Remarks by Commissioner Várhelyi to the press at the start of the visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Good afternoon! I am happy to be in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a two-day visit, and first of all I would like to extend my congratulations to all for the Statehood Day tomorrow.

During my visit, I will meet with representatives of State and entity institutions and political leaders in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, and Mostar.

Let me stress from the very start: There is a very clear and credible European perspective for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Important steps have been taken towards addressing the 14 key priorities from the Commission’s Opinion on the EU membership application, which is the roadmap for the country’s EU accession path.

But significantly more needs to be done and delivered. To become a candidate country, Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to deliver on a critical mass of reforms to implement the 14 key priorities.

My main message to the political leadership of the country is therefore to pursue political dialogue and relaunch the European agenda.

By doing this, Bosnia and Herzegovina will fully benefit from the EU programmes and funds, including the Economic Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, our major investment package to boost the economic development of the region and support its post-pandemic recovery.

The Plan will mobilise up to €30 billion of investments, which relates to one third of its GDP. It can be a true game-changer.

Bosnia and Herzegovina shall be an important recipient of this support with major flagships projects agreed jointly with BiH authorities. On transport, the Corridor 5-c motorway and railway, the demining of the Sava river, and the Sarajevo-Podgorica road connection; and on Energy, the gas interconnector with Croatia, to mention a few.

The Plan can also be the chance for BiH to change its economic model and advance on the green/digital transformation, including phasing out of the extensive use of coal.

To fully benefit from EU programmes and funds and foster socioeconomic recovery from the pandemic, Bosnia and Herzegovina needs fully-functioning State institutions. It needs action and delivery. Key decisions are pending, and the country risks losing major investments.

These include up to €1.5 billion in infrastructural investments, as well as almost €90 million due under  the IPA2020 projects. Without immediate decisions, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina also risk being excluded from participation in Creative Europe and Horizon 2020 programmes next year.

All this can be prevented, but requires political decisions. This is why I came here to talk with all political leaders and institutions. They should make the most of the EU offer of political and financial support on the table to foster recovery from the pandemic and join the green and digital transition.

We need constructive dialogue and political will from all sides to move forward on the EU path. Boycott or blockage are unacceptable and do not serve the interest of the citizens of this country.

We expect all political leaders to focus on the reforms required to fulfil the 14 key priorities.This should include adopting rule of law and judicial reforms, and advancing on constitutional and electoral reforms.

We need good functioning of State institutions. I count on all elected representatives to take full part in decision-making in the Presidency, Parliament and Council of Ministers, because key decisions are pending.

The increasingly divisive rhetoric and actions do not help. The political political crisis is holding back progress on reforms in 2021. But this needs to be the year of delivery, otherwise BiH loses significant opportunity.

Withdrawing the Republika Srpska entity and dismantling State institutions would take Bosnia and Herzegovina further away from alignment with the EU acquis and would put the EU path on hold. It would have a negative impact on business and citizens.

Sustainable solutions and progress may only be found by dialogue within institutions. EU will continue to facilitate the dialogue, we are here to help. I call on all political leaders to take steps to de-escalate, resume dialogue, help us find solutions, and address the substance of issues that are fuelling tensions.

Thank you!