dragan čović - hdz BiH.jpg
Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Covic
Photograph: HINA/ FENA/ Emanuel soca/ ua

A group of members of the European Parliament organised a conference in Brussels on Wednesday bringing together key stakeholders in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the war in that country and which today many consider to be an obstacle to making Bosnia and Herzegovina a functioning state.

MEPs Andrej Plenkovic, Tonino Picula, Jozo Rados, Davor Stier and Dubravka Suica of Croatia and Cristian Dan Preda, a Romanian member of the European Parliament and its rapporteur on Bosnia and Herzegovina, organised the conference that was attended by senior officials from Bosnia and Herzegovina and representatives of European institutions and the United States.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Chairman Dragan Covic said that the country's stability could be built only on the basis of federalism and the equality of its three main ethnic groups.

"... Constitutional amendments must ensure the equality and representation of all of the country's constituent peoples," said Covic, adding that Bosnia and Herzegovina could follow the example of Belgium, which had turned from a centralised country to a highly decentralised one.

He underlined that there was no alternative to Bosnia and Herzegovina's integration with Euro-Atlantic institutions.

The Bosniak member of Bosnia and Herzegovina's collective state presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, said that now was the time for the country to undergo transition from its Dayton phase to its Brussels phase.

Izetbegovic underlined that nobody would be able to impose any solutions on anyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Izetbegovic said the main priority was putting a stop to the emigration of young people because Bosnia and Herzegovina could soon become a country of old people.

The Serb member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency, Mladen Ivanic, could not attend the conference for health reasons.

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said that a lot had been done over the past year regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina's integration with the EU.

She said that the Dayton Peace Agreement had ensured Bosnia and Herzegovina's survival but that it should not last forever.

European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that now that the EU-Bosnia and Herzegovina Stabilisation and Association Agreement had taken effect, the next step should be for the country to submit an application for membership of the EU.

Before that, Bosnia and Herzegovina must agree to the adjustment of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement so as to take into account Croatia's EU membership and keep the volume of trade that Croatia had with Bosnia and Herzegovina before its accession to the EU, he said.

That is not a bilateral issue between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina but between the entire EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Brian Hoyt Yee said that social and economic reforms were a priority in Bosnia and Herzegovina and they needed not necessarily be related to constitutional amendments.

Institutional reforms should not be avoided but economic and social reforms should come first, said Yee.

He said that Bosnia and Herzegovina should step up reforms and make a detailed plan of what can be done until the next parliamentary election, due in 2018.

One of the organisers of the conference, Croatian MEP Andrej Plenkovic, said that the equality of the country's constituent ethnic groups must be ensured and that Bosnia and Herzegovina's territorial integrity cannot be questioned.

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