Cooperation and integration is the key to EU membership and prosperity, European Committee of the Regions delegation tells leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On 10 November political leaders representing regions and cities from across the European Union urged all levels of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to increase their cooperation and to back deep and far-reaching reforms so that the country can meet the economic and political aspirations of its population. They also expressed support for BiH's ambition to send an application for EU membership by the end of 2015.
The call for concerted action was made in Brāko by members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), a political assembly of local and regional leaders in the EU, at a meeting with local leaders from Bosnia and Herzegovina on 10 November. The CoR is a consultative body that advises the EU institutions on major political and policy issues. The CoR also advises sub-national authorities in countries neighbouring the EU - including Bosnia and Herzegovina - on how to push forward the European agenda.
Franz Schausberger (Austria / European People's Party), the Chairman of the CoR's Working Group on the Western Balkans, noted that clear coordination between all levels of government should be developed when engaging with the EU. " As leaders of regions and cities across the EU, we know that local authorities need significant powers, but we also know very clearly that local and central authorities need to work very closely together. Without cooperation between national, regional and local leaders and without an integration of policies, ordinary people will have fewer opportunities to progress in their lives. History makes this even truer in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which needs to function like a single, united and sovereign country ", he said.
Mr Schausberger and eight other members of the CoR met a large delegation of politicians from BiH, from the country's different entities and levels of government. The meeting was hosted by Anto Domić, Mayor of the Brāko District, and Djordja Kojić, President of the Assembly of the Brāko District.
Mr Schausberger, who represents the Austrian province of Salzburg in the CoR, welcomed the signs of progress identified by the European Commission in its report on BiH over the past 12 months, but added that this progress needs to be accelerated. "Time and circumstances are not on BiH's side", he stressed . "We all remember the deep and widespread public unrest in 2014. We also see that Bosnia's economic progress is poor, and that many ordinary Bosnians are struggling. Leaders at every level of government in BiH need to respond" , he declared.
Mr Schausberger noted that "EU support goes beyond just finances, by providing political and diplomatic encouragement. What's more, BiH could receive even more from the EU if it took more steps to reform itself to the benefit of its people ."
Renzo Daviddi , Deputy Head of the Delegation of the EU to Bosnia and Herzegovina, told members that the EU is willing to provide nearly €1 billion over the next two years and €500 million for investments, provided BiH's authorities meet political, economic and administrative conditions.
The European Commission's progress report, which was published on 10 November, says that the past 12 months had brought BiH closer to the EU, thanks to some progress in reforms and to the EU's decision to allow a stabilisation and association agreement (SAA) to come into force on 1 June 2015. The EU suspended the SAA in 2009 because of a failure to carry through fundamental reforms. Despite progress in past years, the European Commission's latest report also notes numerous political challenges, in addition to significant economic issues. Unresolved governance issues range from overlapping competences at state, entity and municipal or cantonal level and divisive political rhetoric to inadequate systems of management for EU funding. The European Commission also said that the SAA includes a set of commitments and obligations that Bosnia now needs to meet.
One of the hosts of today's meeting - Anto Domić, Mayor of the Brāko District - will visit the CoR in Brussels on 16 November to participate in a new CoR annual event, 'Enlargement Day'.
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