Füle: No excuse for Bosnia and Herzegovina lagging behind others in the region

Article by Štefan Füle,
Commissioner for Enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy

I cannot pretend that things are moving in the right direction in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are actually not moving in any direction at all. The country’s leadership remains stuck in a political impasse, putting ethnic or partisan goals ahead of the strategic interest of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens. While citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina certainly deserve better.

You can do differently. You do not have to travel far to see that things can change, and they do change, with political determination and will to compromise. Just across the border, Croatia is now a Member State of the EU. Montenegro is on the move, with further negotiating chapters to be opened in the coming weeks. Albania has ensured a much improved conduct of the recent elections and a peaceful transition of power. It adopted laws crucial for the EU agenda, bringing EU Candidate Status now within reach. Last but not least, Belgrade and Pristina: probably the most striking example of making the seemingly impossible, possible: both parties now meet regularly under the aegis of the EU to solve outstanding practical issues to the benefit of citizens on both sides. EU has opened accession talks with Serbia, and negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo are starting in October.

I am fully aware that the legacy of war in the Balkans, even after two decades, is particularly painful in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the examples listed above, and in particular the progress made in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, clearly demonstrate that even the most difficult and sensitive issues can be overcome. Yes, things can – and do – work differently.

The priorities for Bosnia and Herzegovina leadership to tackle are clear. To start with, the implementation of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights’ judgement in the Sejdić-Finci case regarding discrimination against citizens on grounds of ethnicity. A solution to this issue will pave the way for the entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and for a credible application of Bosnia and Herzegovina for membership of the European Union. Second, the establishment of a co-ordination mechanism on EU matters between various levels of government. An effective coordination mechanism is vital to enable Bosnia and Herzegovina’s representatives to speak on behalf of the country; it is also vital to use in an efficient manner the EU’s pre-accession funds. The country’s constitutional structure has nothing to do with it and using it as an excuse is not credible – simply look at how complex many EU countries are. Finally, the adaptation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement following Croatia’s accession: this unresolved issue overshadows relations with the EU although, ironically, proves that the country’s leaders do have a potential to come to agreement on EU-related matters, at least when it comes to blocking negotiations.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a rich fabric of different traditions and cultures. This should not be a burden. On the contrary, diversity should be an engine of growth and dynamism. The EU’s own motto is ”United in diversity”. So far the country’s leaders remain blind to the potential this diversity can offer. There is nothing that prevents Bosnia and Herzegovina from moving ahead on the path of European integration. The EU is ready to help towards this goal but ultimately it is for the country’s leaders to make it happen. They must finally deliver together on the declarations and commitments they made themselves. Otherwise the country’s diversified and rich potential will continue to lie idle.

This article is published in Dnenvi avaz, Euroblic and Vecernji list on the occasion of the publication by the European Commission of its progress report on Bosnia and Herzegovina, on 16 October 2013.

Additional information:

Key findings of the 2013 Progress Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina

EU enlargement: Priorities for 2014

Bosnia and Herzegovina 2013 Progress Report

Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2013-2014