Bosnia and Herzegovina: the path to EU integration

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Joint article by the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom William Hague and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany Dr Guido Westerwelle

Foreign Secretary with German Minister for Foreign Affairs

“Bosnia and Herzegovina is a sovereign European state. It lies in the heart of Europe and its people share a common European past. They deserve a European future: one where all Bosnian citizens have visa-free travel throughout the EU, can sell their products in EU markets, enjoy education, earn decent wages and feel secure.

This is what the citizens of our countries enjoy, and what the citizens of neighbouring countries take for granted. Slovenia is a case in point. It is now a model of economic success and stability, with excellent infrastructure, a well-educated workforce, the highest per capita GDP in Central Europe and all the benefits of being a thriving member of the EU.

Yet Bosnians of all ethnicities are being denied the same well being. This is not because the EU has slammed its door in the country’s face. The EU has demonstrated its commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina consistently over the past decade, through political support, diplomatic endeavour and the funding of projects aimed at building infrastructure, improving capacity in public institutions, and strengthening civil society. The EU’s Instrument for Pre-Accession alone provides 100 million Euros of funding for projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina every year, while an Interim Agreement has allowed the country to begin accessing the benefits of free trade with the EU area. Other countries including the United States, Japan and Turkey have been at the forefront in ensuring that Bosnia and Herzegovina is given the international support it needs for progress.

Bosnia and Herzegovina looks very different fifteen years after the tragic conflict of the 1990s. But many Bosnians are still leaving their homeland in search of jobs and security elsewhere.

We argue that a key reason for this is that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political representatives have failed to act in the interests of all Bosnians. A higher priority has been placed on localism, nationalism and narrow interests than on the well-being of the people of the country. Far too many citizens are unemployed, far too few new roads are built and there are not enough good schools or hospitals for the needs of the people.

None of this is inevitable. We know from our own experience of the many Bosnians who sought refuge in our countries during the conflict in the 1990s that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are as talented, creative and dynamic as any in Europe.

Yet the country’s progress towards the EU and NATO has been slowed by logjams around key reform priorities. Access to funding from the IMF and World Bank has been held up because reform conditions have not been met. This puts off potential foreign investors as they weigh up the opportunities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and elsewhere. As we know from the experience of our own countries, foreign investment is a key underpinning of a thriving economy.

The elections on 3rd October are therefore crucial. It is up to Bosnian citizens to choose who will lead and represent their country over the next four years. Our message to the Bosnian people is that our countries are sincere in wanting to help and support you, but for that to be successful we need leaders who choose to work with us towards the goal of EU integration. It is in your hands to make clear to the politicians you elect that you expect them to move the country forward and to deliver social and economic improvements; and that you will judge them on the basis of the reforms they deliver, not the reforms they block.

And our message to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders is that they should do their utmost to turn the page on the past. That will require flexibility, creativity, a readiness to compromise and a willingness to pull together in the national interest. It will require indispensable steps to take the country towards the EU and to turn the focus from particular interests of single ethnic groups towards the common interests of the country.

We are both Foreign Ministers of coalition governments in our own country, and know what it is to put aside differences and work with our political opponents to build a better future for our country. We urge Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders to work constructively together and with the EU, NATO and the rest of the international community.

Bosnia and Herzegovina deserves a secure and prosperous future in the EU. It needs determination, compromise and genuine leadership to get there. We shall support the Bosnian people and work with leaders who look to the future not the past. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a clear European perspective, but the road to Europe leads through internal dialogue and the unity of the country.”