President of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Madame President, Secretary General, honourable members, ladies, gentlemen and dear guests, on behalf of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina and for my own part, it is a pleasure for me to address the Assembly today in my capacity as the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the first time in the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina our State is presiding over the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. For us in Bosnia and Herzegovina this is a wonderful opportunity to underline the political will of our people, which is predicated on the values of respect for human rights and dignity, and to promote our economic, cultural and tourist potential.

One of the key features of our presidency is our intent to promote Bosnia and Herzegovina as a credible partner of the European community in European and international relations. I have no doubt that the experience that Bosnia and Herzegovina has garnered over the years and in responding to economic, political and social challenges will be of decisive importance in facing up to a series of crises for today’s world to overcome.

Our chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers is a significant opportunity for us to emphasise the importance of south-eastern Europe over the past two decades. I point out that we in the region remain attached to our continuing efforts to adhere to European values. That culminated in Croatia and Slovenia joining the European Union, while other countries of south-eastern Europe continue to make efforts to become part of the European family.

I am sure that you are all aware that the path trodden by Bosnia and Herzegovina has not been an easy one and we have had to overcome a number of difficulties. People in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, have always believed in the European path. We citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina feel that we are an integral part of Europe and that there is no alternative to that European path.

I emphasise that point, because it indicates how determined we are and how much we want to adhere to all the obligations that we have entered into as we look to join the European Union, although they are complex and difficult. That is why we are more than happy to assume the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, because we are fully aware that it is an additional step that needs to be taken in furthering European integration.

We are fully aware of the broad range of competencies included in the subjects on the agenda of the Parliamentary Assembly and of the instruments available when coming to implement important conventions and acts. Given our role in the chair of the Committee of Ministers, we can expect the policies that we develop to be respected fully, because we are now an important European party. A difference with the past is that role as a credible player – we know that we can play a significant and positive part in international and European relations.

Ladies and gentlemen, given all the problems that we face today, I want to inform you of the positive and constructive atmosphere, based on good politics, that has been present in Bosnia and Herzegovina ever since the recent general elections, as a result of which the economic processes there have been strengthened. I am delighted to be able to tell you that the steps taken towards European harmonisation and integration have continued, and we are continuing on the path towards European integration. The main aim is to reach as soon as we can the current status of the countries in our region. This is why I am going to touch briefly on some important events, to flag up the existence of political will and to point out what agreements have been signed in our country for the fast-tracked adoption of a series of laws and regulations, as a result of which our economic and legal framework has been strengthened.

The first positive news is a German and British initiative taken shortly after the Bosnia and Herzegovina elections held in October 2014. This initiative defined a new approach to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and as a result it was possible to launch a series of political, economic and social reforms that were geared towards improving the management of development and promoting sustainable growth. At the beginning of 2015 the collegial Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its Parliamentary Assembly, as well as the leaders of all political parties, adopted and signed the declaration on European orientation and the necessary reforms that Bosnia and Herzegovina has to carry out on its path towards the European Union. As a result, all institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina committed, in line with their constitutional competencies, to incorporate in their action plans all the reforms that needed to be taken to ensure that Bosnia and Herzegovina could further progress towards joining the European Union.

In June 2015, seven years after their signing, the agreements of stabilisation and association were finally implemented. These agreements put in place a very close partnership between the European Union and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In July, the Bosnia and Herzegovina economic reform agenda for the years 2015-18 was adopted, pinpointing a number of reform measures that should be taken in the field of public finance, business and employment, entailing the reform of social security, the rule of law and the reform of public administration and governance. A large number of strategies and a plethora of action plans have been adopted – for instance, a strategy for combating corruption, a strategy for combating terrorism and organised crime, a strategy for the justice and legal sector, and a strategy for combating violence against women and children and domestic violence – as well as a series of other laws, particularly the adoption of the new law on employment in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the alignment with European guidelines.

The implementation of the documents I have just mentioned and a series of other documents and measures have already started to yield positive results, to such an extent that all the most crucial economic parameters in Bosnia and Herzegovina are improving. With regard to the employment market, the number of people in employment is increasing: it is 1.8% greater than it was in the same period last year. The physical volume of industrial production has gone up 2% this year compared with the same period in 2014. Gross income from indirect taxation has gone up by 4.2% compared to the same period last year. Compared with the same period last year, exports have gone up by 4.4% and imports have gone up by 2.58%, while the trade deficit has gone down by 5.54% compared with the same period last year.

