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Political leaders must work together to advance Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU prospects

European Union, Minister Paschal Donohoe, Press Releases, Europe, 2014

 

Speaking at an address at the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia this evening (Thursday), Minister for European Affairs, Paschal Donohoe TD, said that in order for advances to be made towards membership of the European Union for Bosnia and Herzegovina a credible effort would have to be made by political leaders on all sides (see full speech below).

The Minister is in Sarajevo for meetings with key political leaders, to address students and NGOs at the University and to meet with the local Irish community in Sarajevo, including members of the Irish Defence Forces stationed there as part of the EU mission.

“The Irish Government is a strong supporter of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and recognises the significant constitutional, political and economic challenges that country faces.

“There is concern however that the pace of reform that had been undertaken has slowed and that Bosnia and Herzegovnia risks lagging behind its neighbours in terms of advancement towards the EU.

“For a membership application to be considered by the EU by Bosnia and Herzegovnia, a credible effort must be seen in dealing with issues such as discrimination and the ability of the country to speak with a strong and single voice. Only when these issues have been dealt with can Bosnia and Herzegovina begin to take the necessary steps along the path towards EU membership.

“I would urge political leaders to work together to resvole outstanding issues, particularly ahead of the elections due to take place in the country later this year. Putting aside short-term ethnic or party interests and placing a firm focus on the long-term interest of the country will send a strong signal that the political leaders are serious about EU membership and that they are prepared to work together to that end.”

 

  

Speech by Minister for European Affairs, Paschal Donohoe TD, to the School of Economics and Business of the University of Sarajevo, Thursday, 30th January

 

Thank you. I am delighted to be here with you this evening at the University of Sarajevo, following a very productive day of meetings with your political leaders, including your Minister for Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister Bevanda and members of the Joint Committee on European Integration.

Perhaps the most famous Irish visit to Sarajevo was that of U2 in 1997 as part of their PopMart tour. I understand that this was the first major public concert to take place in your city after the war that wrecked devastation across your country and ruined much of this city.

After the performance Larry Mullen Junior said:

'That [was] an experience I will never forget for the rest of my life. And if I had to spend 20 years in the band just to play that show....I think it would have been worthwhile'.

I suspect the reason for this was the performance of 'Miss Sarajevo' - a song inspired by the lives of ordinary people during the siege of this city. This song opens up with:

'Is there a time for keeping your

distance?

A time to turn your eyes away?

Is there a time for keeping your

head down?

For getting on with your day?'

'Keeping your head down' and 'getting on with your day' might refer to the efforts of ordinary people to keep their lives and souls intact in the face of terrible suffering.

I would like to think though, that now, it could also refer to the steady and purposeful way in which the people and politicians of Bosnia and Herzegovina have worked to create a better and more secure life.

This is an extraordinary achievement. And everything I will say to you is grounded in acknowledgement of all you have secured and created. It is also grounded in the hope that the European Union can help anchor what you have now and support you in the journey ahead.

So, in my contribution this evening I will touch on a number of themes.

First - Ireland’s relationship with the European Union and how I believe this relates to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Second – Irish support for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the journey you have made and the journey, I hope, you will complete.

Finally - to emphasise key themes of the EU strategy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

Irish membership of the EU - From Closed to Open

Since joining the EU 40 years ago, Ireland has changed beyond recognition. Our membership has brought countless benefits. But it has not been without challenges. I want to emphasise both.

We have changed from a closed economy to the second most globalised in the world.

When we joined, our average income was 60% of that which was being attained in Europe. Despite recent difficulties, it is now 25% greater than the European average.

Our income was also heavily dependent on that of the UK, with our currency pegged to sterling. Last year Ireland sold over €180 billion of goods and services to our trading partners. This performance was spread across agriculture, pharmaceuticals, technology and the financial services sectors. This was achieved as committed members of the Eurozone.

Membership of the single European market, the EU’s greatest achievement, has driven this transformation. Access to a market of 500 million people has allowed Ireland to undergo significant economic growth and development and required us to make changes that now allow us to 'punch above our weight'.

This has happened because Union membership has allowed, required or inspired better educational opportunities, a cleaner environment, better schools and universities and vital progress in areas such as gender quality and workers' rights.

Ireland has adapted to changing circumstances and undertaken necessary reforms. They are never easy but are a necessary and ongoing part of membership.

 

Freedoms of the EU - Resetting Relationships

This is underpinned by the freedoms of the Union; the free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

They are the central tenets of EU membership. All else rests on them.

These freedoms give EU citizens the possibility of living and working in other Member States, bringing with them an array of possibilities for those who wish to travel and work abroad, and for countries to enhance and enrich the social fabric of their societies as people are welcomed from other shores.

These freedoms have created a Union which has allowed us to reset our relationship with our nearest neighbour, Britain, as we sit around the table as full and equal partners with our UK counterparts.

Explicit equality, between our two countries, was achieved by sitting with many countries. And, we have both built on this, to transform our mutual relationship. This level of extraordinary and momentous change has helped both countries to strive tirelessly for peace in Northern Ireland.

However, while the advantages of membership are many, so too are the challenges.

 

Challenges of the Union

The European Union has experienced a very turbulent time. Doubts were cast on the very existence of the euro, with some predicting its demise and a few the total collapse of the Union.

Such apocalyptic events did not happen. But as we worked through many crises, and on how best to move the Union from a political to a monetary union, we have sometimes faced uphill battles. From unacceptable levels of unemployment to challenges to the very solvency of our State.

