Op-Ed By Wiliam Hague: Bosnia’s Moment of Truth

williamhagueLast week in Brussels, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders committed themselves finally to resolving the Sejdic-Finci constitutional issue and the lack of an EU co-ordination mechanism which have been standing in the way of an application for EU membership.

I welcome that commitment. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a European state and should one day be an EU state too.  If that is to be possible, we need to see the commitment made in Brussels last week turned into reality by the 10 October deadline.

Bosnia’s leaders have now recognised three realities:

First, that this autumn is the last opportunity to clear away the remaining obstacles to submitting a membership application before general elections in 2014. If the chance is not seized now, Bosnia and Herzegovina will have to wait until it has a new State Government in place after next October’s elections. The people of Bosnia should not have to wait so long.

Second, beyond Bosnia there are other realities that will come into play.  In 2014 there will also be a new European Parliament and a new European Commission.  While the British Government will remain a strong advocate of enlargement to all the countries of the Balkans, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, no one can guarantee today that the support Bosnia’s membership aspirations currently enjoy from all EU Member States and institutions will always be there.

And third, a failure to make progress now will bring significant costs for everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have already seen that the lack of a functioning mechanism for internal co-ordination on EU issues has forced the European Commission to suspend or cancel important programmes designed to help the country prepare for accession. So far Bosnia has lost €5 million of EU pre-accession funding, with €9 million more suspended as a result of political inertia. This money had been earmarked to help Bosnia’s rural development, its small and medium sized businesses and its tourist industry. The 2013 IPA allocation, worth €100 million, is now at risk. More such bad news is likely to follow quickly if this is not resolved.

The negative consequences do not stop there.  The damage is unlikely to be confined to lost pre-accession funding. The loss of confidence in Bosnia’s EU future would mean that others would also think twice. Why put money into Bosnia, investors, both domestic and foreign, will ask? The sustainability of current support from international financial institutions, which is critical to public finances, could also come under question. At a time of serious economic challenges, losing this support is a risk no one can afford to run.

For far too long, Bosnia has been stuck as her neighbours have moved ahead. This year we have welcomed Croatia as the 28th member of the EU. We have seen historic progress in talks between Belgrade and Pristina, with Serbia securing candidate status and Kosovo talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Montenegro is now more than a year into its membership negotiations.

The progress by Bosnia’s neighbours is a product of their leaders’ commitment to work on behalf of their citizens. They know that moving their countries towards EU membership is good for their country and their people; and something that must not become a victim to domestic politics.  On the contrary, the heart of domestic policy should be to achieve EU membership, and ensure a better future for all their citizens.

As always, the UK is fully engaged and ready to help Bosnia and Herzegovina both in the EU and bilaterally. We know that by virtue of its nature, constitution, and particular history, Bosnia faces more complex challenges than its neighbours. We know that Bosnia requires support, which is why we have in Sarajevo an excellent EU Special Representative, Peter Sorensen, with a large and capable staff.

We are ready to help. We want to see Bosnia and Herzegovina in the EU.  But we cannot do this on our own. As they say, it takes two to tango. We need partners who share that aspiration.  This week may be the best opportunity ever to get Bosnia’s journey to the EU started in earnest.  If Bosnia misses her opportunity, it will be her citizens’ loss, and a loss to future generations.

There is no advantage to anyone in any further delay. There is nothing to be gained. There is no better offer on the table.  Last week’s meeting in Brussels has shown clearly where solutions can be found, if leaders are ready to seize them.  Now it the time to look forward, to grasp the opportunity at hand and take the decisions needed to put Bosnia and Herzegovina on the road to a better future, an EU future.  That is what political leadership is about, and that is what we want to see in Bosnia this week.

(Source: British Embassy Sarajevo)

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