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Procedure : 2008/2654(RSP)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : B6-0541/2008

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Debates :

PV 22/10/2008 - 12
CRE 22/10/2008 - 12

Votes :

PV 23/10/2008 - 8.6
CRE 23/10/2008 - 8.6
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Texts adopted
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Thursday, 23 October 2008 - Strasbourg
EC-Bosnia and Herzegovina Stabilisation and Association Agreement

European Parliament resolution of 23 October 2008 on the conclusion of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, of the other part

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to the Presidency conclusions of the Thessaloniki European Council (19-20 June 2003) and to the annex thereto entitled 'The Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans: moving towards European integration',

–   having regard to the Council decision of 7 November 2005 to open negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) with a view to a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA),

–   having regard to the initialling of the SAA on 4 December 2007 and its signature on 16 June 2008,

–   having regard to the draft Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, of the other part (8226/2008),

–   having regard to the Road Map for visa liberalisation presented to BiH by the Commission on 5 June 2008,

–   having regard to the Interim Agreement on trade and trade-related matters between the European Community, of the one part, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, of the other part, the Annexes and Protocols annexed thereto, and the joint declaration and the declaration by the Community attached to the Final Act,

–   having regard to Rule 103(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.   whereas the SAA is the first comprehensive international agreement between BiH and the European Union establishing a contractual relationship between the two parties which will facilitate BiH's transition towards becoming a fully functional state, a state whose future, as declared at the above-mentioned Thessaloniki European Council, lies in the European Union,

B.   whereas the SAA has the potential to boost BiH's economy since it contains provisions which commit the country to liberalising its market, thus increasing the competitiveness of its businesses and attracting investment, to modernising its legal framework by making it more efficient and transparent and to gradually approximating BiH's laws and regulations to the acquis communautaire,

C.   whereas the Interim Agreement, which has been in force since 1 July 2008, abolishes gradually most trade restrictions between the two parties and could in the short term place a strain on BiH's economy due to competition by EU products and a reduction in customs revenues,

D.   whereas the SAA contains provisions concerning the strengthening of institutions, consolidation of the rule of law and respect for human rights, including minority rights,

E.   whereas it stipulates that the parties should cooperate in sensitive areas such as visas, border controls, asylum and migration, money laundering, the fight against terrorism and the fight against organised crime,

F.   whereas the implementation of the agreed reform of BiH police structures should be seen as part of the country's efforts to improve its capacity to address the above issues,

G.   whereas raising the level of general education and vocational education and training in BiH, as well as youth policy and youth work, including non-formal education, is also an objective of the agreement,

H.   whereas greater efforts are needed in order to overcome the division along ethnic lines and move towards genuine reconciliation between the parties; whereas these efforts must be addressed, in particular, to the young generations through common education programmes in both entities and through a common understanding of the recent tragic events that took place in the country,

I.   whereas BiH is still in many respects a country divided along ethnic lines, which is an obstacle to its transformation into a really functional state and democracy,

J.   whereas membership of the European Union is a prospect for Bosnia and Herzegovina only as a single state, and not for its entities, which do not enjoy autonomous sovereignty; whereas it is, therefore, in the interests of the entities to ensure that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a fully functional state, capable of fulfilling all the membership criteria and obligations,

K.   whereas there are still 125 072 people officially registered as internally displaced persons (IDPs), of whom, according to the BiH Government, 8 000 are still living in collective centres, notably because of a lack of adequate housing, infrastructure and employment in their areas of origin,

L.   whereas sterling work has been carried out on the ground by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) seeking to make the situation of IDPs and refugees more bearable,

M.   whereas there are also 45 000 people officially registered as being in need of assistance to return to their pre-war places of residence,

N.   whereas war crimes should be pursued with equal determination, means and efficiency at both State and local level,

1.  Welcomes the signature of this important agreement and urges all EU Member States to ratify it swiftly; is convinced that it consolidates the European prospects of BiH and provides a unique opportunity for the country to achieve peace, stability and prosperity;

2.  Reminds the political leaders, in particular, that it is mainly their responsibility to exploit this opportunity by showing sufficient foresight and determination in jointly pursuing reforms at all levels – State, entity and local – with a view to modernising the country and making it more efficient and compatible with EU standards, not least by abolishing all unnecessary legal and administrative barriers and by streamlining administrative structures; believes that the authorities of the Federation, in particular, should as a matter of urgency consider taking concrete steps in this direction;

3.  Recalls in this respect the obligation of BiH, in line with the SAA and the Interim Agreement, inter alia to:

   a) abolish gradually all quantitative restrictions on EU products,
   b) dismantle customs duties in accordance with the schedules negotiated,
   c) simplify the flow of goods by any means of transport throughout the territory of BiH, and
   d) draw up an exhaustive inventory of all aid schemes in the whole country, align all aid schemes to EU legislation and set up an independent authority for State aid;

4.  Considers that the SAA has the potential to boost BiH's economy since it contains provisions which commit the country to liberalising its market, thus increasing the competitiveness of its businesses and attracting investment, and to modernising its legal framework by making it more efficient and transparent; encourages the BiH authorities to take the necessary steps to increase the level of foreign direct investment in the country;