I must acknowledge that the perceived loss of sovereignty, economic and political, and the role of the euro in national economies are causes of concern for many Irish citizens.

These concerns were compounded, and created for some, by the recent massive economic difficulty that Ireland has endured and is working hard to end. Our exit from the IMF-EU External Aid Programme was an important step in this progress.

But a core Irish lesson, stretching from our economic to political experiences, is that membership of the Union has ongoing demands and requirements that must be met and adhered to.

As members of the eurozone there are strong requirements for national budget discipline and for bank regulation.

Where our people are concerned, initiating and maintaining standards in education is key.

And when it comes to accessing the single market, there is an obligation on all Member States to ensure compliance with EU law.

We do this because as members of the Union we recognise that beyond the banking, digital and economic unions, the EU is underpinned by a union of values that are based on equality and inclusion, human rights and diversity.

Ivo Andric in ‘The Bridge Over the Drina’ reminds us that:

‘Every human generation has its own illusions with regard to civilisation, some believe they are taking part in its upsurge, others that they are witnesses of its extinction. In fact, it always both flames up and smoulders and is extinguished accordingly to the place and the angle of view’.

I am aware of this. I simply contend that the Union has survived and secured itself through change and that Ireland has worked hard to do the same.

Durability achieved through change.

 

Support & Progress

I have tried to explain how the long path of Union membership has helped Ireland. We want the prospects that have been opened to us to be open to other countries. This is why Ireland is firmly committed to EU enlargement and to helping countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina to progress on the path to membership.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has experienced so much, from the Ottoman Empire, through the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as part of the former Yugoslavia, then conflict and now the hope of a better future. Ireland believes this can best be achieved with the EU.

There is no doubt that the road to accession is a long and difficult one. However the process itself presents an opportunity to make reforms that will significantly advance the lives and standards of your people.

Enforcing the rule of law and ensuring that all citizens are treated equally brings greater political stability, new economic opportunities and an improved quality of life for all. This, and this alone, is reason enough to embark on an ambitious programme of reform.

As I emphasised at the start of my speech, look at how much was achieved. The return of refugees, freedom of movement and the holding of free and fair elections are all signature achievements. But these foundations must be built upon.

You want them built upon and Ireland, through the EU, wants to support this progress. 

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina – the way forward

This is why the EU, and Ireland, remains fully committed to assisting you on the road to EU accession. As recently as 17th December, the EU reiterated unequivocal support for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s drive towards membership.

In advancing that position however, a number of criteria have to be met; to ensure that the EU’s union of shared values is protected; values pertaining to the rule of law, freedom of expression, public administration reform and a fight against corruption and organised crime.

For Bosnia and Herzegovina to progress, the strategy and position, not just of the European Commission but of all 28 Member States and of the European Parliament, is clear.

 

What can you do?

We need to see fulfillment of the European Court of Human Rights’ judgement in the case of Sejdic-Finci by ending discrimination. Only then can a Stabilisation and Association Agreement enter into force, allowing Bosnia and Herzegovina to take the necessary steps to proceed towards credible membership of the EU.

 

Why is this so important?

Because this ruling cuts to the core of the union of values that Member States strive to create and then maintain. It is also a clear, positive and, again, credible sign of intent.

But it must be remembered that the EU is about so much more than Sejdic-Finci; it is about these values, it is about the development of infrastructure and it is about creation of better standards for all.

Progress must also be forthcoming on the setting up of an effective and efficient coordination mechanism to deal with, among other things, the administration of funding. This would allow for Bosnia and Herzegovina to speak with one strong and single voice and would strengthen your position in discussions with the EU.

 

How can you get there?

And as a nation that has come so far, it is an important part of your continued progress that your politicians are the leaders in this process.

Solutions created by others are rarely solutions that actually work. Creation and ownership are inextricably linked.

Your leaders must find the most appropriate solution themselves. The EU has shown our willingness to work with you, through them, to help achieve this.

I know that the path to membership is not easy. It involves difficult reforms on highly sensitive issues. But these are worth doing for the intrinsic value they will add to your people’s lives. And the rewards, which many of your neighbours also want, can change the fortune of a people.

And these can, and should be, your fortunes. It falls on younger generations to assist in unlearning some of the habits of the past. Your views can create a collective vision that will build on the progress that you have already made.

 

Conclusion

I will conclude by emphasising the strong relationship between our two countries.

Ireland has a significant community from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who make a great contribution to our country. Indeed, the exchange programme that is underway between your university and Griffith College sees students from here studying in Dublin.

One of your students was recently nominated as student of the year for the entire college. So you are definitely making your mark on the student population at home. I am also looking forward to hearing later on about the Celtic connection that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina hold so dear.

In the past, Ireland has opened its doors to your people who sought refuge after conflict. This was a duty that we were determined to fulfil. Our army and police forces are proud to have played a role in the security of your country.

So, it seems only fitting that if I started with U2 I should end with them too. Their famous and beautiful song - 'One'. This song is about many things. Relationships, love. It means different things to different people.

But it is fair to say that Bono did not intend it as an analysis of European political and economic integration.

However the opening lyrics offer as good a place as any to end:

'Is it getting better?

Or do you feel the same?'

Are prospects 'getting better'? Do you, as a younger generation, 'feel the same', as other generations about how best to create your future?

These are questions only you can answer.

But in sifting through answers to these questions please consider the role of the Union; its values, its freedoms and, yes, its challenges: in supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina and in supporting you towards a secure and better future.

 

ENDS

Press Office

30 January 2014