– As delivered –
I have the honor to speak on behalf of the European Union and its 28 Member States.
The Candidate Countries Turkey, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Albania*, as well as Ukraine, align themselves with this statement.
We thank the Security Council for unanimously adopting the respective resolution renewing the mandate of EUFOR Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina for one year. I join other speakers in welcoming High Representative Valentin Inzko back to the Council and in assuring him of the European Union’s continued support. I also welcome the Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina and thank him for his statement.
This year, 2016, is a very important year for the EU prospect of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 15 February, the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina submitted the country’s application for EU membership. On 20 September, the EU Council decided to ask the Commission’s Opinion regarding the membership application. This decision marks an important milestone for the European integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It follows the joint efforts of the country’s leadership at all levels, demonstrating their commitment to the reforms answering to citizens’ demands for change and moving closer to the European Union.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has demonstrated a serious commitment and readiness to take difficult political decisions in order to meaningfully implement the Reform Agenda, an ambitious set of socio-economic, rule of law and public administration reforms. Together with our international partners, including the international financial institutions, we provided clear incentives to move forward with reforms of labour laws, the pension system, and banking regulations, as well as long term improvements of the business climate in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Currently, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s economy is showing potential for growth in the next three to four years.
It is essential to keep the momentum going: regarding effective reforms and regarding the EU integration process. The next stages will be equally demanding. The Reform Agenda will pass into its second stage, where much remains to be done on improving the political atmosphere in the country, rule of law issues as well as public administration. The reply of Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities to the comprehensive list of questions prepared by the European Commission will provide the basis for the assessment of the country’s membership application and its capacity to meet the criteria set by the Copenhagen European Council of 1993 and the conditions of the Stabilisation and Association process.
2016 was also an election year for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although the local elections of October 2 were generally conducted in an orderly manner they unfortunately brought to surface the persisting political divisions and challenges that have the potential to undermine stability in the country. The irregularities and isolated violent incidents that occurred should be investigated by the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities without any delay. Once more, elections in Mostar did not take place due to disagreements on the electoral requirements.
The European Union regrets the unlawful holding of an entity-level referendum on Republika Srpska day, in violation of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitutional Court decision of 17 September 2016; this referendum caused unnecessary tensions and challenged the rule of law. Such action also distracts attention from the social and economic problems which people throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina face on a daily basis. The European Union encourages all political actors as well as the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina to resolve this issue through the established legal processes, constructive dialogue and within the existing constitutional framework. It urges the parties, in accordance with the Peace Agreement, to abide to their commitment to cooperate fully with all institutions involved in the implementation of this peace settlement, as described in the Peace Agreement, including the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It also more generally recalls that under the Peace Agreement, Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of the two entities, which exist legally by virtue of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitution, which does not allow either entity to secede.
2017 will be an election-free year in Bosnia and Herzegovina and I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all parties to resolve pending issues which present a challenge to the respect of human rights and democratic institutions, as well as embark on further and deeper socio-economic reforms. Beyond the general need to ensure further implementation of the adopted reforms and to build a solid track record, one area in need of a strong focus in the coming period is rule of law – including the fight against corruption and organised crime, addressing any outstanding shortcomings of the judiciary and the need for its de-politicization, impartiality and independence, including in prosecution of war crimes. In that respect the European Union is concerned by recent cases of glorification of persons convicted for the gravest crimes against humanity. All political leaders and institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina have a responsibility to assess war-time events honestly, in the interests of truth, reconciliation and a peaceful future.
I would like also to encourage the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to work towards implementation of the rulings of court institutions, especially of the European Court of Human rights’ Sejdić-Finci and related rulings, as well as of the Constitutional court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, that will be an important factor in order to move forward its European Agenda and contribute to establishing a democratic and well-functioning society, where equality of all constituent peoples and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina is warranted.
The European Union reiterates its unequivocal commitment to the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign and united country. The European Union will continue to use all available instruments to support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s stability and progress. While the overall security situation has remained relatively calm and stable, stability has not been fully entrenched. The European Union welcomes the continued presence of Operation Althea, which retains the capability to contribute to the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities’ deterrence capacity if the situation so requires while focusing on capacity building and training. In this regard, as part of the overall EU strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Union confirms its readiness to continue at this stage an executive military role of Operation Althea to support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s authorities to maintain the safe and secure environment, under a renewed UN mandate.
The European Union invited its High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to present a Strategic Review in autumn of next year, as a basis for internal discussion within the EU on options for the future of the Operation, also bearing in mind Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress in its EU integration process and taking into account the security situation on the ground. As the country’s stability continues to strengthen and further progress is achieved in reforms and on the EU path, the European Union looks forward to continuing, in the appropriate forum, the discussion with the international community on the reconfiguration of the international presence. In this regard, the European Union calls on the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to meet the outstanding objectives and the conditions for the closure of the Office of the High Representative.
Mr President, in conclusion,
Over the two decades that the Council has been discussing the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we have witnessed substantial progress in the country in all fields – stability, democracy, security, economic development, EU integration. Still, much more needs to be accomplished in terms of improving the daily lives of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and of reconciliation among citizens as well as responsible behaviour of all members of the political leadership in the country. But we believe that the progress the country achieves on its EU integration process will catalyse reconciliation and resolution of chronic issues, addressing in parallel urgent demands for comprehensive reforms.
Thank you, Mr. President.
* The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.