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Sarajevo, 18 February 2014
Bosnia-Herzegovina - EU: Deep disappointment on Sejdić-Finci implementation
Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle visited Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday and Tuesday to continue the efforts to help the political leaders in the country to find compromises needed to move Bosnia and Herzegovina forward on its European path. After completing another round of lengthy talks he addressed the media to inform them about the results. This is what Commissioner Füle said:
"Good morning. Prior to this meeting with Chairman Bevanda and Prime Ministers Nikšić and Cvijanović, I had an extremely constructive and insightful session at the EU Delegation with representatives of civil society organisations, including people who have been participating in the work of 'plenums' in Tuzla and Sarajevo. So my first remark is about civil society.
"It is clear that the political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina must become more responsive to the citizens' agenda – conditions for more jobs, more efficient justice and fair opportunities in life.
"I call on the politicians of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) not to ignore the voices of the citizens. There is an important space for citizens' engagement – they should be listened to – they should engage – they should be able to do so free from fear of violence, harassment, or intimidation. Indeed there should be no violence from any side – it is completely unacceptable.
"My second remark: the result of last night's meeting of the party leaders on implementation of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the 'Sejdić and Finci' case was so deeply disappointing.
"Implementation of this judgment is not a remote issue or virtual issue. It is an international obligation of Bosnia and Herzegovina that, following the will of the Member States, is now a key to progress on the EU path. It has real consequences. It means the full entry into force of your Stabilisation and Association Agreement. It means the possibility for Bosnia and Herzegovina to submit a credible application for EU membership. And that inevitably means more reform and improvements in the country and more investments. I want to address this myth that here in Bosnia and Herzegovina we were sort of involved in some kind of virtual issue. No, exactly the opposite - the issue has very clear consequences on the life of each and every citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Do not forget that since 2010, three formal initiatives had been tried, via the Bosnia and Herzegovina institutions, to resolve this matter. They had not met with success. It was right that we tried to resolve it, working with the political leaders, because we could leave no possible method aside.
"Throughout the process and again last night I saw some participants making their best efforts and I saw some others talking but still not making a sincere effort. I have therefore concluded my efforts on this issue, and I informed political leaders subsequently, and I will report this, actually I have already reported this to the High Representative/Vice President Catherine Ashton, and through her also to the Foreign Affairs Council. Next week I will personally report it to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. Now it is time again for the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina to take it forward.
"Bosnia and Herzegovina will remain, at least for the time being, in breach of its international commitments. It is a shame for the politicians, through inaction, to fail – because the rest of the region is moving forward towards the European Union, and because citizens are calling politicians to be accountable.
"My third remark is to underline that this is not the end of our engagement with Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens, I underlined that to the civil society representatives this morning. Just now with Chairman Bevanda and the two Prime Ministers, I briefed them on the three new initiatives for the benefit of the country, for the benefit of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"First, in the whole region, as we announced last October when we published the Enlargement Strategy, the European Commission is putting a focus on better economic governance. I will launch this in London next Monday and Bosnia and Herzegovina will be one of the first countries to benefit from this new approach.
"We will assist Bosnia and Herzegovina to prepare a National Economic Reform Programme. That will push forward reforms and actions to tackle this country's dysfunctional labour market, get better co-ordination on economic and fiscal policies and create a better environment for business.
"With the same aim, we will also propose a Competitiveness and Growth Programme to push forward the sectoral reforms – in, for example transport, telecoms and energy – that will enhance BiH's competitiveness, unlock investments, growth – and employment, which has a very special role in this new approach. The programme's implementation will also benefit from present and future IPA assistance. So this new IPA, with new money, will be connected with the priorities of this programme to address economic and social challenges in your country.
"Secondly, in that context, I proposed the formation of a joint EU-BiH working group to accelerate the implementation of EU funded projects in your country. We have 210 million Euro of projects on-going and we have almost 150 million Euro of projects which are yet to start, which are not yet contracted or programmed and we have to speed up these projects and we need to make sure that they address concerns in the economic and social areas.
"There should be very clear social and economic benefits produced for communities. More support for small and medium enterprises, more social inclusion programmes, faster processing of cases in courts, and more efficient use of taxpayers' money.
"And third and finally, we proposed to expand the Structured Dialogue on Justice to start also to tackle some of the elements – important for Bosnia and Herzegovina – of Chapter 23 of the EU acquis. Let me recall that Chapter 23 deals with the fundamental freedoms and judiciary, and particularly what we have in mind is the fight on anti-corruption. We intend to involve civil society fully in this. A meeting dedicated to these issues should take place very soon and I am now, together with my colleagues, preparing this meeting to take place early March here in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"I started this briefing with a reference to the brave people, those who in a peaceful way have decided to take a proactive approach in dealing with the many current issues Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing, so let me conclude my remarks by referring to them once again.
"Not only the Structured Dialogue, extended and re-launched, but also the economic governance and this working group to accelerate the use of IPA money should be used as the platforms for active interaction with civil society representatives. That would be the best contribution how to face your challenges in the most profound, in the most efficient way."