5.  Believes that the above measures mean that BiH's administrative capacity must be strengthened at all levels, including at the level of the State, which will have the responsibility of monitoring and ensuring compliance with the obligations resulting from theSAA, regardless of which bodies are responsible for the implementation of the SAA;

6.  Recalls that both entities need to make progress in the privatisation process but emphasises that this should be done under transparent conditions and within a proper regulatory and legal framework and that the proceeds from privatisation should be invested in order to foster lasting economic development in the country;

7.  Calls on the BiH Parliament, in close cooperation with the parliaments of the entities, to monitor the implementation of the SAA and to facilitate the adoption of legislation relating to the SAA and the European Partnership;

8.  Is convinced that the provisions regarding cooperation in areas such as visas, border management, migration and fighting organised crime and terrorism will provide a powerful incentive in BiH to build on the recently adopted police reform by promoting further cooperation between the different police structures and achieving greater harmonisation of procedures and practices; calls on the EU Police Mission in BiH to facilitate this process;

9.  Welcomes the fact that the agreement also upholds the principle of non-discriminatory access to BiH's education and vocational training systems irrespective of gender, ethnic origin or religion; believes in fact that serious efforts are needed in order to overcome the segregationist structures currently operating in the country; considers that education and the familiarity gained through having lived side by side from an early age are key factors in the reconciliation process;

10.  Believes that the EU should promote academic and research cooperation, including exchanges of staff, between BiH and the other countries of the region and between these and the EU Member States; recalls in this respect the contribution that EU programmes can make to this objective and the urgent need to establish a national agency in charge of implementing these programmes which are now open to the countries of the Western Balkans;

11.  Urges the educational authorities in BiH finally to put in place the national agency required in order to allow participation by BiH citizens in the Community mobility programmes, which, at the behest of this Parliament, have been opened up to the Western Balkan countries; takes the view that, besides fostering the mobility of students and researchers, the relevant Community programmes should also seek to promote cross-entity cooperation between educational establishments;

