Foreign Minister Steinmeier visited Bosnia and Herzegovina from 26 to 27 May for talks. In Sarajevo he met representatives from Government and civil society. During his visit, the German Foreign Minister expressed the continued intensive commitment of both Germany and the EU to ensuring positive developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Foreign Minister Steinmeier pledged seven million euros of assistance for victims of the disastrous flooding.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s first meeting in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo on Monday (26 May) was with the EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Peter Sørensen. Sørensen is also Head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia, one of the biggest EU Delegations worldwide. In his talks with Sørensen, Steinmeier focused on Bosnia’s moves towards the EU.
Five million euros of reconstruction assistance
The subsequent Forum on Prosperity and Jobs in Bosnia and Herzegovina began with a minute of silence for the victims of the disastrous flooding in the country. Continuous heavy rains have flooded whole swathes of land in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Electricity and drinking water supplies have been interrupted and bridges destroyed, so that some villages are completely cut off. Mines from the war in Bosnia that have been washed up by the flood waters pose an additional danger.
In his speech, Foreign Minister Steinmeier called the flooding an “unprecedented disaster”. As a first step, the Federal Government had already made one million euros of emergency aid available to the Federal Agency for Technical Relief and humanitarian agencies last week. Now the Foreign Minister announced further support for the Bosnian population:
I can say to all of you who are looking despairingly at your ruined homes and are contemplating the exhausting reconstruction process with concern: rest assured that Germany will stand by you in these difficult times! I am pleased to be able to tell you today that the German Government has agreed to provide five million euros in emergency aid.
The money is intended to go to individuals and small businesses in particular, to help with the reconstruction of destroyed homes and companies. Moreover, the German Government would make an additional one million euros available for the removal of mines and dangerous munitions from the war in Bosnia that have been washed up, said Steinmeier. The Federal Foreign Office has been engaged in humanitarian demining efforts in Bosnia since 1997. Therefore Germany is making a total of nearly 7 million euros available for the victims of the disastrous flooding.
New EU-Initiative for economic reform – Compact for Growth
Nonetheless, the flood had also shown that Bosnian society had grown closer in recent days, despite dividing lines between ethnic groups, the Foreign Minister continued. The people had shown how to accomplish something which the political elites still had to do to prove their mettle – undertake a great reform. This was something which the European Union wanted to guide and support with the so-called Compact for Growth, said the Foreign Minister, emphasising:
I call on the political and business leaders of this country to look at the people, they are standing together and tackling things in a courageous manner at this crucial time – draw on this strength and solidarity when you undertake your task of reform!
Since the popular protests of February 2014 about the poor economic situation in the country, the EU has been pursuing a new initiative vis-à-vis Bosnia and Herzegovina. The key element of this new approach is the Compact for Growth, with which the EU wants to help Bosnia and Herzegovina draw up and implement economic reform programmes. Furthermore, a dialogue on justice is to provide the framework for discussing and tackling corruption.
Time for courageous reforms
Alongside the flood disaster, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s need to reform was also a key topic during the Foreign Minister’s talks with representatives of the Bosnian Government. In the joint press conference with his counterpart Zlatko Lagumdžija, Foreign Minister Steinmeier first gave his thanks for the “warm welcome in this beautiful European city of Sarajevo.” Nonetheless, according to Steinmeier one did notice that certain neighbouring countries had made faster progress towards Europe – in order to “catch up” courageous reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina were urgently needed, he said.
The German Foreign Minister and the Federal Chancellor were therefore hosting a large conference on the Western Balkans on 28 August, which neighbouring states will also attend and which will address the whole region’s journey towards Europe. This also highlighted Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European prospects.
On Monday afternoon, Steinmeier also met the Chairman of the Council of Ministers and the country’s Presidency, made up of one member of each of the three constituent ethnic groups: These are currently the Bosniak Bakir Izetbegović and the Bosnian Croat Željko Komšić from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serb Nebojša Radmanović from the Republika Srpska.
Meeting with business and civil society
After he had the chance on Monday evening to talk to some helpers from the Federal Agency for Technical Relief who are working in the flooded region in the north of Bosnia, on Tuesday (27 May) Foreign Minister Steinmeier met representatives of Bosnian civil society for a working breakfast. With them, Steinmeier discussed the country’s future and its reform potential, as well as the role of the international community.
Afterwards the Foreign Minister visited the German automotive parts supplier Veritas, which has operated a plant in a Sarajevo suburb since 2011. The plant supplies the German car makers VW, Daimler and BMW and is regarded as a successful instance of German investment in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Foreign Minister was welcomed by Horst Eisenacher, German CEO of Veritas, and Ervin Berbic, Factory Manager. The two men then gave Steinmeier a tour of the large factory workshop and explained how the production of automobile parts took place there. Political and administrative reform and an effective campaign against corruption in the country will nonetheless be crucial for further German investment, as Steinmeier pointed out during his visit.
-- Translation of advance text -- Mr Chairman of the Presidency, Mr Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Ambassador Sorensen, High Representative, Ladies…