By Daria Sito-Sucic
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia will officially apply to join the European Union on Feb. 15, the country's presidency said on Tuesday, a major milestone in the former Yugoslav republic's integration with the European mainstream two decades after emerging from war.
Bosnia lags far behind its Balkan peers on the road to membership of the EU, with progress dogged by ethnic divisions after a 1992-95 war in which some 100,000 people died.
Years of tough negotiation and reform lie ahead if Bosnia is ever to join the bloc, complicated by a highly decentralized and often unwieldy system of government bestowed by a 1995 peace deal that divided up power along ethnic lines.
The country faces frequent threats of secession from ethnic Serbs, who are considering holding a referendum on the authority of Bosnia's national court over their autonomous region.
Observers say Bosnia stands little chance of joining before 2025.
"It is now quite definitive and clear that we have got the date by the EU chairman, the Netherlands, to submit the application on Feb. 15," the Croat chairman of Bosnia's three-person rotating presidency, Dragan Covic, told reporters.
"It is realistic that we get candidate status at the beginning of the next year," he said. "I deeply believe this is a great chance for Bosnia-Herzegovina."
Bosnia's EU aspirations have been given impetus by a joint German and British initiative launched last year to encourage economic development and reform in exchange for EU funds and integration.
The initiative followed years of delayed reform and a dramatic bout of civil unrest in February 2014, fueled by popular anger over political inertia, sky-high unemployment and rampant corruption.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has said the bloc will support reforms in Bosnia to the tune of 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) over the next three years, and a further 500 million euros for investment in infrastructure upgrades.
(Editing by Matt Robinson and Louise Ireland)