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Speech by President Jean-Claude Juncker to the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, 28 February 2018

Madame Speaker,
Mister Speaker,
Members of the Presidency,
Ladies and gentlemen members of the Parliament,

It is indeed a pleasure and an honour to address you as the elected representatives of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Allow me to also extend my greetings to the citizens of this beautiful country. It is them that you work for and it is them that we work for – I therefore respectfully greet your people.

I have just received, during an official ceremony, the answers to the Questionnaire that we handed to you in December 2016. As your country takes this new step on the path towards its candidacy to join the European Union, I would like to solemnly reaffirm and reiterate my personal commitment and commitment of the entire European Union to the European perspective of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The European Commission will now with due care and carefully study all your answers and start preparing its opinion on your membership application. I would like you to work with us, especially with the High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission, Mrs. Mogherini, who was unfortunately prevented from coming due to snow that had captured Europe, and with Commissioner Johannes Hahn, in a spirit of unity, so that the Commission can recommend, when the day comes, your official candidacy for accession.

The path on which you have embarked is a natural path for the country, as you are an integral part of Europe, its territory, its history, its culture, and since together we have to further advance and strengthen the reconciliation and European history and geography. Your future is in the European Union, a Union based on fundamental values to be embraced by each country. The European Union is not just a big market – although it is a great market, it is above all a community of values ​​on which all forward-looking set-ups are based.

The choice you made on 15 February 2016 when you decided to apply for membership is important to you and dear to our hearts. It is the choice that every Member State of the European Union had made – since our Union has never been an obvious, but has always been, and will remain forever, a deliberate choice. This deliberate choice that is yours and that we support wholeheartedly is a demanding choice. When you do not put anything in, there is nothing for you in the European integration. No need to elaborate on it in detail, because you already know it: your European path demands and will continue to require a lot of effort from all of you – political leaders, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina – to carry out the necessary reforms to go through all the steps towards accession. Reforms, which your citizens above all, are demanding.

And this requires, above all, the knowledge how to overcome divisions, build strong cohesion and speak with one voice. Disagreements creates only blockages, paralysis, and unnecessary delays that harm the interests of your fellow citizens and raise questions about your determination to join the European Union.

I am well aware that the accession to the European Union is a lengthy process. Its outcome is based on the merit of each country concerned and depends on the progress actually made – it is often perceived as primarily a technical process. But it is much more than that. It is also, and I would even say above all, a commitment to a state of mind and a way of living together. It is therefore a highly political project – in the noble sense of the word – that requires bringing on board all the forces of this country. It is a project that requires administrative resources but above all an unwavering desire to do all that is necessary to become a member of the European Union.

This is what I would like to share with you by sharing with you some of my beliefs about the European Union which has become an important matter in my life and which, I hope, will also be an important matter in the life of your country and your fellow citizens – a matter of both reason and heart.

Since the choice you have made involves future generations, it is also the youth of Bosnia and Herzegovina that I would like to address. We owe it to this youth to engage and to engage with strength, conviction and perseverance in the reforms necessary for sustainable development for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Thirty-five years after the Olympic Games in Sarajevo, which will forever be remembered as a symbol of tolerance, and twenty-four years after the end of the war, Sarajevo will host the European Youth Olympic Festival in February 2019. This is great news for all European youth and for all of us. The Olympic spirit is back in Sarajevo. One of the main objectives of this Olympic Festival is to teach young athletes from all over Europe the importance of ideals such as fair competition, respect, tolerance and friendship.

This is to say how close the Olympic spirit and the European spirit are – so close that in fact they are one. In both cases, it is the same desire to promote respect for others and a peaceful, harmonious coexistence between people of different traditions, cultures and religions. It is this desire that is at the very heart of the European construct and that is why Europe, as I said, is far more than a large internal market, Europe is much more than Brussels-based institutions.

I believe that Europe is and will remain fundamentally a peace project, a project of reconciliation and unity in respect of diversity – especially in this region of Europe. Europe is the gathering of energy and talents. It is an ability to live together and the desire to work together. Europe is a collaboration which, day after day, binds us ever closer to each other, giving us the opportunity to learn about others, to appreciate others, but also teaches us a lot about ourselves, and invites us to see beyond differences of cultures and languages ​​and to find a harmonious coexistence and render it permanent.

