The year 2023 is off to a positive start for Bosnia-Herzegovina. The granting of EU candidate status in December 2022 is a clear signal that Bosnia-Herzegovina’s future lies in the EU. The achievement of this goal was strongly supported in Brussels by Italy and Austria. Following the October 2022 elections, the government at state level quickly took office. A key element of the current government’s programme is to make tangible progress towards EU membership. These are promising signs pointing in the right direction. It is therefore important to make the most of this positive momentum. It is now up to all political actors to commit themselves to address the issues that have been left unresolved for too long and to implement the necessary reforms to advance the European integration process. Italy and Austria will continue to support Bosnia-Herzegovina on this path.
By granting candidate status, the EU and its Member States have made clear what we expect in terms of reforms. Bosnia-Herzegovina must continue to make progress in the eight areas of reform and the fourteen priorities required for the opening of EU accession negotiations. It is therefore essential that the authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina make every effort to achieve this by prioritising reform.
The citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina have waited too long. Too many years have been lost to economic and political stagnation. Too many talents, too many young people, and too many families have had to leave the country. All institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina must work together to reinvigorate the reform process, build mutual trust, and foster constructive dialogue and effective cooperation.
Political honesty and transparency towards the population are two essential elements. Reforms aimed at strengthening the Rule of Law or fighting corruption are not imposed on Bosnia-Herzegovina externally. Rather, they are key factors in improving the daily lives of citizens. These reforms are essential for the prosperity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its people. They are not mere paperwork, but a legitimate interest of the Bosnian people, an opportunity for success. More than that, at a time of renewed war on the European continent and growing geopolitical uncertainty, these reforms are an investment in a prosperous and secure future. This is what needs to be made clear to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It is very encouraging to see EU Member States and other international partners increasing their support and commitment to the Operation EUFOR Althea to ensure peace and security in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine is aimed at undermining the foundations of the law-based international order. Putin’s war is a direct attack on the UN Charter, on which not only European states but all countries of the world have relied for almost 80 years.
As a candidate country, we expect Bosnia-Herzegovina to take a clear position and to align itself with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. The road to Europe is a two-way street. But let us be clear: this road runs through Brussels, not Moscow.
Today, 10 March, we are in Bosnia-Herzegovina for a meeting with the new Bosnian authorities to reiterate these messages. As Ministers of Foreign Affairs of two Member States that have long supported Bosnia-Herzegovina, we can assure its citizens and institutions that they are not alone in this journey. But it is not only Italy and Austria that believe in a common European future, it is the entire European Union and its Member States that support Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially in these complex times. Without Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Western Balkans, the EU will remain incomplete.
Now is the time for the government and citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to embark on the path of reform with renewed vigour, to seize all the opportunities that Europe offers your country: you will be the architects of your future, and we will be at your side.