Sumario: 24 July 2009, Sarajevo - Speech by Olli Rehn, EU Commissioner for Enlargement, "Towards A European Era for Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Way Ahead" at the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mr Speaker, Honourable Members of Parliament,
It is an honour and a pleasure to address you today. Your role as a state-level parliament is crucial for European integration. The task falls to you to adopt the necessary laws and reforms and to help lead public opinion.
The support of citizens is the backbone of European integration. I know: I am a former parliamentarian and a permanent EU-campaigner myself.
These are difficult times for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The economy is hurting and ordinary people are struggling to make ends meet. The shadow of grief still hangs over us after yet another commemoration of the victims of Srebrenica. And - I realise this - many are disappointed that Bosnia and Herzegovina failed to qualify for visa liberalisation in the first round because of shortcomings in meeting the EU's security standards.
Still, I want to bring a message of encouragement today. I want to outline a vision for how Bosnia and Herzegovina can get to visa-free travel for all its citizens, to EU candidate status, and to the kind of constitutional reform that is needed to join the EU.
When I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of last year, I said that the year 2009 would offer new opportunities. These chances are still there.
Visa liberalisation is one of them.
The EU wants all the people of the Western Balkans to travel freely in Europe. We have set the same conditions for visa liberalisation for each country concerned. No-one got any short-cuts or preferential treatment.
After a slow start in meeting the conditions set out in the EU's visa-roadmap, Bosnia and Herzegovina has made good progress recently. I welcome the Action Plan adopted by the Council of Ministers this week to complete the remaining requirements, and the efforts made by this parliament as well.
Granting visa-free travel to a particular country is not a matter of simple political decision-making in the EU, nor about who is morally deserving.
The Schengen area is a common space of free movement of people between 28 countries. To ensure that it is not abused, the highest security standards must apply, especially on our external borders. This is what the EU's visa conditionality is all about: protecting the Schengen space and the freedom it affords for everyone's long-term benefit.
This is the legitimate right, indeed the duty, of the EU towards our own citizens. Besides, it is the only way to convince the Ministers of Interior of the Union who hold the keys to visa-free travel.
What Bosnia and Herzegovina still needs to do is not difficult; it just has to be done. Above all, biometric passports must be introduced on a wide scale, and measures taken to protect them against fraud and corruption.
In parallel, Bosnia and Herzegovina must step up its fight against organised crime and corruption, it must improve its border controls, and it still needs to do a lot better on police reform, something the EU has insisted on for years!
We sent a detailed list of these requirements to your Ministry of Security last week. It cites every new law to be passed, every existing law to be implemented better, and every other problem that must be fixed - nearly 50 actions in total. We have invited your government to report back to us by the 1st of October this year. We want to move forward quickly with Bosnia and Herzegovina - every bit as much as you do.
In fact, the EU would like to make a proposal for visa liberalisation for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2010, if you meet the conditions in coming months. This is our goal and a concrete promise in return for concrete actions. You do your part, we do our part. That is fair play.
Another opportunity that Bosnia and Herzegovina should not miss this year is the transition from Dayton stabilisation to European integration. By this I mean the closure of the OHR, once the conditions have been met, and the start of a new chapter where EU membership takes centre-stage.
I speak of this as an opportunity because of the EU membership perspective that beckons once the OHR has closed.
I am a strong supporter of the OHR, and the EU remains a committed member of the Peace Implementation Council. The OHR has played a tremendous role over the years to build stability and implement the Dayton Peace Agreement.
Much credit goes to all the High Representatives - all prominent Europeans - who have served this country over the past 14 years, starting with my respected friend Carl Bildt in 1996, and right up to his distinguished colleague Valentin Inzko today. They and their teams have helped this country progress to the point where an EU membership application is now plainly in sight.
I pay tribute to their passion and their commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina and its people.
This said, the OHR cannot take this country to where you want to go next. Let me put it as plainly as I can: there is no way a quasi-protectorate can join the EU. Nor will an EU membership application be considered so long as the OHR is around. Let me even repeat this, to avoid any misunderstandings: a country with a High Representative can not become a candidate country with the EU. It is a question of political maturity and leadership, not just a question of who sits at the table when we negotiate.
Consider it an opportunity: if you meet the conditions for OHR closure this autumn, and if EU-related reforms pick up speed, then the objective of starting EU accession negotiations could become real in the coming years.
