“The UK’s role, together with Germany, in initiating the EU’s new approach in BiH is pretty well known. Perhaps less well known is the role that we are continuing to play in supporting the implementation of the Reform Agenda which is at the heart of that approach.
The Reform Agenda isn’t ours, it’s yours. It wasn’t imposed. It was developed by the elected governments at the State and Entity levels, and it reflects their priorities for the next three years. But, together with our international partners, we fully support these essential socio-economic reforms.
We don’t see the agreed package of reforms as tied to particular political parties or coalitions. We see it as a national agenda for modernisation. That’s because all 14 State-level political parties promised to support these reforms when they signed the Written Commitment last year.
The reforms won’t solve everything, as I’ve said before. But they are a first step towards making BiH more economically stable and competitive, towards creating new jobs and opportunities for young people and towards addressing some of the unfairness and inequality within society.
One thing is for certain: they won’t be easy. The reforms are technically extremely demanding. BiH’s citizens don’t just want change for its own sake, they want change for the better. And that’s where we can help.
This year, my Embassy will spend over £8 million in supporting reforms in BiH. That’s three times more than when I arrived just two years ago. Some of this is on long-term projects we’ve been working on for years, like selecting and training officers for the BiH Armed Forces, building the capacities of the State-level judicial institutions and supporting Entity Governments in developing and implementing their anti-corruption strategies.
But increasingly, we’re aligning our priorities with those of the Reform Agenda. In fact, we have access to a new UK fund called the Good Governance Fund which we’re using almost exclusively for this purpose. This has been a huge help as it has given us a fast and flexible source of funding that we can use to provide technical advice and assistance to governments in BiH, just as we’re doing elsewhere in the region, including in Serbia.
We’re trying to focus our support on areas that will make a real and visible difference, and which can help to show the benefits of reform to a public which is understandably sceptical and suspicious. Above all, we’re using our money where we think it can help attract domestic and foreign investment, and to create new, sustainable jobs in the private sector. Here are some examples:
- UK-funded consultants have helped the responsible State and Entity-level Ministries to create a single, countrywide Transport Strategy. We hope it will unlock at least €130M of EU and other funding to improve roads, railways, airports, bridges and ports.
- BiH ranks 175th in the world for ease of setting up new businesses. This deters investors. With the World Bank, we plan over the next three years to create a new, online system to help entrepreneurs register their businesses anywhere in BiH within a maximum of three days, and to streamline business regulation in order to reduce the costs for small and medium-sized companies.
- We are also working with the World Bank to help governments make it easier for producers in BiH, and particularly farmers, to trade and export across borders by reducing regulatory costs, strengthening quality control and by facilitating the movement of goods.
- We are providing expert advisers on areas like economic and labour market reform, EU integration and strategic communications to support the offices of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and of the Prime Ministers of both Entities, strengthening their capacity to lead on the Reform Agenda.
- We are supporting the development of a new strategy and action plan to reform public administration right across BiH, so that institutions and civil servants are better trained and equipped to support the implementation of reforms and to provide better services for citizens.
- We want to improve public understanding about the reforms, and what they are designed to achieve. The ‘Skinimo Okove’ campaign has so far reached 2.5 million people (70% of the population), inspiring almost a million of you to search for more information online. Take a look at reformskaagenda.ba.
It has been a big challenge for my small team to get all these projects off the ground. It’s still early days, but I am delighted that the UK is able to play such a positive and constructive role in supporting reforms that we hope will make a real difference to the lives of ordinary citizens. My aim is to ensure that, by providing expert support and advice when it is needed, new laws, policies or strategies are as good as they can be. It’s a sign of the UK’s continued commitment and determination to see BiH realise its potential as a stable, modern and European state.“