On 12 October, many thousands of you went to the polls across Bosnia and Herzegovina to vote for the political parties and leaders who will represent you and your country for the next four years.
Those four years will be decisive for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and for all of its diverse peoples.
Let me speak frankly, and as a friend: the current stagnation in your country must end. There is too much corruption and inefficiency; there are not enough jobs, particularly for young people. Too many of your university graduates are either unemployed or leaving their families and country behind. Your education and health systems fall well below standards elsewhere in Europe. Most pressingly, the economic situation in both the Federation and Republika Srpska is serious and unsustainable. Change has to come. And we in the UK want that change to be positive and for the better.
Let’s be clear: these are not challenges that can be addressed by the loan of a few million euros, whether from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the EU, from Russia or anywhere else. These are deep-rooted, systemic problems that reflect the complexity of the bureaucracy, the weaknesses in the economy and the vested interests of some political leaders and state-run businesses in a dysfunctional status quo. The global economy is increasingly competitive. Loans – whoever they come from – have to be paid back, with interest. Spending other people’s money is too easy; the challenge is helping Bosnia-Herzegovina to earn its own.
It is not too late, but those you have elected need to stop papering over the cracks, and to implement a programme of serious reforms – political, social and economic. We firmly believe that Bosnia and Herzegovina can succeed. We want you inside the European Union and NATO where, as a country in the heart of Europe and with such an important role in our collective history, you firmly belong. We can help you with the reforms that you need to succeed, as others in the region are now doing. But we cannot want a better future for you more than you want it for yourselves.
We watched your election campaign very closely. It gave us much cause for concern, but also some grounds for hope. Concern, because there was far too much talk of difference and division. Hope, because – much more than in the past – there was a real focus across almost all parties on the need to address the critical socio-economic reforms that can help to make the economy more competitive, to stimulate the private sector, to create new jobs and to attract foreign investment.
With the elections over, it is time for the real work to begin. The first step is for the politicians to roll up their sleeves and form a governing coalition. The challenges BiH faces cannot wait for months of bickering over who gets what job. Rather than positions and patronage, the parties need to concentrate on policy and priorities that will deliver concrete results.
We stand ready to work with your newly-elected leaders from all parties on a positive, European agenda. They need to stop thinking ethnically, and start thinking economically. Don’t waste precious time arguing about referendums and separation. That is not going to happen. We have a legal responsibility to protect the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we remain as committed to that responsibility as we were when the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed 19 years ago. The redrawing of borders in the Balkans is finished.
We are all at our best when we come together. Bosnia and Herzegovina is no exception: whether cheering on the national team at the World Cup, or helping out your neighbours after this year’s terrible floods. And your leaders will need to work as a team if, together, we are to succeed in getting your country moving forward once again.
This is the choice your neighbours have made. Croatia has now joined the EU. Serbia opened accession negotiations at the start of the year. Albania was granted Candidate Status. We want you to join them, because joining the EU and NATO is the best way of ensuring your security and prosperity, and with it the security and prosperity of Europe – and that is firmly in the strategic interests of all of us. So that is what we will be seeking from your leaders, and that is what you, as their constituents, should be asking from them too. And if you make this choice, then Britain, and our European partners, will support you every step of the way.
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