Von der Leyen calls on Bosnia leaders to unite around EU future

EC President von der Leyen opens the Tunnel Ivan, on the Corridor Vc near Sarajevo

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged Bosnian leaders on Friday to work together to bring the country closer to membership of the European Union, after the bloc's executive arm recommended it be granted EU candidate status.

Bosnia applied to join the wealthy bloc in 2016 but its rival ethnic leaders have done nearly nothing to kick-off reforms that were set out as necessary for progress on the path to the EU.

Von der Leyen asked the leaders to come together to turn Bosnia, where nearly three quarters of the population support EU membership, "into a country of young people's dreams".

"The door of the European Union is open, please seize the opportunity and use this invitation, and it is up to you now," she told politicians and civil society activists during a visit to Sarajevo, a part of a tour of Western Balkan countries.

The commission this month recommended Bosnia be granted candidate status on the understanding that it reinforces democracy and takes other steps.

Over the past year, the Balkan country has been enduring its gravest political crisis since the end of the war in the 1990s, torn between secessionist policies of its Serb leader Milorad Dodik and quarrels between Bosniaks and Croats over election rules.

The EU Council of Ministers is due to vote on its candidacy status in December even though analysts doubt Bosnia will be able to tackle necessary reforms by then, especially as new governments have yet to be formed after an Oct. 2 election.

Von der Leyen said Bosnia would get 70 million euros ($69.5 million) from the EU's 500 million euro energy security package for the Western Balkans as immediate support for vulnerable families and firms.

She opened a tunnel on a pan-European highway that EU has helped to be built with 542 million euros in grants.

($1 = 1.0064 euros)

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alison Williams)