Remarks by the EEAS Deputy Secretary General Charles Fries on the occasion of the Exercise EUFOR Quick Response 2021 Distinguished Visitors Day

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you to the Operation Commander General Houdet and the Force Commander General Platzer for hosting me in Camp Butmir. I am very pleased to visit it for the first time today on the occasion of the Exercise EUFOR Quick Response 2021.

I am in Sarajevo to convey three messages on behalf of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr Borrell.

First, a message of appreciation to Operation Althea, its leadership and all its troops.

More than 25 years have passed since the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed in Paris in 1995. EUFOR ALTHEA took over from NATO in 2004.

Today, ALTHEA is the longest military operation under the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. It is the EU’s only land operation with an executive mandate. It is unique because it is based on a cooperation with NATO under the Berlin Plus arrangement. It is one of the success stories of EU-NATO cooperation.

Since 2004, ALTHEA has been responsible for supporting the law enforcement agencies and the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina and for maintaining a safe and secure environment in the country. It has sustained its capacity to deploy by land and by air, to respond to emergency situations. And it has maintained its capacity to call for a vast and robust reserve at short notice, if required.

I would like to commend EU Member States but also our partner countries for their commitment and long-standing contribution to this operation, in particular Turkey but also Switzerland, Albania and North Macedonia as well as Chile.

Throughout the past years, ALTHEA has steadily supported local authorities across the country. As a result, Bosnia and Herzegovina has progressed from a security consumer to a security provider.

Through its Multinational Battalion, ALTHEA continues to plan and conduct regular collective training with the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

ALTHEA has also offered expertise and support to help demining and the disposal of significant stockpiles of dangerous weapons, ammunition and explosives. We all want to accelerate the demining process. High Representative Borrell will soon propose to EU Member States to support further the Demining Battalion of the Armed Forces through the delivery of special equipment, ambulances and vehicles under the new European Peace Facility.

The exercise EUFOR Quick Response 2021 is a practical illustration of our close cooperation with the law enforcement agencies and the Armed Forces.

This year, the exercise took place in different parts of the country, using the scenario of a natural disaster (earthquake) to test ALTHEA’s capacity to assist the population in exceptional circumstances.

This scenario is a good one: ALTHEA offered assistance during the major floods in 2014 –then, for those who remember, EUFOR’s reserve forces were present in the country for our annual exercise. And indeed, EUFOR Althea provided immediate assistance to the population. The exercise turned into reality.

I will let the Operation Commander share his views about the lessons from this edition.

But on behalf of the High Representative, let me commend all the troops who contributed to it, including our Bosnian partners.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is regularly invited by the EU to contribute to our missions and operations abroad. This is a vote of confidence and friendship. Today, we are pleased to count Bosnian military personnel in our EU military training Mission in the Central African Republic.

As you can see, we are looking at the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a true partner.

Earlier this year, EU Member States discussed the future of EUFOR Althea. They recognized the important role that it continues to play in this country, and confirmed all its current tasks. We are here to stay, and you can count on us.

We are now looking forward to the renewal of EUFOR Althea’s mandate by the UN Security Council in November.

Second, a message of EU engagement and solidarity with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Looking back on the past 25 years, there has been – without any doubt – a lot of progress towards building a stable and democratic Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But a lot of hard work remains, to ensure that all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina can look confidently to a peaceful and more prosperous future, based on a clear political perspective: a future within the European Union.

On this path, our engagement and solidarity is real and visible for all who want to see it.

We don’t have lessons to give, but experiences to share and tangible support to offer. We, as EU, are here to help: the EU is the first donor, the first trading partner and the first investor in the Western Balkans. These are the facts.

During her visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina yesterday, President Von der Leyen announced that the EU will allocate EUR 600 million in addition to the EUR 500 million already planned for the Western Balkans in 2021 under the Economic and Investment Plan.

At the peak of the Covid pandemic, the EU was present to support Bosnia Herzegovina. The EU mobilised immediately more than EUR 80 million for Bosnia and Herzegovina and over 1.6 million doses of vaccines were delivered through COVAX. And more is to come.

My third and last message: a word of strong encouragement.

EU integration remains the key objective for the country: opinion polls confirm that more than 80% of the Bosnian citizens support this aspiration.

The EU perspective is real. President Von der Leyen recalled it loud and clear yesterday in Sarajevo.

The upcoming EU-Western Balkans Summit on 6 October will also reaffirm the same message.

To achieve this objective, the political leadership in Bosnia and Herzegovina will have to take its share of responsibility.

First, to ensure that the country’s institutions are fully functioning and able to enact the reforms we all know this country needs. Dialogue must resume between political leaders and divisive and inflammatory rhetoric must stop. The EU strongly supports the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Only a united Bosnia and Herzegovina has its place within the EU.

To advance on the EU path, Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to show determination to advance on the 14 key priorities for membership of the European Union.

Before the end of this year, it will be crucial that an agreement on the constitutional and electoral reform is reached, with the support of all political parties.

We also expect progress on rule of law. Several reforms are pending, on integrity in the judiciary, conflict of interests, and public procurement. This is about aligning with the ‘EU acquis’ (our set of common standards) and preventing corruption. We expect all parties to support reforms to help restoring public trust.

These objectives are achievable if there is political will.

The EU will remain by your side in every step of the way.

Visiting Camp Butmir today, I can see the EU’s determination to support a stable and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina. I thank you all for your hard work and your contribution to this goal.

Thank you.