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A fresh start for Bosnia and Herzegovina

06.11.2014 - Interview

Joint article by German Foreign Ministers Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his British colleague Philip Hammond published by German daily newspaper "Frankfurter Rundschau" on 6 November 2014.

Joint article by German Foreign Ministers Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his British colleague Philip Hammond published by German daily newspaper "Frankfurter Rundschau" on 6 November 2014.

There is one country at the heart of Europe still beset by the terrible consequences of a war which ended two decades ago. Deeply entrenched ethnic divisions in Bosnia and Herzogovina have led to political stagnation and stymied much needed reform. The result has been economic and social malaise, which was only exacerbated by catastrophic flooding in the spring of this year. Last month the country’s citizens elected a new parliament. Its performance over the next four years will be crucial in determining their future.

The UK and Germany have already invested a great deal in Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last 20 years: our soldiers and police officers have taken part in NATO and EU missions to stabilise the country, and we have promoted the country’s economic development alongside our involvement at the political level. The fact that our efforts have not yet borne fruit is not a reason to give up and turn away.

On the contrary, we must redouble our efforts to help Bosnia and Herzogovina transform its fortunes.

What the country desperately needs is stability and economic prosperity coupled with functioning democratic and judicial institutions. Accomplishing this requires far-reaching reforms which have been delayed far too long. While history shows us that the prospect of EU accession can encourage countries to enact essential reforms, for Bosnia and Herzegovina, riven with ethnic political divisions, it has not been able to work its magic. A new approach is essential.

This evening we will be presenting our ideas for recasting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU accession process, when foreign ministers from the region gather at the British Embassy in Berlin for the Aspen Institute’s conference on South-Eastern Europe. These proposals primarily focus on those economic and social policies, as well as good governance and the rule of law, which will have the biggest impact on the lives of ordinary Bosnians and Herzegovinians: policies to deliver jobs and the rule of law, and to reduce corruption and criminality.

The first step we are seeking is for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political leaders to make a written commitment to do two things: first, to deliver 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 broad reform agenda to advance the country on its path to EU accession.

This approach is not about lowering the bar to EU membership. Difficult constitutional amendments, such as safeguarding the voting rights for all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Sejdic-Finci problem), will still need to be addressed. But what we are proposing is a step by step process of reform starting with a focus on genuine economic improvements and gradually increasing the functionality of state institutions – an approach that is closely bound up with progress on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path toward the EU.

Nor is this a return to the days of the international community imposing legislation on Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are making a proposal and an offer to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the politicians they have elected: if they enact the reforms then we will advocate for progress on the European path.

Germany and the United Kingdom are setting the ball rolling today; we are actively seeking the broad-based political support needed for success. We need our partners in the neighbouring states of Croatia and Serbia, as well as our partners in the EU and the USA to work alongside us. But above all, we are calling on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s politicians to adopt an approach that demonstrates leadership for all of the country, irrespective of ethnic interests.

Bosnia and Herzegovina needs a vision for the future that matches its status as a country at the heart of Europe. Its people deserve the rule of law, low crime rates, good public services, jobs and prosperity just as much as the citizens of neighbouring European states. Today we are offering the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina a way forward. We sincerely hope they will grasp it.

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