In the first six months of this year the number of tourists went up by 25.7% and the number of nights that they stayed in our country was 22.7% greater than in 2014. Exports of meat are increasing significantly, and we expect the same situation to occur regarding exports of milk and dairy products to the European Union following our meeting of these conditions. At the same time the coal and steel industries have continued to grow, which shows the high quality and competitiveness of our country’s products.

Even with all the positive trends that I have just described, though, we still face a number of issues concerning the very complex political structure and the lengthy, complex procedures that need to be implemented to achieve consensus between the different players. We have set a number of priorities regarding our continuation on the path towards European integration, economic development and the rule of law. We are well aware of what we have to do, and we think we can achieve that objective. I remind all of you, dear friends, that we need your support to help us to make this a European success story.

We should not assume that the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is perfect or ideal; we still have a series of challenges to meet and we face a number of problems. These relate to the very complex political structure that we have and the lengthy and complex procedures that need to be put in place if consensus is to be achieved on a number of different issues of fundamental importance for our priorities. These priorities are economic development, the rule of law and continuing our path towards European integration. We still have a lot of obligations that need to be met in a very brief period, but I assure you that we continue to be on the path of these reforms and that our wish to overcome the obstacles is absolute.

I underline strongly once again that as far as we are concerned there is no alternative to European integration, growth, employment, the rule of law and combating corruption and all forms of extremism. They are and will continue to be the guidelines for the workings of the Council of Ministers and all Bosnia and Herzegovina institutions.

Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me as a representative of a State that in its recent history has undergone exile, murder and devastation to share with you my thoughts on the current events in Europe. I hope I will be able to make an important contribution to your debate on the subject of migrants. Perhaps I can also give you a slightly different perspective on the issue of migration and refugees, who are fleeing barbaric acts and trying to find a safe haven. Four years ago we witnessed significant popular uprisings that shocked the Arab world. These democratic uprisings were known as the Arab spring and made one think of the 1989 popular uprisings in the former countries of the Warsaw Pact. The Arab spring was a manifestation of freedom, democracy, solidarity and the respect of universal human rights, but events have not moved in the direction that was expected. Today, instead of peace and prosperity, all we can see is devastating conflict in the territory of Syria and Libya. At the same time, instability and permanent violence are becoming a breeding ground for the development of radicalisation and terrorism, which is completely at odds with the modern moral values of civilisation. It is causing civilians to be killed – including, worst of all, children – and whole towns, as well as cultural and historic monuments, are being destroyed. All this is creating an atmosphere of despair and a society with no future.

As a result of that, we should not be surprised at the most recent waves of refugees. I do not think that anyone here should be shocked by the fact that these refugees want to flee the violence and terror that is sweeping through their homes. We certainly should not be surprised at their clear intention to stay, either temporarily or permanently, on the territory of the European Union; it is because of the values that represent the foundations of the European Union. What are these values? They are respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and the protection of human rights, including the rights of minorities. These values are common to all member States of the European society, which has pluralistic qualities and qualities of non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality. As result, these refugees have made the choice to come to the territory of the European Union.

However, the arrival of these refugees is causing chaos and upheaval at an unprecedented level in the history of the European Union. Metal barriers are being erected, railway lines have been closed, and some responses from members of the European Union are not the responses that we expected. Would someone among you who has spent all their professional life defending European values – I know there are a lot of you here – really have thought at one time that the arrival of several hundred people would jeopardise our very way of life? We are all fully aware that this will not happen and that we are talking about an irrational, unjustified fear, but the fear is such that it is resulting in a lack of solidarity that can jeopardise our unity and stability. The problem can be resolved only if we carry out creative actions that are commensurate with the size of the problem. That is why, regardless of what those activities are, we need to do them together and at the right time.

I am proud of the response by the Council of Europe, which came on time and was predicated on European values. I very much appreciate the letter that the Secretary General sent to the member States of this Organisation in which he reminded them of their obligations with regard to all people arriving in Europe. These obligations are in keeping with the European Convention on Human Rights. This is very important. National authorities need to look very closely at how their police forces handle refugees to ensure that the obligations under the Convention are strictly complied with. In the introduction to his letter, the Secretary General mentions solidarity as a fundamental European value that is being called into question and that represents the sine qua non of solving the current crisis. I think we all agree with this.