I also believe that we must stop talking about the United States of Europe as if Europe were the United States of America. We are not the United States of America. We are Europe. And Europeans do not want a single European state, they want to stay, while changing, who they are. And so we have to see that those who live in Europe, the different parts of Europe, want and need immediate proximity because they like their land, their landscapes, their traditions – they like Europe made of diversities and thus richer than other arrangements.

I love this love of theirs. I like being Luxembourgian. It is called patriotism and it is a noble feeling. I also like being European. And for that, I want to live on a continent of calm, order, security and peace. This patriotism I am talking about has nothing to do with nationalism that is directed against others – it is the very opposite. Because nationalism, as the hatred of others, is a poison that is contrary to European values.

I am always deeply shocked when I hear political parties holding xenophobic speeches, being hostile to others, and I will always fight hate speech anywhere. Because to be European is to fight intolerance, racism and to refuse the rejection of others. It is to defend democratic, free, just and multicultural societies. So I will be very clear: to do politics by looking in the rear-view mirror, without vision of the future, and to make political statements that fuel the artificial divisions is simply not compatible with our European project which is also yours. This would also run against the will of our citizens.

Madame Speaker,
Mister Speaker,

Peace is much more than the end of hostilities, peace is much more than signatures affixed to agreements. Peace is a daily struggle that takes everyday courage to overcome old resentments and other demons of the past.

We must know how to guarantee peace in times and how to organise it. In Europe we decided to organise it on the basis of law, opposing the force of law to that of arms. And it is by acting through the law that we have been able to create a space that protects us and allows us to live and work together.

In this European Union, which is not a State and which has no inclination to become a State, in this European Union which is a community of law, the rule of law is not an option – the state of law is an ardent obligation. In Europe, there is no discount on the rule of law. Justice, ladies and gentlemen, cannot be bought. And without a vigorous fight against corruption, there is no rule of law.

This includes absolute respect for the decisions of the courts and tribunals, which must come into force quickly and peacefully. It is a question of legality, it is also a question of the proper functioning of your institutions.

Here I am thinking in particular of your electoral reform. The legal gaps identified by your Constitutional Court need to be addressed in a targeted and timely manner. Otherwise, you risk institutional paralysis that will stop your European progress. Governing together means also the search for compromises between the parties on essential democratic issues such as the election law.

Promoting the rule of law is therefore a prerequisite on your way to the Union, as is a calm political debate, a debate that must focus on the essentials. And I believe that the principle and the essential goal of all political activity must be the dignity of every human being. I believe that we cannot build the future if we do not put the fate of our fellow citizens at the centre of our actions and our political concerns.

To do this, we must recognise what is important in the eyes of citizens. And what is important are not abstract concepts or endless ideological debates. What is important for the women and men of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as for all other Europeans, is the dignity on a daily basis, to be able to get a job and keep it, to start a business, to give good education to children, to ensure the health of family, to benefit from new technologies and modern infrastructures, to have confidence in the justice and the institutions of your country, and to live in safety.

In this regard, I would like to congratulate you on the progress you have already made in the context of the 2015-2018 Reform Agenda, and especially in recent months. But we must not relax our efforts now. I urge you to bring together again all your energies around this agenda and to reinforce the coordination between you. Because to progress on the European path, it also means to speak to one another, and then to engage with one voice.

Of course, this is not an appeal against an open democratic debate – quite the contrary. What I want to underline is that democracy does not exist without compromise and without a strong sense of cooperation. We must always and everywhere defend an ethic of compromise. There is no democracy without compromise. It is not by retreating behind ideological and ethnic positions that we can meet the challenges of the future.

And indeed, to become a member of the European Union, you must as imperative adopt a whole series of reforms and moreover translate these into concrete commitments – it is above all your fellow citizens that you do it for. It is to meet their legitimate aspirations. It is to put an end to patronage, corruption and organised crime that chase away so many investments and prevent the growth of your companies.

Also, it must be remembered that all territorial disputes must be resolved before joining. We want to export the stability we have gained, and not import instability into Europe. And so, as you have done in many other areas, territorial conflicts too must be resolved.

That, Madam Speaker and Mister Speaker are the couple of beliefs and points that I wanted to share with you about this Europe that you obviously have the aspiration to join. This Europe as it is, as it will be, will be richer when Bosnia and Herzegovina becomes one of its members – but this Europe requires patience and determination, like all long journeys and all great ambitions.

Long live Bosnia and Herzegovina and long live Europe!