hold high political office, the EU enlargement commissioner said Thursday.

"I notice with regret that the political parties have failed to make any meaningful progress for more than three years to implement the Sejdic-Finci judgement," Stefan Fuele told reporters here.

Fuele referred to the request that Bosnia amend its constitution in order to remove a provision that discriminates against Roma, Jews and other minorities in political life. The request was in accordance with a 2009 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.

Under the internationally-brokered 1995 Bosnia peace accord, only Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs are considered "constituent peoples" with the right to apply for top state and legislative positions.

The court ruled that this discriminated against other ethnic groups, notably Jews or Roma.

"This lack of action from the party leaders will clearly undermine Bosnia's European integration process," Fuele said.

The required changes were blocked by constant bickering by rival Muslim, Croat and Serb leaders.

But Fuele warned that "without an agreement... Bosnia's EU path would be frozen."

Bosnia signed so-called Stabilisation and Association Agreement -- the first step towards EU membership bid -- with Brussels in 2008 and hoped to apply for candidacy by the end of this year.

But Fuele said Sarajevo needs to implement the changes if it "wants to be in a position to submit a credible membership application to be considered by the EU."

"Until these conditions are fulfilled, it will not be possible to consider further steps by Bosnia on its EU path," he said.

Sarajevo had until Thursday to introduce these reforms and Fuele warned that "there are no further deadlines" for the move.

"The efforts and results are expected to be imminent," he insisted.

Fuele said next year's general elections would be "unacceptable" if the reforms were not implemented.

"Another general election violating European convention on human rights would also be unacceptable, seriously undermining the legitimacy and the credibility of the country's elected bodies," he said.

Bosnia has been trailing behind its former partners in the ex-Yugoslavia in the race to join the EU. Neighbouring Croatia will join the 27-member bloc on July 1.

Tiny Montenegro began talks last year, while Serbia and Macedonia have obtained candidacy status but have yet to begin membership talks.

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