The place of an independent, sovereign BiH is in the EU

Today, Bosnia and Herzegovina marks the 30th anniversary of its independence. Anniversaries are not only a time to celebrate but also a time for reflection. Bosnia and Herzegovina is still a young country but as we look back, it has come a long way. The EU is here to help BiH progress further on its path towards the European Union.

This year’s Independence Day in Bosnia and Herzegovina comes amidst a new geopolitical reality. As BiH commemorates the anniversary of its independence, another European country is fighting to preserve its own. The European Union strongly stands with Ukraine and its people. We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life and inspired by the resilience and courage of Ukrainians. The EU has passed wide-ranging measures in response to the invasion. These ensure that President Putin pays a high price for his actions and aim to cripple Russia’s ability to wage war.

We expect those who aspire for EU membership to be with us on this question. To see that they violate international law, to recognise they are based on lies and misinformation, and to know that these actions are outrageous. In the face of this aggression and blatant undermining of European peace and stability, there simply is no time for neutrality or balancing of interests.

The EU is resolved to maintain peace and stability on the European continent. In Ukraine, as in BiH. This is also why EUFOR took the precaution to bring in 500 extra troops. Democracy, peace, diversity, equality and respect for laws and human rights are at the heart of what the EU stands for. We will strongly defend these values in the face of evil. This is the painful but ever-important lesson we learnt in the nineties. We look back in sorrow, but we are also determined not to repeat our mistakes.

BiH’s citizens clearly identify with European values, and it is a major reason why they want BiH to join the European Union. The politics of division rob them of that. The unwillingness of political leaders to put the interest of citizens above their own means the country is almost at a standstill. Not just socially or economically, but also on the path to the EU.

We are determined to support BiH to reach the objective of EU membership that so many in this country desire. The EU has invested hundreds of millions of euros to support reforms that will strengthen democracy, the rule of law and the economy. Being a part of the EU means economic growth, jobs and would overall make everyday life easier for people and businesses. I kindly ask political leaders to not delay a prosperous future in the EU, but instead accelerate on the reform path focusing on reforms that will improve life for this country’s citizens.

In my discussions with people across BiH, I have been told that nothing can change, and that the legacy of the past will continue to block a better future. However, please do not forget that the European Union was built on concrete cooperation and solidarity among nations that once fought each other, but whose leaders showed readiness to reconcile and cooperate. Every time I travel around the country, I see the same in local communities, only to be reminded of the disappointing politics at the national level. Things can change if there is a political will.

Today, more than ever, we see the stark difference in values between those that wish to protect and promote democracy, human rights, and the sovereignty of independent nations in Europe, and those that wish to destroy them. Let this anniversary be a reminder of what has been achieved and what kind of future BiH citizens want and deserve. They expect their leaders to focus on stability, economic growth and rule of law and a BiH in the EU. The European Union stands ready to support citizens in that desire.

Op-ed by the Head of EU Delegation and EU Special Representative to BiH, Ambassador Johann Sattler on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of BiH’s independence