On the first day of the Budapest Balkans Forum, after the ministerial panel Christian Schmidt, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina who, with the moderation of Márton Ugrósdy, Deputy State Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office talked about the present and future of the country.
In his opening speech, the High Representative stated that in the past year Bosnia and Herzegovina has seen both progress and setback. On the one hand, the country still sees the consequences of the dissolution of Yugoslavia as well as the international community’s lack of knowledge on how to react to a political and humanitarian disaster. The Dayton Peace Agreement brought a rule-based structure to the government and people do not have to fear leaving their houses anymore, yet there are still many questions to be answered. The Constitution is not one of the European standards, the distinctions between ethnic origin may decide the functionality of the state, many reforms have not been closed, nor implemented.
On the other hand, at the end of 2022, Bosnia and Herzegovina became an EU candidate country. Mr. Schmidt stressed that candidacy is just the beginning and political willingness to continue the process and implement reforms will be inevitable to reach EU membership. Only when Bosnia and Herzegovina is ready to implement the EU’s requirements, then can Brussels help their integration.
According to the High Representative, there are two questions that the EU should work on regarding the challenges of the Western Balkans. The first one is territorial integrity and its respect, including the understanding of the difficulties of the legislature and what and how can be done. The second one is dissolving the non-resilience of given organizations in the political field. A double road policy should be established, through which immediate steps can be made as well that ensure the future for younger generation until full EU membership is reached. This is why the initiative of the Open Balkan should be rethought to give perspective for young people.
Regarding the Russia’s war in Ukraine and the mandate of EUFOR Althea, the High Representative explained how people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not tied to Putin or Lavrov, but it is rather a cultural tie of Slavic origin they feel entitled to. The EUFOR is still inevitable to safeguard the fragile political environment, but the members of the international community have to make sure that this time they will not be too late nor too early and act as partners, and not as foreigners.
The last topic was concerned with the obstacles Bosnia and Herzegovina faces in its EU accession process and whether the political leadership is ready to lead the country through this transition. Mr. Schmidt believes that candidate countries from the region should be accepted to the EU together as it was the case during the 2004 enlargement. This would give more accountability on the process on all sides. Furthermore, in the Balkans there is a necessity to consider the past when deciding about the future because any other approach would only lead to turbulence in the region. The High Representative added that the accession process requires social commitment from neighbouring countries as well, and a way of exchange and cooperation that advertises functionality. For most citizens, economic complaints are not about salaries, but about the standards of living which needs European investments both in the public and private sectors. “It needs to be easy to go and learn and then make it worth to come back”, added the High Representative. Nonetheless, Mr. Schmidt emphasised that the EU should not give upon its standards while providing access to funding to Bosnia and Herzegovina.