Welcome

Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Aspen South-East Europe Foreign Ministers' Conference

05.11.2014 - Speech

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Dear Colleagues,
Excellencies,
Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Together with my co-host Philip Hammond, I would like to welcome you to the sixth Aspen South-East Europe Foreign Ministers' Conference.

I am delighted that this has become a well-established format and I would like to thank the Aspen Institute and its director, Rüdiger Lentz, for their outstanding engagement!

Developments in South-East Europe have generally been very encouraging in the last year. After Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, countries of the Western Balkans have re-invigorated their efforts to see through reforms and move forward on their way to the European Union.

There is visible progress in the accession negotiations with Montenegro.

We saw the start of accession negotiations with Serbia.

Albania is now a candidate country.

The EU initialed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with Kosovo.

Germany welcomes these developments.

Let me say this very clearly: The Western Balkans are in the heart of Europe - not only culturally and geographically, but also politically. And the European perspective of the region, first spelled out in Thessaloniki in 2003, remains vital and real.

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In all these countries, the EU integration process has proven to be a critical tool, if not the main driver for true reform and for stability in the region.

Against this background, it is obvious that in Bosnia and Herzegovina something is amiss. When I spoke with citizens and political leaders in Sarajevo in May this year, I could really feel that people were upset; were frustrated about the political paralysis in the country.

In the past years, the EU has made persistent efforts to assist Bosnia and Herzegovina on the way forward. However, I am afraid we are at a standstill – and that has several reasons: ethnic entrenchment, combined with a cumbersome decision-making process and a lack of will to implement reforms.

As a consequence, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are left without a clear perspective – politically as well as economically.

We need to do something about that!

Today, therefore, my colleague Philip Hammond and I would like to propose to our partners in the EU and to Bosnia and Herzegovina to re-focus our policy agenda on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our aim is to get Bosnia and Herzegovina back on the reform track - a path that can eventually enable the country to become a member of the European Union.

The EU integration process is the key tool we have at hand.

What has worked well in other countries, should also work in Bosnia and Herzegovina! It is time to revive the stalled EU integration process of the country to unlock the incentives for change that the EU perspective holds.

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To achieve this, we believe that we must expand the current focus of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU integration agenda.

We must center our engagement with Bosnia and Herzegovina around a set of reforms that is broader than at present and that can bring about real and palpable change to citizens' lives. This reform agenda should then guide us through the next stages of the process.

At the stage we are in today, we are convinced that socio-economic reforms need to be an essential part of such an initial reform agenda.

Last February, citizens of Bosnia took to the streets – they spoke out and protested against the socio-economic situation.

I understand their dissatisfaction.

The EU reacted right away. In May, I went to Sarajevo and took part in the launch of the 'Compact for Growth', a compact initiated by the EU in order to work on a socio-economic reform agenda, bringing together Bosnian and international stakeholders, experts and citizen representatives.

There can be no doubt, however, that we need to go further: the institutional functionality of the country will inevitably have to be addressed as Bosnia moves forward toward EU integration.

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About a month ago, on October 12th, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina re-affirmed their democracy in nation-wide elections.

And now, the newly elected representatives and the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina –Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, and all others – are those who need to take reforms forward!

New governments need to be formed quickly, and they must focus on reinvigorating the reform process.

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On the path Philip and I are proposing today, we will ask for regional support! That’s why I am glad that our colleagues from Croatia and Serbia have joined us on this podium today – welcome back to Berlin, my friends!

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In my remarks, I have tried to show you the rationale behind our proposal.

Now, I would like to give the floor to my colleague Philip Hammond to give you the full design of our suggestions.

After that, our colleagues from Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as from Croatia and Serbia will give their inputs.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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