It is a pleasure to be sharing a platform with Foreign Minister Steinmeier, just over two months since we launched our joint initiative aimed at supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s journey to become a more dynamic, efficient and prosperous country, moving towards EU accession.
I am delighted that the ideas we outlined in Berlin in November for facilitating that progress won the enthusiastic endorsement of the whole European Union. Plainly, that endorsement is a pre-requisite for success.
But our message today is simple: success will now depend not on what others do. Success will depend on what Bosnia and Herzegovina does or does not do. And, more specifically, what its political leaders do. And in this, as the country’s Parliament, you have a critical role to play.
The theme that links your politicians and your voters - regardless of their ethnicity, or religion - is the need for rapid and wide-ranging social and economic reform, which can realistically only be driven through the EU path.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier and I launched our initiative because we understand that the economic and social challenges facing your country require an urgent broadening of the reform agenda.
Certainly, addressing the issue of minority rights and implementing the co-ordination mechanism remain important, and a pre-requisite for accession to the EU.
But the protests from your citizens nearly a year ago brought into stark relief the urgency of addressing other issues as well…
…Stabilising the economy and stimulating the private sector…
…Creating jobs, especially for young people…
…Strengthening the rule of law; and…
…Reducing bureaucracy and cutting the costs of government.
Our proposition, presented in Berlin, was that if the new government is able to demonstrate a willingness, commitment and an ability to make progress on this broader reform agenda, then we should respond with matched progress on the path to the EU.
The more that is delivered on the ground in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the more progress can be achieved. And I am glad to say our EU partners have endorsed that approach. They have asked the Presidency and the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to sign up to a written commitment to a roadmap for a broad-based reform agenda to advance Bosnia and Herzegovina on its EU accession path.
And if they do so and if their resolve is supported by you, the Parliament, the EU should bring the long-delayed Stabilisation and Association Agreement into force.
The next steps will be concrete actions to deliver that roadmap.
Putting in place the co-ordination mechanism.
Improving the functionality and efficiency of government.
Implementing the economic reforms.
And, if those steps are taken, then we would support the submission of a credible application for EU membership.
The difficult questions will still have to be addressed before EU membership can be achieved, but we believe our proposal will create a momentum for reform, starting with those areas of most direct and immediate relevance to most of your voters.
We have seen how initiatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina have foundered owing to the views of individual party leaders.
This time, we need to see a momentum that will deliver a consensus for reform.
Now we know that this will not be an easy journey.
As Parliamentarians you have a key role in showing the way. Because it is a journey on which government - at State, Entity and cantonal level - needs to embark now, by focussing on serious negotiations about substantive reforms that will respond to public demands and create new opportunities for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And I want to be clear about this. There is no hidden agenda. The EU strategy is not about weakening the Entities or strengthening the State. It’s simply about making this country work better, for the benefit of all of its citizens, whether they live in Republika Srpska or the Federation. We firmly believe that this is an initiative that everyone should get behind – whether they’re in government or outside.
I have been UK Foreign Secretary for just six months. And a member of the Cabinet since 2010. But before that, I spent my first 13 years in our Parliament on the opposition benches.
And today, I speak to you as fellow parliamentarians who, whether supporters of the Government or in opposition, have a key role in scrutinising the work of government and providing constructive challenge, including in the vital work of committees.
There is a role to be played by all of you in ensuring the success of this Initiative - with all parties endorsing the road map, and all parties holding government to account for delivery and playing a constructive role in supporting the necessary legislation to make delivery possible.
And as all of us who are parliamentarians know, to bring such a project to fruition will require difficult, challenging decisions, which in the short-term may not necessarily be popular – including with our constituents.
Embarking on this great reform will mean casting aside narrow interests. Creating new jobs, in particular for young people, will not be easy. But this will be the first test of the collective commitment to fighting corruption and overcoming narrow, personal, factional and party interests.
It will require the country to work together with a unified voice, showing determination and vision. As it did in response to last year’s floods
And as Frank-Walter Steinmeier has made clear, the prize for your country and your people is great…
Unlocking new opportunities for trade, assistance and regional co-operation…
And locking in benefits for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s economy, its infrastructure, its public services and its people.
What the EU has put on the table is a good offer. I would say to you candidly - it is an “unrepeatable offer”. It is in everyone’s interests that Bosnia and Herzegovina seizes this opportunity.
Given the current economic climate in the Republika Srpska and the Federation, there is no time for delay, for prevarication or for obstructionism from any quarter.
That would only send a very negative message to the EU and to potential investors, putting at risk future international corporate and International Financial Institutions investment in the country. It would undermine economic stability and growth and risk triggering grave political consequences - a foretaste of which we saw in last year’s protests.
So now is the time for Bosnia and Herzegovina to proclaim a new narrative of progress.
Now is the time for leadership that puts the national interest first and puts behind you the long years of wrangling and stagnation.
…to seize the opportunity that the EU is offering Bosnia and Herzegovina…
…and deliver real change…
…giving hope to your people…
…and bringing increased stability to the wider region.
I sincerely hope that you, individually and collectively, and your country will seize this moment to deliver a better future for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.