This op-ed was published on 6 September in Glas srpske, Oslobođenje and Večernji list
Today, Bosnia and Herzegovina joins the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism. At a time when progress on EU reforms has been slow, this is a welcome reminder that BiH has the ability – when there is the will to do so – to adopt important changes that bring it into the mechanism of the EU at equal footing with the others. It also underlines that the European Union’s commitment to BiH is not theoretical. We are already in a deep partnership, and we want Bosnia and Herzegovina to deepen this by becoming a member of the European Union. In June, European leaders underlined that they are ready to grant BiH candidate status if a substantial set of reforms is implemented. This opportunity should be seized, and today’s milestone shows that both sides can deliver.
When the foundations of the European Union were laid, it was said in the 1950 Schuman Declaration that “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.” There can be few greater expressions of solidarity than helping a neighbour or others in a time of need.
The establishment of the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism in 2001 was the result of many years of EU member states working ever more closely together in the field of civil protection, also to provide support for neighbouring states and everywhere around the world. Important events which contributed to its creation include the devastating earthquakes in Greece and Turkey in 1999, which resulted in a wave of solidarity and cooperation between these neighbours and from the EU, as well as the Danube cyanide spill in 2000, which affected Hungary, Serbia and Romania and required extensive cross border cooperation and support from across the continent.
Such events made clear that we are stronger when we work together, and this continues to drive the success of the European Union. We know that in the face of climate change, this solidarity may be more needed than ever.
Since its inception, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has been activated over 600 times in response to earthquakes, floods, forest fires and other emergencies in EU member states and outside. After Bosnia and Herzegovina’s terrible floods in 2014 for example, the country received swift assistance from the EU Civil Protection Mechanism through the deployment of emergency relief workers as well as motor boats, helicopters, pumps and humanitarian aid. Twenty-two Member States offered support. In that year, Bosnia and Herzegovina made a request to join the Mechanism. Recently, authorities across Bosnia and Herzegovina made swift progress in taking the necessary steps to join the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
I am very glad that BiH has now demonstrated the human, technical and technological capacities and capabilities as well as operational readiness to become a full member of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The EU has helped BiH to make this happen, but the progress was yours entirely. The EU invested 2.6 million euros through bilateral and regional projects to support the strengthening of BiH’s civil protection capacities through providing equipment and training. BiH is now ready to participate in this collective system of assistance and provide support to other EU member states and third countries where needed. Of course, BiH remains entitled to also receive assistance should the country require it.
Being a full member of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism also means that Bosnia and Herzegovina will be able to benefit from training programmes and funds designed to strengthen emergency preparedness across the continent. In April this year, I observed the regional exercise which took place in Sarajevo under the project ResponSEE. First responders from across BiH worked fantastically with their colleagues from Albania, Austria, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Romania and Slovenia in this exercise. I am therefore convinced that BiH can not only benefit from this Mechanism, but can also make valuable contributions when needed. This is the essence of the EU.
I hope that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s inclusion in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism will serve as an inspiration for further progress in other domains. This country has the ability to adopt important changes that bring it closer to the EU when there is the will to do so. Today, I say to you: “Welcome to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism”. This is a significant step. But I hope that political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be able to undertake the necessary reforms, so that someday – hopefully sooner rather than later – we will be able to say something even more significant: “Welcome to the European Union”.
All leaders know what is needed. The 12 June Political Agreement provides a clear roadmap. Concrete moves can be made now, even before the elections. There is no time to lose. Your European future is too important.