Sorensen: Three next steps on the EU path

This farewell Op-Ed by Ambassador Sorensen was originally published in the dailies Oslobođenje, Dnevni List, and Nezavisne Novine

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a European country. There is no doubt that its rightful place is in the European Union. I know that an overwhelming majority of people right across Bosnia and Herzegovina feel the same way.

It’s why the EU has and will continue to be actively engaged in helping the country. From the rebuilding of infrastructure after the war to over a billion KM invested since 2007 in better educational, legal, administrative and welfare services, to the response of the EU during and after the floods – we are here.

Personally, it has been a privilege to have had for the past three years the task of helping to make the EU future of BiH real. Every friend I have made here, nearly every conversation I have had has left me with a deep impression of the importance of the EU project for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At the beginning, the work here was about concrete tasks, which were achieved: encouraging government formation, encouraging the passing of a budget, establishing a State Aid Council and getting a census under way. No less importantly, I also believe that the EU and BiH now know each other better – you know what actions will get BiH closer to the EU and we have a deeper knowledge of what the country can do. I have no hesitation to say I believe you can do it, if you want. And we want you in.

The content of the latest progress report of the European Commission on Bosnia and Herzegovina was not a surprise. A clear picture of the current stalemate is there – to which we have to add the demonstrations of the spring, then the floods, all in the context of the real progress made by other countries in the region. A gloomy picture. But it makes me ask and should make all of us ask: “How can we get moving?”

The EU integration process in fact is a roadmap which BiH, and particularly its leaders current and future, can follow. For me there are three priority steps ahead.

First, start improving life for people in BiH by doing economic and social reforms. Making BiH more attractive for investors – for example by reducing the bureaucracy of setting up a business – and allowing talented and hard-working people in BiH to get ahead without obstacles will help BiH to prosper now and once in the EU. There are clear proposals to address this in the Compact for Growth and Jobs. This is what good government is about – not ‘protocol’ statements and endless photo opportunities of people shaking hands.

It is interesting to note that in a poll of 1,000 people conducted for the EU’s understanding of BiH public opinion prior to the elections, 89% of respondents said they did not feel that political parties were addressing the most important issues. 78% did not think the parties had good proposals on the economy. A separate survey by the Gallup company reported that government in Bosnia and Herzegovina has an approval rating of only 8% in 2014. This shows that politics in BiH must change and focus on issues of real concern to people like unemployment and doing business.

Second, BiH needs to agree on how to co-ordinate its authorities so that EU requirements can be implemented. The EU will only accept BiH as one state – this will not change – so the BiH authorities have to find a way to co-ordinate that both reflects the structure of the country and means BiH speaks with one voice to the EU.

Third and finally, BiH must demonstrate seriousness by fulfilling its international obligations. Whether it is implementing international judgements or abiding by treaties signed, this matters for BiH’s reputation and future success.

I mention these three steps because there is an objective need for BiH to do them. They are proven routes to prosperity and EU membership. There needs to be a clear understanding in BiH that the EU is not letting countries in that cannot handle being a member. To handle it, BiH must change and start with these 3 steps.

The next steps on the EU path must be a BiH-wide goal. Everyone has to push – politicians, civil society, media, voters, professionals. Everyone.

I have always known from my experience in different countries in this region and indeed from my own country that BiH people are smart and very able. We see that when you come and live with us in the EU and prosper. But BiH and the people living here must prosper too. The better life must be available here.

Those in positions of responsibility are the ones who can make it happen. In parliaments and in politics, primarily. But also in civil society, professions, the media and business. It is the same for every country that has joined the EU. I have no doubt that BiH will walk the same path they already have.

Right now, it is the time for BiH to take the next three steps.