European Union leaders agreed in principle to open accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina at a summit in Brussels. 

European Council President Charles Michel said: "The European Council has decided to open accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Congratulations! Your place is in our European family." 

EU flags were hung on the streets of the capital Sarajevo during the summit. 

The final declaration emphasized that Bosnia must continue to take all the steps identified by the Commission on issues such as economic, judicial and political reforms and the fight against corruption and money laundering.

Michel warned that "much work remains to be done" before the Balkan country can join the union, adding that "hard work must now continue in order for Bosnia and Herzegovina to move steadily forward as it wants to." 

Elvira Habota, the Bosnian official in charge of European integration, said the decision "brings a wave of optimism for citizens, institutions, authorities and the entire Bosnian society".

Bosnia was granted candidate status in 2022. The European Commission, the EU's executive body, decided last week to start negotiations despite deep ethnic divisions in the country of 3.2 million people.

Messages of support

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted that Bosnia is now "fully aligned" with the EU's foreign and security policy and has adopted laws to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he was "extremely pleased" that "after all the efforts made in Bosnia and Herzegovina" a step forward had been taken.

"The promise that they could become members of the European Union was made in Thessaloniki more than 20 years ago and now we need the next steps," Scholz said of the countries in the Western Balkans.

Germany makes it easier to change name and gender registration Germany makes it easier to change name and gender registration

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said there was still a lot of work to be done before Bosnia could fully start negotiations with the bloc.