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Mr Chairman, Denis [Zvizdić, Chairman of the Council of Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina],
It is a pleasure for me to welcome you and all your delegation for the 2nd Stabilisation and Association Council between the European Union and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Let me start by saying that this week is going to be a very important one. We are here together today for our 2nd Council and we will be together again in Trieste on Wednesday, together with the other leaders of the Western Balkans.
And tomorrow Bosnia and Herzegovina will commemorate the 22nd anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies of our time, the Srebrenica Genocide. Let me say that our hearts and our thoughts will be with you, with the victims, with the families and friends. It is for them that we honour the memory and work to guarantee a safe and prosperous future for all in the country and in the region, that our determination in the European Union to work in support of your country, for reconciliation, is so strong. And it is our determination also to work together on the EU perspective of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think that is the strongest reminder of why we are doing that.
We had today a very good Council between the European Union and Bosnia and Herzegovina and I would like to thank you personally [Chairman Zvizdić] and all your ministers who accompanied you for this important visit.
Since our first Council in December 2015, much progress has been achieved on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s track towards the European Union accession. Last year, Bosnia and Herzegovina submitted its application for the EU membership. In September, the Council asked the Commission to prepare an Opinion. In December, Bosnia and Herzegovina received the Questionnaire and is now working on the responses. A lot has been done and achieved.
The European Union’s accession is at the end of the day all about reforms and it is in particular about transforming the economy, the rule of law and the public administration of a country, first and foremost to respond to the citizens’ needs and aspirations. We agreed that this process must and will continue, also considering again that this is, at the end of the day, what the citizens of your country want to see happening. We were discussing the support level among the citizens for the European Union integration process that is remarkably high. So, it is clear that this is the way to respond to the aspirations of the citizens of the country.
This Council gave us the opportunity to review how far Bosnia and Herzegovina has gone in implementing the Reform Agenda. We both agreed that the country can use the next weeks and months to bring about reforms such as approving excise duty package. It is also important to conclude common strategies on energy, agriculture and employment. We also expect that transport agreement can be finalised ahead of Trieste this week.
The focus has to remain on the Reform Agenda, both on the economy and also on the rule of law; again first and foremost because this is the expectation of the citizens in the country, but also because foreign direct investments and jobs require both structural reforms and impartial judiciary. We agreed I think that more and faster will be our guiding principles for a common work to be continued.
We will discuss this as I said also in two days at the Western Balkans Summit in Trieste; this time with the whole region around the table. We will look at concrete projects for your cooperation. I also hope that Bosnia and Herzegovina will together with all the Western Balkans sign the Transport Community Treaty there.
I thank you once again very much, not only you personally but all your team and in particular the ministers who have guaranteed work of quality and determination and I am confident that this will continue and even accelerate in the future.
Thank you very much.
Q. It is on Srebrenica. As you said, tomorrow there will be commemorations in Srebrenica. At the same time, in the capital of that entity, in Banja Luka, there will be some kind of gathering of supporters of Ratko Mladić and surprisingly – or not – they have a huge support of the government of Republika Srpska and the President [of Republika Srpska, Milorad] Dodik himself. Obviously, a long way to go for the reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The question is: who is to blame? Bosnian politicians, you – the international community? Just a reminder, that your American friends, your allies and partners, solved that dilemma at least partly; they put Mr Dodik on the blacklist. What kind of move can we expect from your side?
You know, what interests me the most is not putting the blame on someone. That can be sometimes easier than finding the way for reconciliation. The European Union was built on reconciliation after wars that were among the worst in the world history. And I belong to a generation who lived Srebrenica as the most profound scare on Europe’s skin. So, I feel – and I think I am not alone in this room – a moral responsibility and a political duty to work not so much to put the blame on someone but to find ways and path for cooperation and reconciliation, inside Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the region at large. And this is why I started my remarks today with that reference, because I believe that is the strongest reminder for all of us, of why we are so much committed and engaged in the European Union’s perspective of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire region together. Because there is only reconciliation and cooperation as a way forward and far away from war and conflicts that the region has lived. As you know I met Mr Dodik last time I came to Sarajevo together with all the political leaders and what I got back then from him was a determination to be constructive – I expect his actions to be at the level of his words back then.