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Madam First Deputy Speaker,
Mr Second Deputy Speaker,
Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to this distinguished chamber today.
It is less than a year since my last visit to Sarajevo in May 2014. Your country was battling dramatic flooding at the time. Whole tracts of land were flooded, bridges had been destroyed, and villages were cut off from the outside world.
What particularly impressed me at the time was the determination with which Bosnian society joined forces and tackled reconstruction. You overcame the disaster together.
The same determination can also help your country make significant progress as regards Europe.
Much has changed since my last visit. Back then, your country’s path to Europe seemed to be blocked. Despite various efforts, you were not moving any closer towards the European Union.
But since then, the outlook for Bosnia and Herzegovina has improved significantly and a door has been opened. The necessary socio-economic reforms were defined in the Compact for Growth and Jobs – reforms that policymakers must now undertake following the elections in October. And at the initiative of Great Britain and Germany, the EU revised the requirements for your country’s alignment with the EU in December. I ask you to seize this opportunity. Use this open door and help Bosnia and Herzegovina move closer to Europe!
During last year’s protests, the people in your country showed what matters to them. They want to overcome the standstill. They want policymakers to put a stop to petty wrangling over competencies. Like people everywhere in Europe, they want the socio-economic problems that have a direct impact on their day-to-day lives to be tackled. They want hope for the future to take the place of corruption, unemployment and a lack of opportunities.
We support the prospect of EU accession for Bosnia and Herzegovina. With the restructuring of the process for moving closer to the EU that was agreed, in Brussels, we want to help you concentrate on the things that are currently most important for your country and its people so that you can look to the future and work towards it and so that old reflexes from a conflict-ridden past can be overcome.
We, the EU and its member states, stand ready to provide help and support. But only Bosnia and Herzegovina can actually walk that road towards the EU; the will and the determination to enact reforms need to come from its own society and political sphere. The responsibility lies in your hands, in the hands of this country’s politicians!
The first steps have already been taken. A voluntary commitment to undertake reforms has been proposed. Since the elections, progress has been made as regards establishing new institutions, while established institutions are demonstrating great pragmatism and a will to act. We now hope that all political forces – in Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Mostar – will reach consensus on a joint, binding agreement on this basis for the work to be undertaken in the coming years.
The Compact for Growth and Jobs, which I co-launched with representatives of your country, the European Union and the international community here in Sarajevo last May, provides a roadmap for the next reforms. I am pleased to hear that, following intense debate, concrete proposals have been made as regards reforms on labour market policy, social security systems and improving the investment climate.
I can only encourage you to implement these proposals with determination and resolve. As members of parliament, you received a mandate from the people just a few months ago to work on answers to the pressing questions affecting their future.
From my own experience, I can say that these endeavours are worth the effort. Twenty years ago, Germany was still the “sick man of Europe”. It took a major political effort by the German Government at the time – an effort that compelled many of us to break new ground – to put Germany back on the path to growth and to create jobs. Many countries in the European Union are currently undergoing a similarly painful process, and have already made significant progress. It is obvious that this involves abandoning old ways of thinking. But it is worthwhile spearheading this movement and working on a prosperous future in Europe for Bosnia and Herzegovina!
I have gained the impression that your country fundamentally offers the ideal qualifications. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not just at the heart of Europe. As I learned during my last visit, German companies in Bosnia and Herzegovina value local staff highly because of their good training and high level of motivation. I urge you to make use of this capital!
At the conference on the Western Balkans in Berlin last summer, the countries of the Western Balkans opened a new chapter as regards regional cooperation.
Hardly any other region in Europe has as many countries in such a condensed area as the Western Balkans. It therefore makes complete sense that you have agreed to make connectivity a priority in your regional cooperation. The entire region will benefit from the expansion of transport networks and energy grids and their being linked to European networks. Closer links between young people in the Western Balkans and between academic institutions can lend new impetus to integration in the region. We are happy to provide guidance and active support on this process so you can reap the first rewards by the follow-up conference in Vienna in August 2015.
The train to the European Union is moving – and we hope that Bosnia and Herzegovina will jump on. There is a real prospect of EU candidacy for your country – and that is no small prize. It means the prospect of political and economic stability, which is extremely valuable in unsettled times like these.
If you do your part, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement could enter into force very soon, thus starting a new chapter in cooperation between the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I urge you to make use of this opportunity, as so many countries in your region have already done. The EU has reached out to you again. It is up to you, the representatives of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to accept this offer and to ensure your country’s future in Europe through your courage and your will to shape the future.
The German Government stands ready to support you.
Thank you very much.