Speech by Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark at Europe Day 2018 Reception

Over 500 guests, representatives of the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, international community, NGOs, cultural associations and media, were welcomed at the reception on the occasion of Europe Day on 9 May at Dom mladih (Youth House) “Skenderija” in Sarajevo.

To mark 2018 the European Year of Cultural Heritage, photos illustrating landmarks of the EUMS residing in BiH together with the sound of their popular songs were presented on the video wall throughout the evening.

Performance by Mostar Rock School Blues Band, whose musicians are known to be extremely active for using music to connect young people in BiH, contributed to the success of the evening.

Europe Day celebrations will continue throughout the month of May with numerous cultural and informative events taking place across the country.

Welcoming speech of Head of the EU Delegation and EU Special Representative in BiH Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark

Excellencies, Ministers, Colleagues, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen

Allow me to share a few personal observations after being just over three years in this beautiful country. For the past three years I have literally met on behalf of the European Union, which I represent here together with the Member States that that are all standing here on stage with me tonight I met, I think,  with thousands of citizens across this country here in: Sarajevo, in Banja Luka, in Mostar, Tuzla, Bijeljina, Brčko, Foča, Bihać, Gradiška, Zvornik, Gračanica, Vitez, Prnjavor, Zenica, Trebinje, Kakanj, Petrovo, Višegrad… and many other cities and villages.

Talking with people from all walks of life, entrepreneurs, farmers, students, clerks, activists, workers, high school and university students, YouTube stars, writers, musicians, theatre directors, movie directors  – does offer an opportunity not only to see and know more about this beautiful country but also to sense the pulse of people here, their hopes and frustrations, their energy and disappointments, their joys and fears.

It may surprise some of you to hear that there is much hope, constructive hard working energy and even joy in BiH. There are many more positive features than what is mentioned in the endless cynical chatter of political elites, analysts and pundits, who usually paint a very negative picture of society in BiH and this negative picture tends to dominate the narrative.

At times it may even seem as if people in this country live in a much healthier reality than someone would expect and – maybe even – would like them to. With everyday communications, free movement, friendships, trade and other relations citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina show that they want to live together in the same country.   Most people in this country really do not seem to care much about politics. Yet it is the same people who elect the parties and the leaders.  And it is the people of this country who must hold their leaders to account not us, the European Union, or other members of the international community

Every day one can see how the diversity of BiH is not an obstacle but an advantage. In fact, statistics show clearly that local communities in BiH with high levels of diversity have about 20 percent higher average incomes, higher standards of living.

I believe it is also a myth that people in this country do not want to assist each other. For example, during the catastrophic floods and landslides four years ago people from all walks of life, from different ethnic groups, from different parts of the country, from different communities rushed to those in need even when they had no idea who they were helping.  What they did, what they followed is called SOLIDARITY. SOLIDARNOST – as you say here. This is a term well known to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, who was here a few weeks ago and experienced the power of the people in Poland through the Solidarnost movement in the 1980s.  Do you know what the message from him was to your political leaders? Simply this, work together and find common solutions you can all live with.

We would very much like to see the political elite of this country show the maturity and the solidarity their citizens are showing us every day. Political leaders should do so not only because it is morally right, but because it is useful and practical. It may even pay off when there is time for elections, rather than perhaps seeking different forms of personal enrichment instead. By enhancing connections and relations the economy is boosted, people feel safer and are more involved. They work harder and contribute more to society.

This, in short, is what the European Union is all about.

We are a union of countries, nations, cultures – and citizens. A union where we strive to show solidarity with each other in case of need, where we make daily compromises in order to live better together. We are a union where we have agreed to pool our resources and strengths but also to show mutual respect for our common environment. We are union where we can face global challenges that go beyond the realm of the traditional nation states, such as climate change or overall environmental degradation, or common threats such as organised crime and terrorism.

We are not utopia or even close to a paradise but the European Union is the most successful example of co-habitation between nations and peoples of great diversity on the European continent.

The history of the European Union is a story of overcoming differences through hard negotiations and agreements where differences and well proven interests are respected, yet everyone understands that compromise is necessary and no one will ever achieve everything they would like to have.

And that is why the hard work put in by hundreds of civil servants but also representatives of civil society, many experts and, yes, even some political leaders to reply to the European Commission’s thousands of questions is an important step on this country’s path towards integration and eventual membership in the European Union. It was, as Commissioner Hahn likes to say, a stress test and an exercise in coordination and compromise for the entire country.

Much more of such coordination and compromise will be necessary for BiH to progress further on the EU path. And leaders at all levels from the highest to senior and junior civil servants will have to improve their ability to work together to provide common answers on a daily basis.  But there is no reason why it cannot happen.  BiH is not so different from other countries, although the country may be unique. We have Member States with different domestic systems and constitutions. But they have all agreed to adopt the common EU standards at a technical and political level.  And the neighbouring countries in the Western Balkans, in particular Serbia and Montenegro but also more recently Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are busy adjusting their systems to EU standards.

Working together with your neighbours is another way to reinforce and strengthen European integration. That is why the European Commission presented a common strategy for the whole region of the Western Balkans earlier this year. And that is way all six Western Balkan countries will meet with the 28 current EU Member States in Sofia end of next week for a first regional EU-Western Balkans summit since 2003, that is in fifteen years.

There is an unprecedented opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina to become an official candidate for EU membership in the near future.  But it will require an enlightened form of political leadership where citizens interests are put first not last. Where more and better jobs, good infrastructure, proper health care and a decent future for the next generation are overriding priorities.

But it also requires a place where citizens’ rights and their dignity are respected including speakers’ rights. The feeling of being respected and being able to contribute to a better future for your country is essential for any successful society. If people no longer feel their views and rights are respected they will resign and maybe even leave the country.

So my message this evening to the political elite of this country is: Do not take away from your people their dignity. Do not allow them to leave their homeland, families and friends in order seek dignity and work elsewhere in European countries. They will be much more productive and happier if they can find their future here.

You must give your people something bigger and deeper than patriotism, nationalism, something more constructive than the endless political wrangles if you want them to stay here and contribute to economy, sports, culture, politics even and the future of the country. Future membership of the European Union is a great opportunity but you must inspire your voters to make the necessary changes, to understand why sometimes difficult reforms are necessary and will, in fact, have a positive longer term effect.  You must lead and also impress us, the European Union, our institutions and our Member States that Bosnia and Herzegovina is determined to take its rightful place as a future member of the European Union.

Sretan vam Dan Evrope! Happy Europe Day!