   12. Is also of the view that, taking into account the social and economic impact which might result from the entry into force of the Interim Agreement, the EU Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA)(1) must provide support to the modernisation of the country's social security systems and its labour legislation, as well as support for labour market organisations and trade unions, for the upgrading of BiH's transport infrastructure in order to facilitate economic development, and for environmental policies designed to reduce pollution, to optimise energy consumption and to improve waste management; welcomes, in this connection, the appointment, after protracted negotiations, of the national IPA Coordinator, as requested by the Commission;
   13. Calls on the Commission to develop tailor-made measures reflecting the special conditions prevailing in BiH, in order to assist and facilitate the process of accession to the EU;
   14. Urges the Commission to include the country in all its initiatives for promoting inter-personal contacts, developing civil society and enhancing BiH's economic and social development;
   15. Is concerned about the lack of progress in the return of refugees and IDPs, for example in Posavina in the Republika Srpska; recalls the need to ensure that local authorities are more involved in and committed to the return process, the need to organise targeted outreach activities in order to increase public acceptance of returnees, the need to address outstanding infrastructure and public utilities requirements in the areas of return, the need to create employment opportunities for returnees, and the need to harmonise pension, health insurance and education systems throughout BiH, so as to ensure that returns can take place under safe and dignified conditions, are sustainable and contribute effectively to the reconciliation process;
   16. Recalls in this context the commitment to implement the Sarajevo Declaration of 2005;
   17. Is convinced that increased efforts to facilitate returns are of particular importance in view of the need to carry out by 2011 a new population census, based on disaggregated data, in order to provide an updated overview of the population structure in BiH;
   18. Calls on the BiH authorities to address as a matter of urgency the problems of the 8 000 residents of the still existing collective centres, for whom return in safety and dignity may not be feasible, and to consider appropriate, dignified and durable solutions for those persons;
   19. Considers that greater efforts should be deployed for the rights of minorities in BiH, given the limited progress in this area; welcomes in this respect the electoral law amendment of April 2008 enabling members of national minorities to stand for local election; nevertheless regrets the fact that the number of seats for national minorities is left to the discretion of municipalities; emphasises, furthermore, the need to make operational the advisory councils on minorities which have recently been established in the Republika Srpska and are due to be set up in the Federation of BiH; finally, deplores the persisting discrimination against 'others' in the Constitution and electoral laws of BiH;
   20. Expresses its concern about the climate of intolerance against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people with regard, in particular, to the incidents that took place at the opening of the first Queer Festival in Sarajevo on 24 September 2008 and urges the BiH and local authorities to adopt the necessary measures to ensure that the fundamental right of peaceful assembly is fully guaranteed also to LGBT people in BiH;
   21. Calls for more funding to be provided for the attainment of the National Mine Action Strategy's goal of ridding BiH of mines by 2009; points out that the main challenge in this area is the lack of funding for implementation of that strategy, and therefore urges the competent authorities to provide the funding required to implement and complete that project as swiftly as possible;
   22. Calls on the Commission to guarantee EU funding for the UN programme on disarmament so that the destruction of the surplus weapons, military equipment and ammunition of the BiH armed forces can continue under UN supervision and to take measures to ensure that those weapons are not sold to unsavoury brokers, countries or regimes;
   23. Recalls in this context the need to implement effectively the provisions regarding restitution of property which are already in force and urges the BiH authorities to overcome their hesitations in this respect;
   24. Is also convinced that greater efforts should be devoted to addressing the question of missing persons and reparations to their families, and welcomes in this respect the work done by the International Commission on Missing Persons and the BiH Missing Persons Institute; urges the corresponding agencies at the entity level to support the work of the state-level bodies by forwarding to them all the relevant information they gather;
   25. Takes the view that increased attention needs to be paid to war crimes trials at district and cantonal level in order to clarify whether, and in what way, cases should be distributed between the State and lower-level judiciaries, and to ensure that courts and prosecutors are properly resourced, that witnesses have access to adequate protection, that cross-border police and judicial cooperation is strengthened, and that the legal framework applicable at State, cantonal and local level is harmonised; calls on the Commission and the countries of the Western Balkans to act to make a marked improvement in cooperation at regional and international level in this connection;
   26. Supports in this context the current drafting of the BiH War Crimes Prosecution Strategy, which, by clarifying the number of potential war crimes cases, should help to identify the policy, financial and legislative decisions and resources necessary to address these cases;
   27. Is concerned about the climate of intimidation of the media, human rights activists and civil society in general which prevails in the Republika Srspka and urges political leaders to recognise the important role which independent media and NGOs play in the democratic life of their entity;
   28. Regrets the fact that Republika Srpska threatened to withdraw unilaterally from the State power transmission company and to form its own by withdrawing its previous support for the agreed reform; points out that this act would have undermined Bosnian efforts in the context of the country's Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP); at the same time, urges the authorities in the Federation to adopt the long-awaited laws in the area of electricity supply;
   29. Calls for appropriate action to be taken in response to the signing by BiH, in connection with the International Criminal Court, of a bilateral immunity agreement with the United States that is out of step with the EU's common position and guidelines in this area;
   30. Regrets the fact that, despite the serious challenges facing BiH in the field of controlling corruption, organised crime, human trafficking, money laundering and drug trafficking, progress in these areas is hampered by political interference and lack of political will and by lack of coordination between the different entity-based agencies and police forces; urges the BiH authorities rapidly to take further action to tackle these problems;
   31. Is of the view that the debate on the future constitutional set-up of the country must be led by the Parliament of BiH; calls in this respect for a public debate conducted in a transparent and open manner, with full involvement of civil society; is also of the opinion that any constitutional settlement must be the product of voluntary agreement between the different political parties in BiH; nevertheless believes that the international community and the EU Special Representative have an important role to play as facilitators and calls on them to provide, in cooperation with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, the support necessary for conducting this debate;
   32. Calls on local politicians to recognise the need for a structural reform of the BiH State; recalls, however, that this reform can only succeed if it is based on realistic premises;
   33. Recalls that strengthening the central State does not mean weakening the entities but creating the conditions for an efficient administration which works for the common good of all BiH citizens in many areas, for example in the establishment of a single internal market; at the same time, warns against using the constitutional debate as an opportunity for the entities to arrogate to themselves powers and prerogatives which are specific to a sovereign state;
   34. Reminds the authorities of BiH of their obligation to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, particularly with regard to facilitating the arrest of the remaining fugitives, identifying and protecting potential witnesses and providing the Tribunal with the documents and other evidence required for trials and investigations;
   35. Regrets the fact that electoral authorities have failed to address the concerns of those BiH citizens who moved abroad during the war but wish nevertheless to exercise their right to vote; believes that a solution should be found in good cooperation with neighbouring countries, so as to allow these citizens to be registered;
   36. Is of the opinion that closing down the Office of the High Representative (OHR) whilst strengthening the role of the EU Special Representative should remain the ultimate objective for both the international community and local leaders; therefore urges political leaders to live up to their responsibilities in this respect and to make serious efforts to meet the five objectives and two conditions set by the Peace Implementation Council so as to achieve, by means of a consensual process, the transition from a High Representative to an EU Special Representative;
   37. Is dissatisfied in particular at the lack of progress in finalising the arrangements for the Brcko District; warns political leaders in BiH that the ruling by the Arbitral Tribunal on the status of Brcko is final and cannot be called into question;
   38. Calls also on BiH's politicians to acknowledge the need for a reasonable apportionment of property between the State and the other administrative levels, which is one of the objectives for the closure of the OHR; urges them to engage seriously in negotiations for the resolution of this long-standing issue; recalls that the State must be allocated the resources necessary for the accomplishment of its tasks;
   39. Reminds the representatives of the international community that their interlocutors in BiH are the institutions of that country, not the leaders of the main political parties; believes therefore that BiH institutions must be involved and indeed become the primary actors in the reform processes which the country has to carry out;
   40. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the governments of the Member States, the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the High Representative/EU Special Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

(1) Council Regulation (EC) No 1085/2006 of 17 July 2006 establishing an Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), OJ L 210, 31.7.2006, p. 82.

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