British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier have called on politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to show more determination in the implementation of a reform plan adopted in 2015, saying that progress on possible European Union membership depends solely on that.
In a joint column run by BiH dailies on Monday, they say that includes applying for membership candidate status, which BiH is announcing for mid-February.
A year ago today, Germany and Great Britain launched an initiative on a new approach to BiH aimed at encouraging reforms which will primarily bring change on the economic plane, creating prerequisites for stabilising the situation in the country and gradual constitutional changes.
The initiative, endorsed by the whole EU, was launched in line with assessments by then Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic that, instead of insistence on an agreement on constitutional changes, BiH needed a new impetus that would take it out of years of economic stagnation and social crisis which culminated in mass protests in February 2014.
Now, a year after presenting the initiative in Sarajevo, Steinmeier and Hammond say there is reason for optimism because ambitious reform plans have been defined at state and entity level and some reforms have been carried out. This has been recognised in the European Commission's progress report on BiH last November.
We welcome the progress made so far, but it's too early for these reforms to make a visible difference in the lives of a majority of BiH citizens, as this process takes time, they say, adding that politicians in BiH must continue to cooperate and work together as promised.
As for the BiH Presidency's announcements that BiH will submit an application to be granted EU membership candidate status in Brussels on February 15, Steinmeier and Hammond say the position of all partners in the EU is that the prerequisite for that is significant progress in reforms, notably the establishment of a mechanism for the coordination of relations with the EU and the adjustment of an interim trade agreement to enable the duty-free import of Croatian goods.
If that is solved, the application is likely to be accepted in the near future, but for now it is more important that it be submitted properly, rather than as soon as possible, the column says.
The two officials say that politicians in BiH should refrain from discussions on big political issues, such as amendments to the electoral law, and that a judiciary referendum in the Serb entity would only make the whole situation more difficult.