Honoured guests, partners, and colleagues,
Dobrodosli! Welcome to the new Europe House.
This will be your House in the heart of Sarajevo, open for all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and all visitors from abroad.
This is a symbolic place. Here the Eternal Flame burns, commemorating all those who died as a result of the inhumanity of fascism and Europe’s descent into the savagery of World World II. It is therefore fitting that it should also be the home of Sarajevo’s new Europe House.
The European Union is more than anything a project for peace. It was the desire to never again allow this continent to be ripped apart by war that led the EU’s founding fathers to conceive a plan for Europe’s economies to be so closely interconnected that war could not be waged.
73 years ago today, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman made his famous Declaration that war on our continent should not only be unthinkable, but physically impossible. Out of Schuman’s Declaration, the EU was born. It is this, as well as the victory of human values over the darkness of fascism, that we celebrate today, on this very special Europe Day.
Tragically, as people in this very room know all too well, the ambition of ‘never again’ was not realised across the whole of Europe after World War II. Inhumanity returned to this country to BiH in the 90s, just as in Ukraine now. We are reminded that peace does not come for granted and of the dangers of extremism and propaganda. And reminded why we must work tirelessly for our right to thrive in peace and democracy.
On Europe Day, we remember the importance of choosing partnership over enmity, diversity over intolerance, compromise over stalemate, and alliance over isolation. We must fight a more secure future, a more just future, a more united future. A future for Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkans in the European Union.
Last year, as well as awarding Bosnia and Herzegovina candidate status, the EU received three more requests for accession. EU membership, that is a clear message, continues to be an attractive prospect, with the EU remaining a beacon of values, of hope, of inspiration.
The EU has continually proven that the cooperation of 27 member states to form the world’s largest and most prosperous single market is very much a source of strength. The EU is also reinforcing itself as a global security actor, with the European Peace Facility supporting security in partner countries, including in BiH where we invested more than 20 million euros for the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
That the EU draws its strength from its diversity should also be an encouragement for Bosnia and Herzegovina. One only has to walk the streets around the building we are here today in Sarajevo, to realise that Sarajevo’s famed beauty is a result of the fusion of very different influences. There are few cities that so harmoniously integrate different cultures and architectural styles. I am very proud to call this city Sarajevo my second home.
I am also proud that the EU has also been able to support Bosnia and Herzegovina, apart from investing a lot and you see it when you travel through the country – infrastructure, Corridor VC, health care, digitalisation, but we are also very proud that we invest in cultural heritage. We have been doing that across the country, and we are doing it here with this Vječna vatra building.
While the first phase of our renovation of Vjecna vatra is soon to be completed and Europe House will open to the public in June, our work here is not finished. The facade of the building needs substantial work, and we will work together with authorities not only to restore the exterior of the building to its former glory, but also make it ready for a sustainable and greener future. By the way, it will be the first really green building in BiH.
Let me also re-assure you, that our vision for the city does not include PVC windows, as some concerned citizens have alleged. Our windows out there, you can test it yourself, are made out of the best Bosnian wood you can get.
Like this building, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU path is also a work in progress. We will continue to celebrate important milestones, while working together to ensure future successes.
After many years of hard work, difficulties and also some political crisis Bosnia and Herzegovina receiving Candidate Status is a recognition of your aspirations, of our common future, but also a call to action for the political leaders and institutions, to work on progress harder than before. In the end, “Hope is an act of desperate defiance against monstrous odds!” as Ivo Andric wrote.
Your elected leaders and many of them are here with us today, now need to be an example, to prove their determination, to show their commitment, and to lead Bosnia and Herzegovina into our community.
We have seen promising developments at the State level, and we are optimistic that the new Federation and RS governments will be partners on the European path. Progress in reforms is the joint responsibility of all elected officials, of government and opposition. Governing coalitions perhaps have a greater burden to carry, but a robust and accountable democracy cannot exist without a strong and constructive opposition.
Our expectation is that authorities will adopt new laws and reforms in line with European values and international standards. The European Union is your partner, and there is no better choice than to invest in your European future!
Stronger protection of human rights, and here is also about fundamental rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of media. This is super important also to keep up with the values of the EU. Also an effective fight against corruption, functional public institutions, a stronger economy, better healthcare, cleaner energy and air which is very important in the city like Sarajevo, more quality education – all these improvements are necessary for your European future as well as sorely wanted by the citizens of this country. And this is the ultimate goal because your citizens want all those improvements in these fields.
I also want to mention a specific group of citizens, whose voices are often not heard and not considered, but who hold the keys to the future of this country: young people. We have here with us today Young European Ambassadors, a group of around 20 young people are here with us, who share our beliefs that the future of this country is a just, peaceful and democratic society.
BiH is full of talented, inspirational people. I have met many in my years in this country. My hope is that your leaders will honour your energy and commitment by using your creativity and hard work to promote positive change.
We will continue to work tirelessly to help Bosnia and Herzegovina reach the goal of EU membership, and I really mean that. We will continue to this country’s biggest partner, investor and donor. We will remain true to the theme of this evening – ‘Oduvijek u srcu Evrope’ – BiH in the Heart of Europe.
Thank you again for joining us tonight. I will end this speech as I began, with a few last words about this fantastic building we are in today.
The building we are in has gone by many names. Experts here know the story of this place very well. It was once the Grand Hotel. It was for a long time the Landesbank Building. And most people have known it for decades as the Vječna vatra building. But in all this time, one thing it has never been is a home.
It is a home now. Our shared home in the centre of Sarajevo. Our European home that will only strengthen our ties as this country makes progress on its way to the EU.
Long live peace and happy Europe Day!