Brussels, 23 June 2021

 

Madame President,

Honourable Members, 

Dear Rapporteur Mr Rangel,

 

This debate is the last in a series discussing the reports on 2019-2020 Commission enlargement packages, concluding a very intensive period of exchanges we held over the past months on a range of issues.

In this context, before turning to Bosnia and Herzegovina, let me first thank the two co-rapporteurs Željana Zovko and Tonino Picula as well as the whole EP negotiating team for their work on the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III). The political deal we reached at the beginning of this month is a balanced compromise on an important instrument that will deliver assistance to the enlargement region and allow us to kick-start the implementation of the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. The Plan will upgrade infrastructure, support businesses and accelerate the green and digital transformation of the Western Balkans. 

For Bosnia and Herzegovina, this means investments in key infrastructure, such as the Corridor Vc highway and railway, road connections to Serbia and Montenegro, and gas and electricity transmission networks with neighbouring countries. The demining of the Sava river will also help boost inland waterway trade and to get over the past of the Balkan wars.

During the last plenary debates, I gave you a short update on our COVID-19 assistance to our Western Balkan partners, so let me provide you with some concreate numbers regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we redirected €80.5 million in grants for immediate needs and socio-economic response to the pandemic. We also secured macro-financial assistance of €250 million under very favourable loans – it was ratified by Bosnia and Herzegovina just recently, on 9 June. 

The continued delivery of EU-funded vaccines is a sign of EU solidarity. With support of Austria, we are delivering 651.000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer. Out of this, 213,822 BioNTech/Pfizer doses are arriving to Bosnia and Herzegovina in regular tranches from May to August. They will help to immunise frontline healthcare workers and other vulnerable groups. 

COVAX, which we support financially, has also been steadily delivering doses: 191,000 doses so far for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Additionally the country also received 30,000 doses from Croatia and 4,500 doses from Slovenia. 

We will not stop here and will continue mobilising more and more EU Member States to share additional doses of vaccines, as soon as they will become available. Several Member States have already announced upcoming donations of vaccines to the Western Balkans. 

 

Honourable Members,

Now, let me turn to the Bosnia and Herzegovina report. 

First, I would like to thank the Rapporteur, Mr Rangel, for the hard work and continued commitment towards the country .

Since the last European Parliament report on Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2018, the Commission adopted in 2019 its Opinion and analytical report on the country’s application for EU membership, identifying 14 key priorities to be fulfilled ahead of the opening of accession negotiations. The EU Council endorsed these key priorities in December 2019, and the Commission has reported for the first time on their implementation in its enlargement package only last year. We will report again on them this autumn of course.  

Bosnia and Herzegovina has made some significant steps on its EU path, but most substantive issues remain pending. 

As I have told to the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina over the past year, we in the Commission we are ready to deliver, including on candidate status, provided that Bosnia and Herzegovina also delivers with concrete results on fulfilling the 14 key priorities. I keep my promise, if Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders deliver we are delivering! 

The country should make the most of the months ahead to demonstrate that it takes EU integration seriously. That includes launching a debate on constitutional reform and specially electoral reforms and the  adoption of judicial reforms.

As other EU candidate countries before it, Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to amend its Constitution to comply with the requirements of EU membership. This means full compliance with the European Court for Human Rights rulings and ensuring equal representation in the country for all. It also means ensuring the functionality of state institutions, so that they are able to effectively participate in EU decision-making and to enforce the EU acquis. This is an ambitious task that cannot be delayed any further. 

The reform is difficult and sensitive, and will need the constructive engagement of all political leaders to make it a success. In this regard, it should be acknowledged as a first step in the right direction, that the Inter-Agency Working Group has started discussing electoral-constitutional reforms this year in May. The Working Group provides a forum for inclusive and transparent discussions.

Regarding the rule of law, several reforms are pending, as concerns integrity of the judiciary, more precisely amendments to the law on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council as well as concerning the conflict of interest and public procurement

This package of laws is about aligning with EU acquis and preventing corruption. We expect all parties to support it to demonstrate that they are serious in their commitments. 

To advance on its EU path, the political leaders also need to put a stop to negative rhetoric and denial of war crimes and genocide, which are unacceptable. 

Finally, let me reiterate that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future is within the EU as a single, united and sovereign country. The divisive rhetoric of the past months needs to stop. Political representatives must focus on the much-needed reforms to recover from the pandemic and on the changes that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s citizens are expecting.

Thank you very much for your attention!