Johannes HAHN - European Neighbourhood policy and Enlargement Negotiation
Opening speech at the European Policy Centre
Dear Minister, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentleman,
I am very happy to speak to you at this event and I am also proud that Styria has initiated this event at a very timely moment. As you well know Bosnia and Herzegovina is getting more and more in the focus of the European agenda. For good reasons I think, we have a new state presidency, soon hopefully a new government and not to forget next year we will commemorate 20 years of Srebrenica. The tragic legacy of this recent history still continues to weigh on the perception, actions and relations in the country. The Dayton peace agreement, initialled in Dayton (US) in November and later on signed in Paris in December 1995, ended the conflict and enabled the country and its citizens to start rebuilding, with international support, in a peaceful and stable manner. However, 20 years after Dayton, we see that the country is still in a stalemate. As I already said during my hearing in the European Parliament, we need to shift from the Dayton logic to the Brussels logic which is not about maintaining the dissatisfactory status quo but to trigger economic results and prosperity for the citizens in the country.
The central question will be: How can the EU help the country become a state who is able to reap the enormous potential of an EU integration process for its citizens?
The European Union, our Union, was awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace prize for "over six decades of having contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe". I think this experience we need to bring in our relations with our closest neighbours, notably in the Western Balkan countries.
What has been possible to achieve over the past 60 years at the level of a continent, should – I would even say: must - be possible at the level of a country, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Ladies and gentleman,
Bosnia and Herzegovina stands today at cross-roads. Various attempts and initiatives over the past years have tried to unlock the damaging political stalemate and enable the country to move forward, beyond ending the war towards building the peace. The successes of these attempts have been limited. The lack of vision and agreement between the various political leaders in the country, the complexity of the institutional set up and the socio-economic problems that plague the country have hampered its development. The country is a potential candidate country but remains unable to advance while other countries in the region make decisive steps ahead.
This does not have to remain like that and I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that the conditions for a new momentum exist:
· a new situation following the October elections in the country and the ongoing constitution of the new government;
· a new European Commission with a strong focus on the economic measures that need to be carried out not only within the EU but also for EU-aspiring countries
· a new initiative coming from some EU member states that is now being discussed at the EU level
We need to build on this now and work, together with our interlocutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina to assist them overcoming the legacy of the past.
Dayton should not be the end of the story, the insurmountable horizon of the country, but its beginning! There is a need to move on, to move from the end of a war 19 years ago towards winning of the peace and building together, with EU support, a prosperous future for all Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens regardless of their ethnicity. This is ultimately what the citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina overwhelmingly want in order to overcome a difficult socio-economic situation.
And the facts speak for themselves here:
· Bosnia and Herzegovina has the highest rate of youth unemployment in Europe (59 percent of the active population aged 15-24);
· It has the second-highest rate of overall unemployment in Europe (28 percent of the labour force);
· It has also the lowest ranking among European countries on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business indicators and one of the lowest rankings of European countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index.
There are therefore strong expectations from its citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity, that the elected political leaders now finally deliver on their commitments. The social unrest of February 2014 that has shaken the country has shown that its citizens demands are first and foremost related to the basic needs of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian citizens did not demonstrate over the share of legal competencies between the various levels of the complex institutional set up of the country. Bosnian citizens did not demonstrate either about ethnic quotas in the local, entity or state governments. What they demonstrated about was jobs, better education for their children and better living conditions for them as a whole. And they shall hold accountable their leaders by this token, by their capacity to meet their socio-economic demands as well as by undertaking all necessary reforms to the entrenchment of the rule of law throughout the country, thus taking more concrete steps towards the EU.
Ladies and gentleman,
The EU has heard the Bosnian citizens message, acted accordingly and will continue assisting the country delivering on the necessary steps. The Compact for Growth, agreed following widespread consultations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and published last July is one of the ways forward. It sets out priority measures for consideration by new governments in order to begin revitalising the economy and to spur investment and jobs. We have also broadened earlier this year the Structured Dialogue on Justice to additional areas, including anti-discrimination and particularly anti-corruption. This specifically remains a complex cross-cutting priority that negatively affects the life of citizens and has to be addressed with proper policies, measures and the adequate political will.
We also aim at improving the country's record of using our financial support through IPA. This is something I will put a particular emphasis on. Let's not forget that the EU and other major donors are key for the economic and budgetary stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are 3 out of 20 donors, the EBRD, the EU and EIB, who make a considerable budgetary contribution. We should therefore seek to reunite all donors to speak with one voice and send a clear message to the political and institutional leaders of the country at all levels about what we expect from them.
Last but not least, we have shown our solidarity with the country following the dramatic floods of last May and, in addition to civil protection measures, we committed extensive financial assistance, close to 90M€ in grants, for recovery and reconstruction. And we organised together with France and Slovenia a successful Donors' Conference in July for Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to better cope with the damages caused by the floods.
At the same time, regarding the way forward, in addition to the field work on various sectors in the country as just mentioned, I intend to work at the political level, together with the EU High Representative and Vice president of the Commission, Ms Mogherini by engaging the political leaders and institutions of the country. At the last Foreign Affairs' Council on 17 November we have discussed initial ideas for unlocking Bosnia and Herzegovina's EU path. This included ideas put forward by the United Kingdom and Germany as well as other EU member states over the past months. The discussion will continue over the next weeks against the background of the government formation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Tomorrow the HRVP and I will be travelling to Sarajevo to meet on Friday with the newly elected members of the Presidency, a broad range of political leaders as well as with Civil society and business community representatives. This will be the first such joint visit since the new Commission has started its mandate and bears witness of our strong commitment to see the country moving forward. We will listen and we will urge them to act, starting by quickly setting up the new government. The EU is ready to look with fresh new eyes at the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and how we could consider potential next steps, if there was a serious response from the side of the political leaders and institutions of the country.
There is a simple formula in enlargement policy: The EU delivers when the EU-aspiring countries deliver. We have seen this for Bosnia and Herzegovina neighbours: Croatia is already a Member State, Serbia and Montenegro are advancing towards the EU. The Western Balkan countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina have the clear perspective of becoming EU Member States, but they can only join when they are ready and meet the necessary criteria. For Bosnia and Herzegovina this means, that the incoming authorities and political leaders have to prove that they are serious and set the right priorities to progress toward the European Union.
Only the authorities can deliver and they have a huge responsibility to meet their constituents' expectations for a better life. This will require a common vision for their country, courage to reach difficult agreements on the way forward as well as a strong commitment to back up words with deeds. A new momentum is possible. Elected leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina need to seize this historic opportunity and decisively act on creating the conditions for a better future for their citizens. This should be their priority and I intend to spare no effort in supporting them in this endeavour. Thank you.