Sarajevo, 23 February 2015
Excellencies, the Chairman and the Members of BiH Presidency,
Mr Chairman of the House of Representatives,
Mr Speaker of the House of Peoples,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me thank first of all the citizens and representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the warm welcome I received today and also the last time I was here in Sarajevo couple of months ago. And also when I was here in this very same Parliament last summer, as the Italian Minister holding the EU Presidency and presenting the Compact for Growth in this very same building.
Moments ago this Parliament took an important decision, I would say a historical decision. This is the decision on behalf of many in Bosnia and Herzegovina who desire their country to move forward on its path towards the European Union. I want to congratulate you today on your vote for the European future of your country.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country of amazing diversity. It has a rich history, and long traditions of tolerance. But it also has a society that has known deep frictions and divisions. That, of course, is something that always demands our careful analysis, and our full respect.
But it must not lead to paralysis. The tragedies of the 1990s are not the yard-stick for the present or the future, which is where the country must live and grow.
This country is full of potential for the future and also for the present. And now is the moment to realise that potential. Citizens here want a stronger economy. They want to be better connected to each other, through the internet, railways and highways. They want a brighter future and also a better present.
I know that you, as the elected representatives of this country, are working hard to meet those aspirations and I am here today to support you, and to see a concrete step taken on that path, on the European path.
You do not have the luxury of repeating old political stalemates time and again. Look around you. Look at your people first of all. Look at your neighbours in the region. Everyone is moving forward and it’s time for Bosnia and Herzegovina to move forward too.
And to do so on the basis of good cooperation in this Parliament and at entity level.
You carry the responsibility. And you also will carry responsibility. Your next steps will need political clarity, and a real, coordinated effort by your institutions at all levels. This is essential.
In December, when I visited Sarajevo together with Commissioner Hahn, we launched a process which has the potential to bring your country closer to the European Union. But you need to agree on that way forward among yourselves. You need to make it happen. And I would say that the step you made today is a historical one in this direction.
Political leaders have assured me here – and thereby the European Union – that they have the political will and commitment to undertake essential reforms. This, of course, is necessary to enable Bosnia and Herzegovina to prepare itself for future EU membership.
Today’s endorsement of the Written Commitment in this Parliament enables Bosnia and Herzegovina to finally take a step towards joining the European Union. The European Union stands for: freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. I strongly believe in this respect that Bosnia and Herzegovina has the potential to make a meaningful contribution through its history, cultures and traditions to our common endeavour, ending the division of the European continent and building an ever closer union amongst the peoples. This could be a historical turning point for all of us, not only here in Sarajevo, but for all Europe.
I am honoured to be present at this important moment. The EU is ready to take proper account of this development. I will be personally informing EU Foreign Ministers in a few weeks time.
I will also propose an exchange of views in the Council of the European Union on the entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina. But this is still only the beginning. You know very well that more has to be done before it can be possible to apply for European Union membership.
So, after today, the attention of this Parliament and all political institutions in the country will need to focus on concrete work. I see the following challenges as a priority:
First of all the need to move ahead urgently with essential economic and social measures, in the framework of the Compact for Growth and Jobs in Bosnia and Herzegovina; this is extremely urgent in light of the difficult socio-economic situation. Unemployment remains the challenge for this country. Not only for this country, let me assure you. It’s not the European Union, but the fact that 60% of young people in this country are without a job. That is the real incentive for real reforms. It’s not Brussels asking, it’s the people of this country asking.
The reforms to be undertaken aim at increasing the confidence in each other of investors and entrepreneurs, employers, employees and authorities. Increased confidence of this kind very often unlocks creativity and job creation. Also, the effects of the reforms should trickle down and result in improvements in healthcare, education and social services.
Furthermore there is:
– the need to put in place the measures needed to build a functioning market economy;
– the need to undertake further efforts to strengthen the rule of law and the process of reconciliation;
– and the need to deepen administrative capacity, and so improve the efficiency of your institutions at all levels.
Another priority should be the establishment of a well-functioning coordination mechanism on EU matters. It is necessary for any successful interaction with the EU when preparing for future EU membership and for the receipt of EU funding. We also expect the deepening of the administrative capacities in the country which would enhance the efficiency of institutions at all levels.
The decisions you take on this initial agenda can only be effective if all parties and representatives share the same goals of improving the socio-economic situation in this country and making progress on the EU path. And, as ever, those decisions need to be followed through with effective implementation. This is going to be the key – implementation. After the great historical day today, this is going to be the next step.
The brief list of priorities I have outlined is not exhaustive, and you know that very well. Other reforms will be needed too, for the benefit of your own people, to improve the functioning and efficiency of all levels of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I say again that the European Union and me personally have a strong commitment to this country. I hope my presence here is a clear sign of this commitment. It’s the only place I visited twice in my first three months and a half in office and I am happy and proud to say this. Because we want not only you to succeed, but us to succeed. Your success will be ours as well. And we can work together to achieve it. But the first responsibility is yours, in this your very own building. I know you want this time to be the real one. Just like the citizens of this country want you and us to deliver. Count on us, count on the European Union to support you on this difficult but important path.
Thank you very much for listening to me and for your attention.