We are here today to commemorate the Dayton Peace Agreement, which, 25 years ago, ended one of the bloodiest wars we have seen on the European continent since the Second World War. A devastating conflict that led to genocide, more than 100,000 deaths, and over a million refugees. We remember the tragedies of the past with the promise to never let them happen again.
While remembering the atrocities of the past, we look towards the future, and the road that the EU and BiH have undertaken together to build a peaceful and prosperous future for the citizens of BiH. Over the past 25 years, much progress has been made towards building a stable and democratic Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yet, the journey is not over and a lot remains to be done.
During his visit to Sarajevo on the occasion of the Dayton Peace Agreement anniversary, the EU High HRVP Representative and Vice President Josep Borrell reaffirmed that the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies in the European Union. In addition, he recalled that to achieve this objective, the political leadership of the country will have to enact much needed reforms.
The EU is a project for peace and for people. Aspiring members of the Union are to engage in a continuous process of reconciliation. History shows that reconciliation is a process not an event, which needs to be reaffirmed, persistently, every day. The rejection of conflict, hate and division, the acceptance of cooperation and reconciliation is central to the European Union and to its values. And so it is for Bosnia and Herzegovina and its people.
EU integration remains a key objective for the country, uniting political parties and the general public alike – 80% of the population share this goal. The 25th anniversary of Dayton can be a turning point to translate this wish into concrete action, to move from post-war to pre-accession, in other words from Dayton to Brussels.
In December 2019, the Council of the European Union reiterated its unequivocal commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina's EU perspective as a single, united and sovereign country. The EU urged executive and legislative bodies at all levels of government to start addressing the 14 key priorities identified in the Commission Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina's application for membership of the European Union, in line with the interests of all citizens to advance towards the European Union.
The reforms needed are deep but essential to make the country’s governance more effective. While taking into account the specificities of the country, they will at some point need to include changes to the institutional and electoral frameworks. On electoral reform, the EU calls for an inclusive process, in line with European standards, that would eliminate all forms of inequality and discrimination in the electoral process. No legislative or political step should be taken which would make the implementation of the Sejdic-Finci ruling and related European Court of Human Rights rulings more challenging.
In the past months, Bosnia and Herzegovina's authorities have made some steps to address the Opinion’s key priorities. The Council welcomes that for the first time since 2008, the local elections will also take place in the city of Mostar on 20 December 2020.
We also welcome the recent adoption of the revised national war crime strategy, and call for its swift implementation, which will contribute to the wider goal of promoting an environment conducive to reconciliation.
We call on the authorities of the country to build on this momentum and continue to engage on reforms, thereby giving tangible proof that Bosnia and Herzegovina is willing to do what it takes to become a member of the EU. Only by delivering on reforms will Bosnia and Herzegovina advance towards the EU.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, like the rest of Europe, continues to be impacted by the global COVID 19 pandemic. In these difficult times, the EU remains firmly engaged in assisting Bosnia and Herzegovina in addressing the immediate health needs as well as with the long-term social and economic impact resulting from the pandemic. The recent Commission’s Economic and Investment Plan, once again demonstrates the EU’s strong commitment towards Bosnia and Herzegovina and all the Western Balkans’ partners.
Lastly, with regard to the political and security situation on the ground and the importance of maintaining a safe and secure environment, the European Union reiterates its firm support to EUFOR Althea and to the mandate entrusted to it by the Security Council.
The 25th anniversary of Dayton can, and should, mark the beginning of a new phase. Not just for Bosnia and Herzegovina but for the whole region.