Wigemark: Full commitment to the EU future needed in Bosnia and Herzegovina

This Op-Ed by Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark was published in Network for Peace Building‘s bulletin Peace News

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a European country and it can and will join the European Union. That much is clear. But exactly when this happens depends on how quickly and effectively your authorities and leaders implement the necessary reforms to advance the country along its EU accession path. Reforms are what the recently adopted new approach of the EU in Bosnia and Herzegovina is about: by re-sequencing the process, the focus is now on achieving real progress on concrete reforms, improving the lives of people in the country and modernising the state to meet EU standards and the demands of EU membership. Only this way can the vicious circle of political and economic stagnation in Bosnia and Herzegovina be ended.

We all agree that you, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s citizens, have been waiting for results from your authorities for too long. Citizens deserve to benefit from membership in the European Union and the advantages that come with it. The ball is now in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s court to do something about this, and action is needed to get that ball moving.

I am cautiously optimistic that real progress can be achieved in the next few years. But at the same time we need to be realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. The reform process will not be easy and many difficult decisions need to be made – but we believe that the EU-related reforms are the right answer for providing Bosnia and Herzegovina with a positive perspective for its future.

Why is the prospect of EU membership and the reform agenda so important for Bosnia and Herzegovina? I would briefly like to highlight two major issues in this regard, both of which are fundamental for the future of this country.

Firstly, the economy needs to be strengthened to improve living standards and get people into jobs. The statistics show how dire the situation is. More than 60% of young people have no job and overall hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed, which is an enormous missed opportunity for a country with so much potential. The socio-economic reforms initiated by the EU in the Compact for Growth and Jobs and endorsed by the International Financial Institutions are designed to give the economy the boost it desperately needs. For instance, the business environment needs to be improved to attract investments and spur growth, and barriers to jobs need to be broken down to facilitate hiring new employees in the private sector.

Secondly, advancing on the EU accession path requires Bosnia and Herzegovina and its different levels of authority to be working more efficiently and effectively together. A stronger spirit of solidarity and mutual cooperation between the politicians and authorities of this country is urgently needed. Instead of partisan or divisive, zero-sum politics, joint agreement on priorities and actions, which are in everyone’s common interests, need to be reached. For instance, in order to take full advantage of the EU’s financial support, the country needs to be able to speak to the EU with one voice through effective co-ordination. Political will and the ability to compromise are vital in achieving this.

Effective coordination, however, does not mean that authority or competencies must be given up. It does mean that a new way of managing common affairs, as politics is often characterised, is required. And if politics can lead the way, I am confident that other areas of the society will follow suit and see a positive impact from closer cooperation between the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The time to act on these and other priorities is now. Your neighbours in the region are getting closer to the EU, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is lagging behind. It does not have to be like this – together we have to change that picture and create a momentum for change which leads to a better future. The EU has achieved much in its history to date – more peace between countries, more justice and more prosperity. We want citizens here to share that too.

I hope I can count on your active and vocal support in advancing Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU accession path!