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Dear Members of the Presidency-elect,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Dear representatives of businesses and civil society,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is such a pleasure for me to be in Sarajevo at this historic moment for Bosnia and Herzegovina. But before I speak about this beautiful city and country, allow me to take you for one moment to the city where I was born and where I live. The city of Brussels. In the heart of Brussels, there is a piece of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a huge, colourful mural, painted by a young artist from Sarajevo – whose name is Rikardo Druškić. It brings light and joy from the Balkans into the grey Brussels weather. But beyond the beauty of it, the mural sends a clear message: It says that Bosnia and Herzegovina has a place in the heart of the European Union. You are part of Europe. You belong in our Union. And it was so moving to see the European flag shine on three landmark monuments in Sarajevo, in Banja Luka and in Mostar – to celebrate our proposal to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a candidate for EU membership. Because our flag will be your flag, too. It belongs in this country. And this is why I came here today. This is what I want to say to all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Your future is Europe.
And this is not primarily because of our proposal to grant Bosnia and Herzegovina candidate status. It is because the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina deeply believe in Europe. Over three quarters of your citizens support EU membership. There is a solid majority in favour of it in all parts of the country. And this faith in Europe is even stronger among young people. For young people in this country, Europe means economic prosperity and freedom of movement. But it is not just that. The path towards our Union is also the path towards a better Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is about turning this country into the country of their dreams. There is an entire generation of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who are born after the war. They do not want their country to be defined and divided by its tragic past. They want a country that is united by a common sense of purpose. And membership to the European Union is part of that purpose. And you, the new leadership of this country, are the people who can make their dream come true. With your political work, the country has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move forward. This is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s moment, and I would like to encourage everyone of you to seize this moment.
This is also the meaning of our recommendation to grant candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The last four years have not been easy. Because of COVID-19, because of the war on Ukraine, because of deep political divisions. And yet, even in difficult circumstances, some progress has been made – on public procurement and in achieving membership of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism. This should teach us all a very simple lesson: If there is a will, there is always a way. Now is the time for the country to come together once again, and advance on the path towards our Union. I will not dwell on the eight reform steps that we have outlined clearly in our recommendation. We all know that passing these reforms will not be easy. But I would invite you to always set your sights on what lies at the end of the path. Bosnia and Herzegovina will be a country where everyone is equal before the law. A country where young people unfold their talent and hard work into success. They love their country. They want opportunities here. A country that is attractive for investors. A country where everyone feels represented – people who identify as Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, as well as people who just feel citizens of this country. The reforms do not only matter because they lead to our Union, they matter because they will make your country a better place for all its people.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The path that leads to Europe is clear. And the door is open. And it is up to you to walk together through this door. This is your historic responsibility as the new leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But we will always be at your side. Our proposal for candidate status is a clear political statement. And we will support your reforms, and accompany you all the way through. We are ready to push the integration of our economies even further, with no further delay.
A lot of good work is already ongoing. One year ago, during my last visit, I crossed an EU-funded bridge that links Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Later today, I will inaugurate the Ivan Tunnel that will connect Mostar to Sarajevo and, further north, to Budapest. Bosnia and Herzegovina lies at the heart of Europe and you should also lie at the heart of our trade and economic exchanges. This cooperation becomes even more crucial at a time when Putin’s energy war is hitting families and businesses all across our continent. Today, I would like to announce that the European Union is putting together an energy support package for the Western Balkans. It will include EUR 71 million for the short term to address the fallout of higher energy prices for businesses and vulnerable households right here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And in the medium term, it will speed up the transition towards more reliable sources of energy. I am speaking about solar, wind and biomass power plants that can be built in less than one year, but also about new interconnectors between Bosnia and Herzegovina and your neighbours.
I know that many people in the country feel anxious after Russia’s aggression of Ukraine. Not only has Putin launched an assault on basic international rules that have guaranteed peace in this country since 1995. Putin’s war is also having a direct economic impact on all the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The best solution to this is an even closer cooperation with the European Union. This is your immediate interest, and it will also bring you closer to our Single Market and to membership of our Union.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
These are times of rapid change in the Western Balkans and in Europe. We have opened accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. We have granted candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, and recognised Georgia’s European perspective. There is new momentum to bring the European family together. And now, Bosnia and Herzegovina is moving ahead, too. Let us be honest. This seemed impossible until just a few months ago. And yet here I am, in Sarajevo, celebrating with you a new page in our common history. If there is a will, there is a way. And if Bosnia and Herzegovina finds unity of purpose, there is nothing that can stop you.
This summer, the success story of one young girl from Mostar literally made waves through the world. 16-year-old swimmer Lana Pudar won European gold in the women’s 200-metre butterfly and broke all Bosnian records. Her story is the story of this country. It was not easy for her to train, in a city that lacks an Olympic-size swimming pool. But Lana has made it against all odds. And now, because of her success, a new Olympic swimming pool will be built in Mostar. Lana has become a symbol, not just in her hometown, not just in her community, but all across the country. Her victory has been celebrated by all people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in all entities and across boundaries. This is the dream of your young people. The dream of a country united in its diversity, and united with its neighbours in one European family. And this dream can be realised. Let us work for it – together.
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