Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country where any talk of optimism about the future is frequently dismissed. Opinion polls reveal a profound pessimism about the future, born of many years of missed opportunities, toxic and divisive political rhetoric and standards of living that are falling behind those of neighbouring countries.
Nonetheless, and fully conscious of the fact that some will dismiss this as naïve, I genuinely believe that 2023 can be a year of progress for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The people of this country must not endure more lost years, more stagnation, more talented individuals and families driven abroad in frustration.
Since the elections in October last year, and the award of EU candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina in December, there is a perceptible change in relation to BiH’s path to the EU. The new coalition have made progress towards EU membership a central element of their programme. We expect them to deliver on this commitment. The expectation that BiH would urgently make progress in eight reform areas, as well as continue to advance in addressing the 14 key priorities was explicitly underlined when Bosnia and Herzegovina was granted candidate status.
Authorities at a state level have been formed in record time, and this momentum must be maintained in the FBiH and in cantons. This country needs functional authorities and cannot afford more years of blockades. I met the new members of the Presidency as soon as they were confirmed, and in the past weeks I have also met the new members of the Council of Ministers. I have also accompanied the EU’s top officials to meetings with their BiH counterparts. At each meeting,we have underlined the message that progress on the path to the EU is possible. The opportunity must be seized.
In the next few weeks, I will be travelling across Bosnia and Herzegovina to meet with authorities at different levels and reiterate these messages. This week, I will be in Zenica and Banja Luka, and in the coming weeks plan to travel to Tuzla, Brčko, Mostar, Bihac and have more trips to speak with authorities planned over the next months. The path to the EU is a strategic objective that unites the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and as a consequence requires the engagement of the whole country.
The effort to progress on the path to the EU should not just be left to the authorities. It also requires engagement from the part of citizens. To them I would like to emphasise that Bosnia and Herzegovina is always in the heart of Europe. The EU is the world’s most significant peace project and I would like nothing more than to see Bosnia and Herzegovina strengthen its stability and prosperity by making decisive steps towards becoming an EU member state.
I would like to conclude by recalling that in this country, anything is possible when people put their minds to it. We see that with this country’s incredible entrepreneurs, scientists, sportsmen and women, musicians and artists.
I have two paintings at home by the young up and coming BiH artist Hanna Dujmović. Like every human being, especially anyone living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have days in which this country’s unused potential frustrates me. But when I look at these paintings, with their bright and vibrant colours, I remember that this country has depths of talent, and will overcome any obstacle. I am delighted that she agreed to paint a picture for us as part of our ongoing efforts to encourage an EU future for BiH and we were able to take part in a video together. The people of this country deserve progress on the path to the EU. And progress is within reach.