Op-ed by HR/VP Josep Borrell: EU Candidate Status for Bosnia and Herzegovina – “A message to the people and a tasking for politicians”

~ published by Nezavisne novine, Vecernji list and Oslobodjenje ~

On Thursday, the leaders of the European Union unanimously decided to grant EU candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This decision is an important milestone, confirming the European future of the country. It answers the clear demands from BiH citizens to live in dignity, peace and prosperity. This decision should now provide a drive for change in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Political leaders have a clear tasking to advance with decisive and long-overdue reforms to turn this ambition into reality.

From the start of my mandate, I have worked to ensure that Bosnia and Herzegovina can continue to count on the EU’s support. We have worked intensively to help political leaders in BiH improve the functionality of the institutions, address migration challenges, and prepare an ambitious electoral reform package. We have maintained a strong mandate for our military mission EUFOR/ALTHEA and provided the necessary financial support. As I said in Sarajevo earlier this year: our commitment to maintain safety and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina is rock solid. We are and remain fully committed to the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Russia’s illegal and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine has reminded all of us of the fragility of peace on our continent. There can be no neutrality between the aggressor and the victim. Together, the EU and the Western Balkans partners share the responsibility to build a democratic, stable, and peaceful continent. BiH did take this responsibility seriously, condemning the aggression and aligning to the EU’s unprecedented sanctions against the Russian leadership. This stance demonstrates: our common future is based on shared values and shared principles.

The EU has worked closely with partners around the globe to mitigate the negative impact of the Russian aggression, on food supply, inflation, energy and commodity prices and this applies to Bosnia and Herzegovina too. Indeed, no one is helping BiH more than EU, and we do it without a hidden agenda. The EU has mobilised €1 billion to help families and small and medium enterprises in the Western Balkans cope with the rising energy prices. Longer-term, we invest in the green transition, to end our energy dependencies and create good jobs in the region.

I look forward to working with the newly elected leaders in BiH, putting the country’s European integration at the centre of their actions. There is still a lot to do : candidate status is not the final destination, but rather the beginning of a new chapter. Serious acceleration of reforms is needed before the accession talks will begin. These reforms are not for the sake of “Brussels”, but for improving the daily life of all people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Every citizen has a role to play in this process, even if the ultimate responsibility to deliver lies with the elected officials.

While the road from Dayton to Brussels remains challenging, the destination is now in plain sight and the roadmap clearly spelled out. Let us engage together in a new way forward for BiH to the European Union.