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Ambassador’s Remarks at “Transformative Potential of the Euro-Atlantic Process in BiH” Conference in Neum
March 18, 2021

Speeches infographic

(as prepared)

Thank you, Deputy Minister Brkic, and to NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana, my fellow panelists, and the other participants.

We are all here because we share the common goal of seeing Bosnia and Herzegovina move forward on its Euro-Atlantic path and demonstrating to all its citizens that their children can build a future in BiH.

The United States continues to stand ready to work with BiH and its partners to ensure that BiH fulfills its full potential as well as its obligations to its people by seizing the tremendous opportunity before it to restore citizen confidence and make significant progress on the EU path.

In my travels throughout the country, I hear the same message everywhere I go – that this country has great potential but needs common sense economic and rule of law reforms to reduce corruption, stimulate business, and attract investment. Anything less simply means driving deeper the status quo anchor that is keeping BiH from moving forward.

The time for these reforms is now. The EC Opinion provides a clear roadmap for reforms that will secure the country’s EU future. The 5+2 criteria for BiH graduation from international supervision are complementary to the EU path, and BiH’s Reform Program can help align NATO Alliance assistance to achieving a brighter and more stable future for all in BiH.

This year marks 25 years of BiH citizens making smart use of USAID assistance to become self-reliant and to make a difference. All of this represents the international community’s commitment to support BiH. It’s time for BiH’s leaders to take up their end of the bargain – we’re talking about working step-by-step on

meaningful reforms that are part of a promising journey toward full participation in the Euro-Atlantic community.

No doubt you have heard us say that 2021 must be a year of action to start a new and positive chapter building off of 25 years of peace brought by the DPA. 2021 represents a narrow window of opportunity to deliver on long-awaited reforms needed for progress on the EU path and to promote greater trust and functionality. But with a quarter of the year already gone, the window is quickly closing.

The historic agreement that enabled elections in Mostar after far too long was made possible by leaders prepared to engage in serious dialogue and reach consensus, and by a proper parliamentary process. It was also made possible by courageous citizens determined to demand and exercise their basic right to vote.

Electoral reform is a clear priority and is clearly achievable. The recent municipal elections in the country highlighted longstanding issues that need to be addressed to increase transparency, fairness, and citizen confidence in future elections.

Among the needed changes are improved training for election workers, reforms to make polling station committees more balanced and impartial, and new technologies to improve the transparency and accuracy of ballot tabulation.

Fortunately, there is no need to start from scratch. The European Commission Opinion’s 14 Key Priorities, which includes implementation of OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe GRECO recommendations is a clear blueprint for these reforms.

The DPA recognizes the rights of the three constituent peoples within a single state with two entities – and trust between those peoples is fundamental. BiH is also home to its citizens, who must have equal rights and the ability to participate fully in the democratic process.

The United States supports Election Law changes to improve election integrity and address Constitutional Court rulings, including the Ljubic case. However, changes to the Election Law alone are not enough.

The United States also supports step-by-step, meaningful electoral reform, which must include limited constitutional reform to implement the various ECHR rulings, including Sejdic-Finci, that have gone unimplemented for far too long.

The way to make this happen is by fully supporting the Interagency Working Group (IAWG) process. The IAWG is a forum following OSCE/ODIHR standards that convenes BiH leaders, relevant institutions, and other stakeholders to agree and propose to Parliament electoral reforms needed for progress on the European path and election integrity.

As the very institution responsible for election law implementation, CEC inclusion is necessary for ODIHR recognition of a credible process.

To this I would add another vital component – civic engagement. Citizens, either as individuals or organized in groups, must be at the forefront pushing for change and better governance and holding elected officials accountable for their actions (or inaction).

And it is not just elected officials who need to be responsive to the demands of citizens. All public officials work for the benefit of the public and not at the behest of political patrons, a fact that is lost on too many in BiH. Public trust in BiH’s government institutions, especially its judiciary, is at an all time low as the public sees time and again brazen acts of corruption and greed go unpunished.

Corruption is a cancer on democracy and the United States stands by all citizens fighting to excise this blight. Efforts to improve the integrity of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, to adopt a meaningful Conflict of Interest Law and the Public Procurement Law are not only requirements for BiH from the EC’s

Opinion, but are common sense, essential reforms that will begin the long process of rebuilding the public’s trust in its government.

Progress on the Euro-Atlantic path will build a stronger economy. Reforms, such as an e-signature law, a state-level electricity and gas law, and others tied to the IMF’s proposed Extended Fund Facility promote the EU path will help create a single market in BiH that attracts foreign investment, create jobs, and favor consumers. Raising BiH’s economy to the standards of the Euro-Atlantic community will also require reforms that increase transparency and the rule of law. These reforms are urgently needed, to assist in pandemic recovery and strengthen the country’s long-term economic stability.

I’ve been heartened to see many passionate people doing their best to improve the lives of all BiH citizens, whether they be from the diaspora, members of my embassy’s BiH Youth Leaders Initiative (BiH Omladinski Lideri, or BOLD) program, or the numerous women of courage in BiH.

I understand fighting for change is a daunting task. Things worth fighting for are rarely easy to achieve. But the United States and the international community are here to help BiH rebuild trust and take steps forward to a better future.

These difficult reforms become easier when you invite the 30 Allies of NATO to help. NATO’s relationship with BiH is now defined by reforms and by BiH’s own Reform Program.

NATO will continue to help BiH move forward on its reform-oriented Euro-Atlantic path. BiH, though, will take the lead. The ongoing Reform Program process is BiH’s opportunity to identify its own reform priorities and how it envisions bringing Alliance assistance to achieve them. BiH’s NATO and EU paths are complementary – both help bring about meaningful reforms that impact all BiH citizens.

NATO will continue to actively support the Armed Forces of BiH. The AFBiH is a natural partner for NATO. Like NATO, the AFBiH brought together former opposing armies to create an effective and unified institution.

With NATO assistance, the AFBiH not only keeps the people of BiH safe – including through disaster assistance and demining — but also contributes to global security. The more than 1,800 BiH personnel who have deployed to international operations such as Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan since 2006 highlight BiH’s role as an exporter of security.

NATO is proud of its role in helping bring and secure peace in BiH over the last 25 years. As an Alliance, NATO is guided by the concept of collective security. Security, stability, and prosperity are best achieved through meaningful cooperation.

The United States will continue to support BiH’s reform priorities guided by the BiH-led Reform Program process. NATO’s focus in BiH is on a strong partnership, and the door to membership remains open. Any future decision to invite BiH to join the Alliance would be taken based on consensus among all Allies and within BiH’s government.

The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina have always deserved accountable leaders. In 2021, they need them more than ever , to restore confidence in their institutions, for simple opportunities to improve their lives, and leading on a path to the future, freed of backward-looking attempts to stoke fear and division and solidify the status quo.

The necessary reforms are clear. The steps necessary for BiH to advance on its European path are clear. BiH’s capacity and potential to achieve them is clear. U.S. and international support is clear.

What is needed is political will, courageous partners, and local leaders who ask themselves: Are we improving the lives of the people of BiH?

Thank you very much.