Op-ed by all EU ambassadors accredited to BiH, EUFOR commander and Head of the EU Delegation to BiH /EU Special Representative in BiH
It’s been three weeks since the reality of the coronavirus pandemic caught up with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It feels like it has been a year!
Fighting Invisible Enemy in Solidarity
Although the EU is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s largest trading partner and its largest donor, our relationship is not based exclusively on mutual economic advantage or even on geography or culture. It is based on the fundamental principle of solidarity that brought the people of Europe together in the years after the Second World War. That is the spirit in which we are working with the people and authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina today. We will never abandon this principle: without solidarity, we cannot succeed in our efforts to defeat the virus! Countries across the world, including those in Europe, have introduced quarantine measures and travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus. This however does not mean that they have abandoned mutual assistance. Exports of medical equipment from the EU have not been suspended: they are continuing, subject to authorisation by member states. BiH has also been invited to join, together with the Western Balkans neighbours, the Joint Procurement Agreement for urgent medical equipment together with the EU Member States. Swift steps are now needed to finalize this process.
We are also jointly working to facilitate transportation of goods across borders, inside the region and with the EU. We hope that all countries in the region will join BiH in endorsing the green lane initiative by Transport Community and the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). It was designed to speed up the delivery of essential goods to the region, including BiH. Another ‘solidarity mechanism’ is the Union Civil Protection Mechanism that has just been activated to provide BiH through member state resources, with in-kind assistance.
We are in daily contact with the BiH authorities and actively coordinate with the UN, World Health Organization, international financial agencies and EUFOR.
Our single objective is to get tangible assistance directly to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina as quickly as possible.
This has been on our mind for the past three weeks as we raced against time to help purchase the most urgent medical equipment for BiH. For this purpose, last week EU Ambassador Sattler signed the first part of the €7 million worth financial package with UNDP. Deliveries are already underway: 7500 tests have been distributed, and 15000 face shields for medical workers will be delivered by the end of the week. The first 40 respirators will arrive in April and the rest will be delivered in May.
Saving Jobs too
Apart from immediate health issues, we are acutely aware of how this situation is difficult for the economy of BiH in general and small businesses in particular. The EU is mobilizing over €410 million in assistance to the Western Balkans for COVID-19 response; the financial assistance to BiH will be ramped up to €80.5 million to help it tackle the effects of the virus both in terms of immediate medical needs and socio-economic recovery.
Personal Responsibility: #OstaniKući
Meanwhile, our EU family in BiH joined the campaign appealing to the citizens to stay home to protect the most affected and to help “flatten the curve”. This is basically about slowing down the virus to allow this society to tackle it without overburdening medical professionals and causing the collapse of the public health system.
Respect for Human and Democratic Rights
While we support necessary actions of authorities in BiH in tackling this crisis, it is of the utmost importance to maintain the right balance between the preventive measures and the respect for human and democratic rights of all citizens. In this regard, it is particularly important to ensure that the rights and needs of the vulnerable groups are fully respected and addressed in light of the current situation.
In this together
We in Europe – all of Europe – have been hit hard by this virus and we will beat it together. We will beat it by drawing on European values – the values of cooperation, transparency and solidarity. Also common sense. In the midst of this crisis – when solidarity is needed more than ever – the EU will maintain its commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Since mid-March, we and our staff have been working from home. By home, we mean home in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is our home too and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s home is in Europe.
We are in this together and we will win this together!