Speech at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Sarajevo: "Democratizing the EU and Beyond: The Role of the European Parliament"
Dear Bosnian friends,
Let me begin by thanking the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the New Initiatives Centre for inviting me to this conference. I am glad to see Bosnia and Herzegovina getting the high-profile attention it deserves. We in the European Parliament are committed to your country. My colleague Doris Pack has been working hard in the Committee on Culture that she chairs to promote Sarajevo as the European capital of culture in 2014.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Hotel Europe is a fitting place for our meeting. The Bosnian writer Djevad Karahasan once described this hotel as a geographical and cultural point where East and West meet.
Of course, this also can be said about Sarajevo – a city once famous for its openness, tolerance and multiculturalism. Close to this hotel you have a catholic cathedral, an orthodox church, a mosque and a synagogue – all within 100 meters of each other. I am looking forward to walking around later this evening!
But Hotel Europe was also a witness, and victim, of the darkest chapter in Sarajevo's history. For nearly four years, Bosnia faced horrors we hoped had left Europe forever. Who can forget July 1992 when Hotel Europe – a shelter for refugee women and children – was destroyed in the bombing? Europe disappeared from Sarajevo that day. Today's event is a testimony that Europe has returned! This time for good.
As President of the European Parliament, I come here remembering the region's tragic past, but also hopeful that Bosnia and Herzegovina can once again become a shining symbol of multi-ethnic tolerance - with well functioning democracy and strong institutions. Bosnia once found unity in diversity. Together with the help of the European Union and the international community, it can be that kind of place again.
The European Union is based on those principles that must now guide Bosnia - the creation of a democratic space, the reconstruction not only of destroyed economies but also a sense of community that goes beyond nationalist politics.
Konrad Adenauer, whose values guide the KAS, helped found a European Community on the idea that there is no such thing as a historic enemy. That it is possible to develop common goals. And that friendship, and active partnership, can arise.
How then can nowadays European Union help a modern Bosnia Herzegovina?
First, the EU today is making itself more responsive to its citizens. The new Lisbon Treaty has ensured that European laws are no longer only decided in far-away Brussels. Today every citizen is a stakeholder. The European Citizens' Initiative – born out of the Lisbon Treaty – is a case in point. It is an important step in the development of European democracy. It establishes a direct link between citizens and European institutions, and ensures that we address their specific concerns. 1 million signatures or 0,5% of EU citizens can ask us to act
Dialogue is important. We are heading in the right direction but the European project is by no means complete. The world is changing. And the European Parliament is changing with it.
Remember, we started as a Parliament that could only offer its opinion. We were labelled as a Mickey Mouse parliament by one of our Prime Minister's. Well, today this Mickey Mouse Parliament is a full co-legislator with the Council and we face new challenges together.
There is no doubt that the EU is facing an important crisis today. We have to take hard decisions which affect all of our citizens. This is why democratic scrutiny of legislation is so important. As Parliamentarians we are in direct contact with our citizens - we can express their concerns. But we can also explain the decisions taken.
We in the European Union do not live on some remote island. The EU exists in a dynamic neighbourhood and we therefore need a dynamic neighbourhood policy. Foreign affairs is an area in which the European Parliament has limited Treaty competences. But through our support of parliamentary democracy and our own parliamentary diplomacy, we express our views, initiate some ideas and hold the Executive accountable for what it does.
This year has demonstrated how unstable our neighbourhood can be. There has never been a more important moment for Europe to express its concerns, hopes and expectations – in defence of the citizens and persecuted journalists of Belarus. Or for the democratic rights of our near-neighbours in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia who are living through their transformations.
The voice of the people demanding democratic change is loud and clear. We cannot remain indifferent to those calls. We are ready to accompany and support the changes in every possible way. Let me be very clear: For the EU, stability is essential. But a democratic and prosperous neighbourhood is as important as a stable neighbourhood.
As the budgetary authority of the Union we have the right to set the guidelines on how EU money, especially in development and aid, is used. We will insist that money goes towards helping civil society and democratic forces.
It is important that no one is left in any doubt about what constitutes European values: the protection of civil society, democratic participation at all levels, racial, ethnic and religious tolerance.
The Balkans are a crucial part of Europe – rich in history and culture, and full of potential. In June, Croatia received a green light to join the EU in 2013. Montenegro was granted candidate status last December and will start negotiations. Serbia is now also on the right track. We expect it to get candidate status at the end of this year. It is important that Bosnia does not get left behind.
Last month, like the other countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina was assessed by the European Commission in its annual progress report. The feedback was worrying. It is why we, as a parliament, watch with some concern a number of developments here.
Sixteen years after the signing of the Dayton Accords, Bosnia is stagnating. You have been without a new government for over a year. As Commissioner Füle has emphasised on many occasions, the constitutional reform you need will be impossible until a compromise is reached and a government is formed.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has not made enough progress in tackling corruption. It remains a problem in many areas across the public and private sector. Unemployment is close to 40 percent. This political and institutional deadlock has prevented needed reforms to bring the country closer to the EU.
This cannot continue this way. The people of this country deserve a better future. Now is the time to overcome distrust and division. Bosnia cannot remain chained to the past. Everyone in this room knows the risks of a partitioned state.
Now is the time to strengthen democratic institutions; to create needed long-term political, economic and social progress. Progress based on reforms that improve key services and make government more accountable, and more effective.
Now is the time for Bosnians to strengthen their commitment to a unified sovereign state. Let me be clear: the EU supports all of Bosnia-Herzegovina territory being part of a democratic, multi-ethnic state.
As Konrad Adenauer once said: "to construct a European House, one needs patience and staying power." I agree. It is time for Bosnia and Herzegovina to help start laying the foundations.
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