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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood
Opening speech at the launching of the High Level Accession Dialogue with Bosnia and Herzegovina
High Level Accession Dialogue/Brussels
27 June 2012
Presidents, Your Excellencies, dear colleagues,
I am very pleased to welcome you on behalf of the European Commission here in our headquarters, the Berlaymont building, in the heart of Europe.
I am equally delighted that all of you have accepted to come here to engage in this High-level Dialogue on the accession process between the European Union and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Your presence here today is important for the aspirations of your citizens to join the European Union which have become even stronger as Croatia will join the European Union next year, Montenegro will open accession negotiations by the end of this week and Serbia has been granted candidate status. The European Union has repeatedly underlined that Bosnia and Herzegovina has a clear European Union perspective.
I must confess that, when I launched the idea of today's meeting with you, the political situation in your country was more stable than it is today. It was also with the understanding that the Sejdić-Finci ruling would be taken on board through your agreement to change the Constitution to that effect. Unfortunately, this did not happen. You adopted the State Aid Law and the Census Law, but you have not yet shown "credible efforts" on the remaining condition for the Stabilisation and Association Agreement to enter into force.
I regret very much that you missed the window of opportunity that the Council offered Bosnia and Herzegovina last year, when it indicated the minimum conditions for the entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and a possible European Union membership application. For the first time ever, the Council had fixed minimum conditions, and let me be frank; the bar has been set at a level which is within reach for your country.
Let me make three remarks about the accession process:
First, the road to European Union accession is long and challenging; challenging in political, economic and social terms. It requires the willingness and commitment of the political leaders and the Heads of Governments of a country. It requires a common vision between the political representatives inside the country and must therefore be based on an inclusive process, involving all the main political forces.
Second, many changes will be needed in your legal, economic and social system to make it compliant with the European Union requirements. The Structured Dialogue on Justice has given you a first insight of the European Union methodology. And the continued dialogue since 2008, in the framework of the Interim Agreement or the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, has highlighted the technical aspects of the accession process across all the various policy fields.
Third, it is these mechanisms and how well you prepare for them that will determine the speed of your country towards accession. The mechanism of the process involves also for your country the well-rehearsed steps leading to accession: It consists of the Questionnaire to which you will have to reply once you have submitted your membership application, your Position Papers on all intricate details of the negotiations and Draft European Union Position Papers on each point.
All of these are negotiated and discussed in the Accession Conferences where all Member States sit around the table facing your negotiators. The negotiators on your side need to be organised to answer all issues with all the fine-print. If Bosnia and Herzegovina has no common position on the Position Paper during these negotiations, there will simply not be any progress. After several years of going through the details of your accession, we will only sign an Accession Treaty when there is agreement on every point. In a nutshell: Without internal coordination you will not be able to start the process and complete the negotiations.
In my view, a successful accession process of Bosnia and Herzegovina essentially depends on confidence and mutual trust amongst the various communities in your country. Due to the decentralised structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina, compromises, coordinated legislative approaches and regular exchange of experts, based on mutual trust at all levels of government, will be indispensable.
Let me underline that a decentralised State system, as such, is not an obstacle to accession. We have different models of governance among the 27 Member States, none of which prevented successful accession negotiations or effective political participation in the European Union.
On the contrary, as we will hear from Ms Ana Terron, decentralisation is not an obstacle. However, it requires thorough coordination inside a country. And this is what is missing in Bosnia and Herzegovina today! Whether or not that requires changes to your Constitution or to the Constitutions of the Entities or other levels of government can be discussed at a later date.
Sometimes, though, I have the feeling, that the lack of an effective coordination mechanism is only the tip of the iceberg. What I mean is that in the Entities you want to have your own legislation where competences are clearly defined. And why not - provided that all laws transpose the relevant European Union legislation in a similar manner.
As a matter of principle, European Union law does not interfere in the choice of the form and the procedure by which Directives are transposed nor of the level of the internal structure of the Member States at which transposition takes place. However, regardless of the internal procedures adopted by a Member State for the transposition, including the delegation to local authorities or Federated entities, the Member State remains the sole answerable entity for the correct and timely implementation of a Directive. Therefore let me be very clear: the State remains the sole legal person answerable to the European Union.
I have invited you to this High Level Dialogue to start a process of explaining European Union accession in both political and technical terms. Today is a first step in a process to identify the best political and technical means to achieve this goal, with a particular focus on what is expected from Bosnia and Herzegovina when submitting a credible membership application.
European Union accession means above all acceding to the overarching legal order of the Union, the acquis. As you know, the European Union acquis is a highly developed legal framework, consisting of several thousands of pages of complex legislation.
All countries that wanted to accede to the Union in the past had to muster all their political, legal and administrative capacities at all levels to overcome the challenge of approximating to European Union directives, regulations, decisions and court judgements.
If this approximation process is not handled carefully, it might result in concrete problems for your enterprises, your farmers, your traders and your citizens.
However, successful approximation is required to modernise your economy and it will give you access to a highly developed legal order which energizes your enterprises, gives the best for your economy and protects your consumers. Only you can ensure that this perspective is fulfilled.