President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen visited Bosnia and Herzegovina today as part of her tour of the Western Balkans from 28-30 September in advance of the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Brdo on 6 October. This was her first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the President underlined that the place of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Western Balkans as a whole is in the EU.
At the beginning of her visit, President von der Leyen officially opened the Svilaj Bridge connecting Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, together with the Chair of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers, Zoran Tegeltija, and the Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenković. The construction of the bridge was financed by the European Union with €24.5 million in grants through the Western Balkans Investment Fund, and €67 million in loans from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The bridge is part of the important Transport Corridor Vc, which will improve trade flows in the region, as well as increase accessibility for 1.5 million people living alongside the route.
Speaking at the opening of Svilaj Bridge, President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said: “Building bridges between people, countries and cultures, is so crucial for our common future. Because Bosnia and Herzegovina, and all the Western Balkans, belong in the European Union. It is in our common interest, but I also believe, it is our destiny. Our joint priorities for the future are clear. Of course, we have to work in the present, which is the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. And we need to speed up vaccination, for example. We need to boost the economic recovery of the whole country. Our joint priorities are clear we have to fight against the pandemic and we need to boost the economic recovery of the whole country. We must look at investments that will ensure a lasting recovery. Just like the people in the European Union, I think I am deeply convinced that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina – especially young people – deserve a greener, more sustainable, more digital and more prosperous future. That is what we are working on together”.
Later, President von der Leyen met the members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the BiH Presidency building in Sarajevo, where they discussed the importance of regional integration and key role of the Berlin process, opportunities for the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina to work together on clean energy to phase out coal and support for the enlargement prospects of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkans.
The European Union is stepping up its support for the Western Balkans. Last year, the European Commission adopted a comprehensive Economic and Investment Plan aiming to boost the economic development and recovery of the region with up to €9 billion for flagship projects in the areas of transport, energy, green and digital transition, to create sustainable growth and jobs. The Plan also offers a path for a successful regional economic integration, better connecting the economies of the Western Balkans within the region and with the EU, which will ultimately speed up the process of EU integration.