BRUSSELS – The conference “European future of Bosnia and Herzegovina – 20 years after the Dayton- Paris Peace Agreement” was held in the European Parliament on Wednesday, 9 December 2015, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Dayton-Paris peace agreement and provide an opportunity for debate on the European path of Bosnia and Herzegovina It was organized by the Members of European Parliament Andrej Plenković (EPP), vice-president of the Foreign Affairs Committee; Tonino Picula (S & D), Chairman of the Delegation for Relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina; Dubravka Suica (EPP), Vice-President of the Delegation for relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina; Jozo Rados (ALDE), member of the Delegation for Relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina; Cristian Dan Preda (EPP), EP rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Davor Ivo Stier (EPP), member of the Delegation for relations with BiH.
The conference brought together the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Dragan Covic, member of the Presidency from the ranks of the Bosniak people, Bakir Izetbegovic, the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, President of the EPP Joseph Daul, Chairman of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee Elmar Brok, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko, Head of the EU Delegation to BiH Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Asia Brian Hoyt Yee, the former German Member of the EP and Rapporteur for BiH Doris Pack, former Foreign Minister Mate Granic, and a number of other European experts.
The member of the BiH Presidency from the ranks of the Serbian people, Mladen Ivanic, cancelled his participation for personal reasons.
Opening the conference, Covic said that the Peace Agreement has the merit of ending the war in BiH but has failed to provide protection for all the citizens of the country: ‘’Some got more, some got less, but we were all losers’’, said Covic. He expressed confidence that the steps taken for reform will strengthen the political culture of Bosnia, but noted that future changes have to take into account constitutional principles and traditions of the country. Covic concluded that the Euro-Atlantic path of Bosnia has no alternative and asked for more support from the EU to pursue that path.
Federica Mogherini also praised the Dayton Peace Agreement for putting an end to the war, but recognised that ‘’Dayton cannot be forever and was not intended to be forever.’’ The High Representative told the audience that ‘’The negotiators in Dayton hoped that the post-war politics would be able, I quote, ‘little by little, to bring the country together’. And we all know that there is still much that has to be done in this respect.’’
Mogherini hinted at the fact that in Bosnia, just like in the EU, ‘’the nationalist discourse becomes a way to divert the public opinion from the real issues at stake – being it the economy, being it the European path, being it the wellbeing of the citizens.’’ She stressed the importance of economic reforms that would reduce unemployment and bring about real change.
In his introductory remarks, Commissioner Hahn recalled the main positive developments in Bosnia’s EU accession process since he took office: the commitment of the political leaders and parties to deliver, the entering into force of the SAA, and the Reform Agenda. He also stressed the importance of the economic reforms that could solve challenges such as youth unemployment. ‘’Up to 60% of young people between 15-24 years of age are unemployed. This is the highest youth unemployment rate in Europe – and I think we all agree that it is unacceptable.’’, said Hahn.
He talked about two crucial issues: the coordination mechanism, which is important for an effective interaction between BiH and the EU and its institutions; and the adaptation of the SAA following Croatia’s accession to the EU, on which he urged the BiH leaders to resume and finalise negotiations soon.
Hoyt Yee of the US State Department suggested the same EU approach to Bosnia as to Macedonia: more robust engagement but also more sticks. ‘’Our relation with BiH needs to be based on accountability. Our support needs to be conditional, a two-way street.’’, said Hoyt Yee.
The last two panels of the conference discussed 20 years of state-building in Bosnia and Bosnia’s future in the EU.
Author: Doris Manu, European Western Balkans Brussels corespondent