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Bosnia & Herzegovina – a new strategic approach

(The London Post – PR): – The Foreign Secretary co-launched a UK-German initiative on Bosnia and Herzegovina in Berlin, with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier.

Speaking at the Aspen Institute conference, in Berlin on 5 November, the Foreign Secretary said:

Thank you Frank-Walter. I am delighted to be here today. I thank the German Auswartiges Amt for facilitating, the Ambassador for hosting us and the Aspen Institute for organising this afternoon. Our meeting today is a potential turning point for Bosnia and Herzegovina. So I am delighted Foreign Minister Lagumdzija is here to represent his country. As Frank-Walter said, regional support is vital. I thank Foreign Minister Pusić for her important work on this issue, and Foreign Minister Dacic for his valuable cooperation. I am delighted you could join us.

Frank-Walter has set out why urgent change is needed to achieve that long-term goal. I share his assessment. Put simply, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been waiting too long to see real progress on the real issues that matter to them: jobs; education and healthcare; crime; the rule of law and justice; and tackling corruption. It is nearly twenty years since war ended.

And I agree with Frank-Walter that it is high time that Bosnia and Herzegovina tasted the fruits of peace. The prospect of EU accession should be a spur to delivering the reform the country needs. But we have to face the facts: it hasn’t yet had the desired effect. Something in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as Frank-Walter says, is amiss.

And there’s a risk that some parties might use debate over long-running and important political and constitutional questions to slow progress on urgent socio-economic reform. After the bleakness and negativity of the election campaign, we have been encouraged by the more positive focus of the parties during coalition negotiations. We welcome the sense of urgency to form governments at all levels. And we welcome the consensus that Bosnia and Herzegovina should move quickly forward on its European path. We welcome too the focus on broader socio-economic reforms, alongside the long-running and important political and constitutional questions.

Our initiative is about reinforcing and supporting these efforts. We hope to see a broad-based government with a strong majority, able to get these things done.

So what is it that we are proposing?

First of all, we recognise that the economic and social challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina mean that we need to broaden the reform agenda. Addressing the issue of minority rights and implementing the co-ordination mechanism are still important and are a pre-requisite for accession to the EU. But there are other priorities too. Stabilising and stimulating the economy. Creating jobs, especially for young people. Strengthening the rule of law. Reducing bureaucracy and cutting the costs of government.

And we believe that, if the new government is able to demonstrate a willingness and an ability to make progress on the broader reform agenda, then we should recognise and reward that progress through matched progress on the path to the EU. The more that is delivered, the more progress down that path can be achieved. Britain and Germany want to see progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina moved up the EU agenda. We want to work with you to ensure progress. And we are prepared to act as cheerleaders for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU candidacy within the EU once that progress is made.

So we will be recommending to our EU partners that we should first ask the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to sign up to a twofold written re-commitment.

• First, to institutional reforms at all levels of the State, designed to make it more functional and able to work effectively with the EU; and

• Secondly to agree with the EU a roadmap for a broader reform agenda to advance Bosnia and Herzegovina on its EU accession path, including implementation of the Copenhagen political and economic criteria.

The reforms we are proposing are closely linked to the Compact for Growth and Jobs that was published earlier this year. Once the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina have signed up, we should bring the long-delayed Stabilisation and Association Agreement into force. Then we will need to see concrete steps to deliver that roadmap. Improving the functionality and efficiency of government. Implementing economic reforms. Once that is under way, we would support the submission of an application for EU membership. And once solid progress on delivering that agenda is made, then we would support the granting of candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Allowing it to catch up with other countries in the region, who have been moving further and faster towards the EU. Unlocking new opportunities for trade, assistance and regional co-operation. And bringing huge, long-term benefits for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s economy, its infrastructure, its public services and, most importantly, its people.

So that’s the package: we, Britain and Germany, will work with Bosnia and Herzegovina on a plan to deliver reform. And once that plan is delivered, we will advocate for Bosnia and Herzegovina with our EU colleagues to ensure Bosnia and Herzegovina’s candidacy gets back on track. This is not about changing or reducing the conditionality of EU membership. There can be no exceptions. And the difficult issues of constitutional change cannot be avoided.

But it is about taking a pragmatic and flexible approach to the sequencing of reforms, aligning priorities more closely with the most urgent needs of the country, and being prepared to reward progress where we see it being made. At the same time, we will be prepared to be tougher should political leaders once again allow themselves to get stuck in the mud of ethnic bickering. We, Britain and Germany, the EU, have invested too much to allow Bosnia and Herzegovina to slide backwards. And we remain as committed as ever to our legal obligations to defend territorial integrity and to ensure a safe and secure environment.

What we are presenting today is a framework for a new strategic approach. We have more work to do with our European partners to flesh out the detail of the strategy, and to secure EU agreement to it. But we will put our weight behind it. And we want to use this initiative to deliver a new international unity and consensus in the approach to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We hope these steps will encourage and empower the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to put behind them the years of wrangling and stagnation. To make the most of this pivotal moment. To seize the opportunity that we are offering. And to deliver real change. Giving hope to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And bringing increased stability to the wider region.

Thank you.

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