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Good evening to everybody,
I am very glad to host here Chairwoman [of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Borjana] Krišto and her delegation for the EU – Bosnia and Herzegovina Stabilisation and Association Council. From the side of the European Union, we were together with Commissioner [for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér] Várhelyi, Member States, including Ministers of [Foreign Affairs of] Greece, Croatia and Slovenia.
As you know, this Council represents the highest level of institutional engagement between the European Union and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a regular opportunity to review the work that has been done in preparation for the membership in the European Union, and what still needs to be done in order to advance on the European path.
It has been an intense meeting. We have met in this format after two years. Last year, it was not possible due to political blockage in the country. But today, we have been able to do it because the country managed to move from political deadlock to political opportunity, and I think it is a good sentence that summarises what has happened during the last year:
Bosnia and Herzegovina went from political deadlock to political opportunity, and since December, it has got the status of candidate country.
You can imagine the important window of opportunity that this represents. This window of opportunity should be used for a swift implementation of pending reforms and to adapt to the European standards.
Of course, it comes with the expectation that our partners will seize this momentum without delay and [that] they will make decisive progress on the reforms and commitments to European Union values.
This is what we discussed today – how Bosnia and Herzegovina is doing, and where more efforts are needed. We got a lot of detailed information from the Chairwoman and other Ministers of what the government is doing. We discussed how it happens and which efforts are still needed.
I will ask my fellow Commissioner Olivér Varhelyi to go into more details. I will try not to repeat what can be explained by him, but allow me to focus on some issues.
First, I have to start by commending the efforts of the Council of Ministers under your leadership, Chairwoman Borjana Krišto, in keeping the dialogue constructive, on accelerating European reforms, and the steps taken at the national level so far.
Secondly, we appreciate the increase in the alignment in foreign and security policy. Now you are at 94%, which is almost a complete alignment. But alignment is not just a declaration, alignment is not just expressing wishes – good wishes. Alignment is effective implementation. And we have to wait for that implementation.
In the meantime, I have also to thank Bosnia and Herzegovina for the contribution to our Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations abroad. [We] show our commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s defence capacities – or capabilities – including through our support through the European Peace Facility (EPF), which has been worth €20 million so far.
Thirdly, we also commend the state level authorities for keeping the positive momentum alive. We know – and explained during the meeting – that there are serious challenges. Here, I want to refer especially to the initiatives, laws and announcements from Republika Srpska, that, from my understanding, runs against the European Union perspective of the country and further isolates this entity from Europe.
Undermining the constitutional order of Bosnia and Herzegovina must be brought to an immediate end. These actions, if continued, could have serious consequences.
Provocative divisive rhetoric and actions, including questioning the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the country, and the glorification of convicted war criminals must stop, because there is no place in Europe for those engaged in such activities.
Recently, we have shown in the region that unconstructive behaviour will lead to firm action from the European side. We have seen that.
At the same time, I believe that the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve a steady progress towards the European Union – not crisis, no isolation, no deadlock and backsliding caused by political leaders.
On the contrary, during the meeting, we have been urging all political actors – I mean all – to engage in constructive dialogue to address internal political issues.
This is what we have done during the meeting and that is what I am doing now: to call on all political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina to focus their energies not on divisions but on the common denominator of European Union accession and swiftly implement all commitments. Because the one who will benefit most is not the European Union, it is the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina peoplo, and the country as a whole.
Aside from addressing the 14 Key Priorities, as required for the opening of accession negotiations, this would notably also include addressing the commitments set out in the 12 June Agreement on the principles for ensuring a functional Bosnia and Herzegovina that advances on the European path.
I strongly believe that the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina need political leaders that take concrete steps to promote an environment conducive to reconciliation to overcome the legacies of the past and take actions to improve the quality of life, bringing it in line with European standards.
Yes, years of standstill and unwarranted blockades have already cost the country and its people too much. They have prevented much-needed investment and development and make scores of citizens to leave the country.
The European Union has consistently demonstrated that it is a loyal and generous partner to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This includes, for example, our energy support package of €70 million, which is going to the most vulnerable households, helping them to face the consequences of the Ukrainian war in terms of high energy prices.
I also want to stress the importance of EUFOR Althea. I am responsible for the missions and operations of the European Union. I am very proud of the work done by the men and women serving in [EUFOR] Althea. And we remain committed to contribute to a safe and secure environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina. [Mission] Althea is doing the most important contribution to this purpose.
To summarise, we are committed to the country’s European perspective, as a single, united and sovereign Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we will remain firmly by its side as it moves towards the European Union path.
But the work needs to be done by the political actors in the country. There is little we can do from Brussels. It has to be done on the ground by you. It is you who bear the responsibilities of not failing your people and their hopes of becoming soon [part] of the European Union family.
Q. You mentioned serious consequences for Republika Srspka if it continues the current way. What does it mean? What consequences? We heard similar warnings like this before. Milorad Dodik said he sent a letter to you, suggesting his way of solving the political crisis in Bosnia. Have you seen it? How relevant is it? Is it realistic to implement it – if you have seen it – for example the idea of Constitutional Court in Bosnia without foreign judges?
Well, I have not mentioned specifically [anyone]. I said “all”. I have not said [Mr] A or [Mr] B. I addressed everybody. And when I said [that] I condemned irresponsible secessionist statements, everybody will understand to whom I am referring. When I am saying that I asked to refrain from divisive rhetoric and actions, I have not said Republika Srpska. I said “all”.
Certainly, we have the capacity to react if the situation deteriorates. We have tools. But we will not use them unless it is strictly necessary. In any case, it is on the table of the Member States that have to decide on any measure. My role is to encourage leaders to resolve the situation through dialogue, and I welcome the dialogue and welcome any proposal that can come from anybody who has the good will to try to contribute that the country turns to a constructive agenda in line with the European perspective.
Certainly, if you want me to be more precise, we have condemned the recent decision by the Republika Sprska National Assembly because we consider that it is a clear departure from the expectations that accompanied the granting of the European Union candidate status. But, once again, our role is to push for dialogue, to try to avoid unilateral actions, and asking everybody to focus on bringing the country closer to the European Union.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-244029