Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for EU membership submitted in February 2016 means a simple thing: the country has made a choice for higher democratic standards and a more prosperous future for its citizens. This path it has embarked upon is not an easy one and there are many challenges ahead.
Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens are aware of these challenges and are right to ask about what the EU integration brings to them now and not only in the future. What does the EU integration process bring to a Tuzla factory worker, to a Trebinje farmer or to a Bihac university student? Their concerns and questions have neither easy or simple answer nor an immediate solution. And yet, the EU accession process, through the deep and comprehensive reforms it requires at all levels across the country, remains the best way to address them.
The Reform Agenda, a set of comprehensive socio-economic reforms and reforms in the rule of law area and in the public administration, is key. Efforts for its implementation have been made by authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina – at state and entity level – over the past two years, leading to some encouraging first results. Only last week due to the new rule book on pharmaceuticals lower prices for medicines entered into force leading to savings for citizens of an estimated 70 million BAM. This is just one example showing how much the Reform Agenda benefits citizens. Its implementation must continue in order to bring more concrete and visible improvements in their every day life. Divisive agendas and narrow party or ethnic interests are not what Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens need and are not helping the country advancing towards the EU.
Further strengthening of regional economic integration would also contribute to make Bosnia and Herzegovina and the other Western Balkan countries better prepared for future EU accession. That is why this is at the centre of the Trieste summit in July. I call on Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as all countries in the region to work together to ensure that this idea will be turned into reality. This is what investors need. This, together with improving transport and energy infrastructures between Western Balkan countries and with the EU, is what can help to unlock the economic potential of the region.
The European Commission will continue supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina in the implementation of these reforms, together with the international financial institutions and international partners, including through extensive financial assistance. Some € 800 million have been provided to support the reforms since 2007 and additional funding will be available once the country has agreed the necessary countrywide strategies in areas such as employment, environment, energy and agriculture.
A French philosopher, Raymond Aron, used to say in the 1950s that the EU integration “is not the passing enthusiasm of the day but the supreme goal which gives a meaning to a life or sets an objective to a generation”.
Let EU integration be the objective of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s citizens and of its youth! The European Commission will help turning the EU perspective into reality.