Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the opening of the Forum on Prosperity and Jobs in Bosnia and Herzegovina

26.05.2014 - Speech

-- 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 and gentlemen,

Your country has been hit hard by the flooding.

Those of us who are visiting from Germany saw with our own eyes yesterday what the television broadcasts were showing us last week: streets submerged, houses destroyed, harvests ruined. This flood is an unprecedented catastrophe. Everyone affected has my sympathy and the sympathy of my fellow Germans. 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. We will be releasing the money through the European Fund for Bosnia and Herzegovina which is already in place so that help can reach suffering small businesses as quickly and uncomplicatedly as possible.

Society in your country stands united at this difficult time – regardless of ethnic divisions and in spite of its bitter history. In the last few days, I have been hearing

– about people going out into the neighbourhoods ravaged by the water to pile up sand bags and build dams;

– about families opening up their medicine cabinets and pantries to share what little they have with other families in need;

– about companies throwing open their equipment sheds and letting people use anything that might serve to get the reconstruction under way.

I take courage from that – and it should give everyone here courage too!

The people of this country are setting the example for the test that is facing the political elites: the great reform that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs and that we will be talking about today, the reform that Europe will be flanking and supporting with our Compact for Growth.

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! Yes, just short of 20 years after the end of the war here, there is much that is not good yet. That was made unmistakeably clear over the last few months by some very vocal protests from the public. People are frustrated at stagnation, corruption, unemployment, lack of prospects. But the forces being unleashed by this flooding show what this society has got in it.

The people are ready to get to work. This country has a very highly skilled work force, it has well‑educated young people, and – I can assure you – it has the support of its European neighbours in our common desire for greater European integration.

What it needs now is a Government and an elite who prove themselves worthy of that potential, with effective institutions, good governance and an implacable determination to combat corruption.

Yes, this flooding and the immense damage it has caused make that mountain all the harder to climb.

Yes, this flooding is also causing old wounds to resurface: the traces of war with its deadly landmines. This makes it all the more important to me that we, the German Government, should provide an extra million euros for mine clearance. In this difficult hour, the horrors of the past should not be allowed to cast their shadow over the work of reconstruction!

Yes, this flooding is a turning point in your country’s history. The people want to get to work – not merely to rebuild the old but to create something new, something better. So let’s talk today about how we can use the Compact for Growth to that end.

I’m not being flippant about the reform process, and it’s not that I believe the way ahead to be simple and obvious.

Let me assure you, the fact that I stand before you today as the Foreign Minister of an economically strong country is not something I would take for granted. The current state of the German economy didn’t just drop out of the sky. Only ten years ago, Germany was the “sick man of Europe”. Back then, we had the highest unemployment in the EU; we were wrestling with hidebound structures and creaking social security systems. German businesses were struggling to be competitive. Ten years ago, it wasn’t Greece or Portugal that needed others to show solidarity – it was Germany!

I am aware of the enormity of the challenges you are facing, and I know how much more difficult the flooding disaster makes everything. But even if the situations aren’t directly comparable, one thing is as true for you now as it was for us then: “more of the same” will not do. What’s needed is courage, and a readiness to take uncomfortable decisions which will bear fruit further down the line.

And let me tell you – that courage is worthwhile! The reforms we implemented back then included some painful ones. But those reforms put us on the road to economic recovery, and today we are strong. There is no blueprint for success, obviously. But I am very glad to offer you political dialogue so that we can share our experience and provide support where possible.

Other countries have successfully carried out reform too. Only recently, other EU member states went through major structural reform. And those countries are now starting to reap the benefits. Portugal, for instance, has just become the second‑last euro‑area country to come out of recession.

Or take the three Baltic states. After 2008, they undertook a second round of very painful reforms. Over the last three years, their economies have seen by far the highest rate of growth in the EU. My feeling is that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina should also be given the chance to reap such rewards! After all, economic modernisation doesn’t need to be pursued because it sounds good in the political zeitgeist, or so that people who already earn a lot can earn even more. Economic modernisation is needed to ensure that prosperity ends up reaching everyone, and to safeguard the economic foundations that underpin systems of social welfare.

That’s the European vision of a social market economy, anyway. Europe stands for both things: a chance to reach for the stars, and a net to catch you if you fall. Economic freedom and social cohesion go to make up Europe as two sides of the same coin.

The European Union has clearly acknowledged that the whole of the Western Balkans has prospects of joining the EU. We stand by that.

Croatia has already joined, and accession negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia have begun. Albania too is getting ready to become a candidate country. What happened there? I believe that the progress made in Croatia and Serbia can be traced to the clear decisions taken by those societies that they wanted to pursue a future in Europe. What made it possible, in part, was that one or two political taboos were broken, and one or two national myths sacrificed, in favour of the European idea. I am grateful to EU Special Representative Peter Sorensen and his team for having brought about this opportunity for dialogue here today.

I would also like to thank the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which will be playing their part in the process and supporting it.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Germany are linked by a long history of friendship. Nearly a quarter of a million of your compatriots are living in Germany. They are well educated, well integrated and involved in their communities in many different ways. They are an asset for our country. And the effect of that can be seen in the form of economic ties, not only in Germany but here too.

Though I haven’t been in the country for more than a few hours, I have already noticed the impressive German skills, and professional training, in evidence among the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Around 80 German companies, both major firms and SMEs, have set themselves up here. They come here, as a rule, with long‑term plans to stay; they enjoy being here, invest more and stay loyal to the place. I have the opportunity tomorrow to visit the facilities of a German car parts supplier in Rajlovac.

We want to deepen that economic cooperation, and we want to talk about how Germany can do more to boost the upswing in the region. The Federal Chancellor and I will furthermore be talking to the heads of government, foreign ministers and economic affairs ministers of the Western Balkans when they come to visit us in Berlin on 28 August.

And while I’m on bilateral matters, there’s one particularly successful field of German-Bosnian cooperation that I can’t ignore – namely professional football. My heartfelt congratulations to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as their team goes to the World Cup for the first time ever! And it’s in the famous Macaranã stadium, of all places, that you’ll be playing your first game against Argentina.

And if anyone still needs more evidence of how close the ties between our two countries are, just tell them this: in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national squad, there are seven footballers who play in Germany’s Bundesliga! That alone is enough to explain why many people in Germany will be rooting for you in your World Cup debut.

I’d like to finish with a few words about foreign policy – not only because we are busy with a serious political crisis in our continent, but also because of the particular timing and the particular location of our meeting here today.

We are here in Sarajevo in 2014, exactly 100 years since the seminal catastrophe of Europe, the First World War, was sparked in this very city. In this of all years, a foreign‑affairs crisis is boiling over on the borders of the European Union, raising spectres we all thought had been laid to rest. The fear is that Europe could be divided once again, when everyone believed such divisions had been overcome a long time ago.

This makes it all the more important for those in foreign affairs to remember the summer of 1914 and take the lessons of history to heart. Diplomacy failed in 1914. A crisis that began with two gunshots fired in this city spread like wildfire. Within a few weeks, all diplomatic channels had been cut off and the only voice left was that of the guns. Diplomacy, ladies and gentlemen, may sometimes have to put up with people smirking. But it must never stop seeking ways to escape the spiral of violence – even, indeed especially, when escalation seems obligatory and inevitable. That lesson from 1914 remains supremely applicable in 2014!

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