TEAM EUROPE IN PARTNERSHIP AND SOLIDARITY WITH BIH: WE CARE!

Joint Op-ed by the EU Head of Delegation and EU Special Representative with the EU Heads of Missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Europe Day is an occasion to celebrate the European Union – a project based on peace, partnership, shared values and solidarity. These are at the heart of the EU’s relationship with Bosnia and Herzegovina and the spirit in which we celebrate this Europe Day.

It has been more than a year since the Covid-19 pandemic descended on the world. It has also taken a heavy toll on Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens. We have all experienced the distress of illness and loss; we have felt sadness and uncertainty. Yet, we have also experienced the strength that comes from solidarity as only together we can overcome the challenges of this difficult time.

Team Europe, the EU together with its Member States, has been with Bosnia and Herzegovina since the first days of the pandemic, delivering medical and protective equipment worth EUR 7.76 million for hospitals across the country. In addition, the EU has also secured 213,822 BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine doses to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which began to arrive already this month.

The crisis is far from over, but we will continue – in solidarity – to fight the effects of the pandemic together, with a very strong message: the EU cares!

While the focus rightly remains on saving lives, Team Europe continues to help Bosnia and Herzegovina safeguard businesses and jobs, with EUR 73.5 million in grants for economic recovery, especially in sectors that have been most seriously affected.

As Bosnia and Herzegovina and the world continue to address the common challenge of the pandemic, it is vital that we do not lose sight of the opportunity to deliver meaningful change for the citizens of this country. The clearly and consistently expressed desire of citizens to move closer to the EU must be pursued. This desire is also reflected in our close human and economic ties.

Two years have passed since the European Commission published its Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership application. The list of issues identified in the 14 priorities of the Opinion to tackle is lengthy, and will require reforms in the field of democracy, functionality and rule of law.

It is of the utmost importance for all political leaders in the country to stop using divisive rhetoric and diverting attention from much-needed reforms in the interest of BiH’s citizens seeking a better life.

In addition, this non-election year gives politicians a chance to undertake difficult reforms. Every country that has joined the EU has gone through this challenging phase of the accession process. BiH has to undertake targeted constitutional and electoral reforms in line with European standards, implementing the European Court of Human Rights Sejdic/Finci case, and ensuring a fairer and more democratic election system for all citizens. Enacting these reforms requires political will, transparent and meaningful inclusion of all political and institutional stakeholders, alongside CSOs, citizens, academia and the wider public.

Team Europe stands ready to support constructive efforts and solutions that bring Bosnia and Herzegovina closer to the EU in 2021, as a democratic and functional state that is governed by stable institutions working in the interest of all citizens. The EU membership path is firmly based on unequivocal respect for the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign and united country.

As a project based on peace, partnership, shared values and solidarity, the European Union fully supports the EU perspective of the Western Balkan countries. We in the EU want to move forward hand in hand with the people of this country in a spirit of partnership and solidarity in order to make that happen.

This is the message we would like to convey to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Europe Day.