You only need to look south to Montenegro, where I visited just yesterday, to see how quickly things can move once a national consensus on EU reforms has been reached and put to work. It was not self-evident.
The closure of the OHR, when the day comes, will not mark a loss of interest by the international community. Quite to the contrary.
The EU will increase its presence greatly, and we will sharpen our tools to help BiH progress towards Europe - and deal with those who obstruct it.
The European Commission and the EUSR's Office will become one. It will in fact be the largest EU office anywhere in the world. Moreover, I and Javier Solana both insist that other members of the international community must be part of this office too.
EUFOR and the EUPM will stay, and the EU will not tolerate any challenge to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This leads me to constitutional reform.
Constitutional reform is not a precondition for OHR closure. Nor is it required to apply for EU membership. But constitutional reform is a necessary part of the EU accession process.
Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be able to join the EU with its present constitution. It is that simple. In fact, we will not even be able to grant candidate status without certain reforms.
For years, Bosnia and Herzegovina has failed to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights and meet the requirements of the Council of Europe. Both require constitutional reform and both are now part of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement - the SAA. If nothing is done fix this situation, we might have to suspend the SAA on the same very day it enters into force! I don't want this, nor - I expect - do you. This is one concrete task to start with.
Beyond this, the EU is ready to help BIH find a constitutional model that is acceptable to all and delivers a functional and effective state.
We may not have a constitutional blue-print, but the EU has two conditions that are set in stone for any country that wants to join: it must be able to enforce the EU's rules throughout the country, and it must be able to speak with one voice in EU and international affairs. Need I say that the current situation where BiH presidents, ministers and officials travel abroad presenting different, sometimes conflicting, positions is utterly impossible?
The EU accession process will entail a number of other reforms as well: Institutions that need to be created at the state-level, competencies that have to be clarified between different levels of government, and steps required for fiscal sustainability.
This is another opportunity for BiH to seize. As part of the EU accession process, we will identify the constitutional reforms you need for candidate status and eventual membership. These reforms may not be as grand as some politicians dream of, but they will provide a concrete agenda for change that is needed to join the EU and make the country function.
I expect that our discussions about EU membership and constitutional reform must seem completely out of touch to people who are struggling to survive on a few hundred convertible marks per month, as the economy continues to slow.
There is no miracle cure. Everyone in Europe is struggling with the same problems. But this is my message today: the EU cares about Bosnia and Herzegovina. We set aside nearly €40 million for Bosnia and Herzegovina, as part of the EU's own economic crisis response package, together with the €440 million we had already planned for BiH until 2011.
This money will be spent on investments that create jobs quickly and inject money into the economy, such as the construction of a hydro-power plant and support to small and medium-sized enterprises.
Now that an agreement with the IMF has been reached, the EU can also consider macro-financial assistance, provided that Bosnia and Herzegovina respects the IMF's conditions, including on veterans benefits.
So there is some light at the end of the tunnel, if everybody does their part.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In closing, allow me a personal reflection. No matter how much we long for a better future, the past lives on in our minds and our souls. I was in Srebrenica on the 11th of July 2005, ten years after the genocide. No words can fully capture the enormity of the crimes committed, or the abyss of grief left behind. The day will mark me for life.
The EU has named the 11th of July the Day of Commemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide. We know from our own histories that remembrance is as necessary as it is painful. It is necessary not least to counter the "selective remembrance" of those who remain in denial - until this day - about what really took place, both in Srebrenica and in many other towns and villages across this country.
Justice is essential. All those who are indicted for war crimes must face their day in court and pay for the crimes they committed.
In addition to the justice of the courts, there is a second and equally lasting form of justice that we can offer for the victims: a better future for their loved ones who survived. This is what the men and boys who died at Srebrenica, and victims everywhere, would have wanted for their families.
And this is what the EU wants for Bosnia and Herzegovina too.
Joining the EU will take time, several years. But if the history of the European Union and its enlargement tells us anything, it is that the journey is worth travelling and that the destination of EU membership is the ultimate guarantee of lasting peace and social progress.
We cannot travel the road to the EU for Bosnia and Herzegovina. But we can help, we will help, and we want this country to succeed in its journey from the era of Dayton to the era of Europe. Thank you.