The Stabilisation and Association Council (SA Council) between the European Union (EU) and Bosnia and Herzegovina held its fourth meeting on 13 July 2021 in Brussels.
The SA Council once again welcomed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU perspective as a single, united and sovereign country. It welcomed the new milestone in EU-Bosnia and Herzegovina relations reached with the adoption of the European Commission’s Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU membership application in May 2019, endorsed by the Council of the EU in December 2019, which reconfirmed the EU’s commitment to support the country in the necessary reforms on its EU path.
The SA Council discussed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress against the backdrop of the Opinion’s 14 key priorities in the areas of democracy and functionality, the rule of law, fundamental rights, and public administration reform.
The SA Council took note of the limited progress in reforms, but also of the new momentum and steps taken since last year, despite the challenges arisen from the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, including holding local elections in Mostar, the adoption of the revised national war crimes strategy and of the strategic framework on public administration reform and of strategies on public finance management by all levels of government, as well as the holding of the Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee.
The SA Council welcomed the holding of local elections in Mostar in December 2020, for the first time since 2008, and called for an inclusive process of electoral reform that would eliminate all forms of inequality and discrimination, including at constitutional level where necessary. To this aim, the SA Council welcomed the establishment of an inter-agency working group and underscored the need for continued engagement of all leaders across the political spectrum and civil society, as well as relevant agencies.
The SA Council regretted the delayed appointment of the Council of Ministers after the October 2018 elections, which slowed down key reforms, and noted that the appointment of a new government in the Federation entity also remains pending.
The SA Council recalled the need to swiftly adopt amendments to the Law on the HJPC to strengthen the integrity and accountability of the judiciary. The SA Council also welcomed the adoption of the revised national war crimes strategy and called to establish its supervisory body without further delay.
The SA Council noted that corruption continues to be a serious hindrance to socio-economic development and underlined the importance to address this issue with determination, notably on political party financing and anti-money laundering. The SA Council agreed on the need for Bosnia and Herzegovina to swiftly align its legislation on public procurement and on conflict of interest with European standards and to ensure effective and independent judicial process, including in pandemic-related corruption cases.
The SA Council welcomed the adoption of the 2021-2024 strategy and action plan for control of small arms and light weapons, and noted the need to establish a firearms focal point. The SA Council also welcomed the entry into force of the cooperation agreement with Europol and noted the need establish the contact point as a matter of priority.
The SA Council agreed on the importance of continued implementation by Bosnia and Herzegovina of the agreed measures on counter-terrorism and alignment of its data protection legislation with the EU acquis to enable operational cooperation with Eurojust.
The SA Council agreed on the need for Bosnia and Herzegovina to establish a functional migration and asylum system, across the country, and to provide suitable shelter to all persons in need and reiterated the importance of enhanced cooperation with the EU and neighbouring countries on border management issues. The SA Council looked forward to swift signature and ratification by Bosnia and Herzegovina of the European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG) status agreement, initialled in January 2019, to allow the deployment of a Frontex joint operation.
Concerning human rights and minorities, the SA Council welcomed the repeal of all references to death penalty, and called upon Bosnia and Herzegovina to step up the protection of fundamental rights of all citizens, including by ensuring an enabling environment for civil society and the protection and inclusion of vulnerable groups. The SA Council stressed the importance of guaranteeing freedom of expression, assembly and association, and of ensuring inclusive and quality education for all. Following the recent commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide and 25 years after the Dayton/Paris Peace Agreements, the SA Council urged all political actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina to take concrete steps to promote an environment conducive to reconciliation in order to overcome the legacies of the war.
The SA Council welcomed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s commitment and active participation in regional cooperation initiatives, including the commitment to a common regional market as a step on its EU path.
In terms of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the SA Council called for an increased alignment with EU declarations and decisions and welcomed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s continued active participation in missions and operations under the Common Security and Defence Policy. The SA Council reiterated its strong support to the executive mandate of the EU military Operation EUFOR Althea which contributes to supporting local authorities in maintaining a safe and secure environment, the collective training of the AFBiH, supporting demining operations, disposal of surplus weapons, ammunition, explosives and management of stockpile weapons and ammunition.
The meeting was chaired by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Vice-President of the European Commission. The Delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was led by Zoran Tegeltija, Chair of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, accompanied by the Deputy Chair and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina Bisera Turković and Minister of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina Josip Grubeša.