The President of the European Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, in his annual speech on the state of the Union, put forward a plan for a rapid, firm, universal solution to the European crisis linked to refugees, including introducing compulsory quotas for taking refugees for each member country of the European Union. The Council of Europe should seriously take on board the possibility that this plan could be extended to all 47 member States of this Organisation. That would be a very positive gesture underlining our comprehension of this situation and the importance of the solidarity that is needed. If such a decision were taken, Bosnia-Herzegovina is willing to play its role and face up to its responsibility, and to meet its obligations in accordance with its abilities and capacities. I believe strongly in the symbolic nature and value of this message that is coming from a country that has aspirations to become a European Union member.

I am not sure when this crisis will be over, but it is clear that these difficult times are going to become a real enemy. Any form of improvisation with regard to housing refugees can no longer be envisaged. That is why I call on all countries to show their goodwill and provide help to States that are most directly affected by the refugee crisis to ensure that the necessary conditions are put in place to avoid a humanitarian disaster. We want to do this before the cold days of winter are upon us. It will be important for our efforts to be stepped up to ensure that we do not find ourselves in a situation where we have to react to the consequences if our actions have not been sufficient or efficient enough.

My State, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is not yet affected by the refugee crisis. That said, we are monitoring the situation very closely and acting in accordance with our operational action plan to be adopted if there were to be a large number of refugees or migrants. We have focused on two areas. The humanitarian side comprises the provision of adequate housing, food, medical aid and clothing, as well as ensuring basic hygienic and sanitary conditions. The second component comprises safety and security measures, including gathering data on the refugees and assessing and identifying which individuals represent a terrorist threat, or any other threat that would endanger the security of any State or region throughout Europe.

I want to be very clear in talking about my country’s position. We are ready and willing to help because that is a moral obligation that we have, but if the European Union closes its borders, and if refugees find themselves closed up in Bosnia-Herzegovina or the western Balkan countries, we will be limited in terms of our logistical and financial capacities. I remind you that Bosnia-Herzegovina is having to face up to having thousands of displaced persons within its country as one of the consequences of the war in the 1990s. If the borders of the European Union remain open, Bosnia-Herzegovina will have no difficulties in dealing with the regular transit of refugees. It would do this by creating appropriate centres through which the transport of refugees can be organised towards their preferred destination. I am not expecting us to have a significant number of asylum requests in Bosnia-Herzegovina because, from the looks of things, our country is clearly a transit country for refugees and is not seen as a destination country.

I think that this problem can be resolved rapidly and successfully if organised efforts and solidarity are there, but if we want to come up with a long-lasting solution we need to tackle the problem at its root cause by looking at the refugees’ countries of origin. I am well aware of the limited possibilities that the Council of Europe has in terms of action, but given the large number of conventions, bodies of experts and monitoring mechanisms that are at our disposal, we can make an important contribution to peace and stability in these neighbouring countries.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the administrative bodies of the Council of Europe development Bank, which have provided important funding and subsidies for the member countries affected by the crisis linked to refugees. If Bosnia-Herzegovina were to become concerned by the current refugee situation, then of course it is quite possible that we will be making a request for these funds.

The trafficking of human beings is a very important matter that we have had to face up to in Bosnia-Herzegovina as well. In recent times we have managed to make some significant headway in resolving it, but in the light of current refugee crisis that has affected the western Balkans, we fear that the difficulties successfully resolved may well emerge once again. Abuse of refugees in such a hopeless situation by human traffickers and smugglers is one of the worst crimes that can occur and it has to be clamped down on very strongly. We need to do what we can to find the most efficient solution to this; otherwise things will only get worse. The matter will shortly be addressed as one of the main subjects in the Committee of Ministers in the Parliamentary Assembly and in the Congress. In the light of the current new circumstances, it is highly likely that amendments to conventions, recommendations and decisions will need to be made. I hope that the experts concerned will act in due course to help prevent this problem from escalating. Bosnia-Herzegovina, as a country that is following the issue very closely, will continue to monitor the situation in its own country but also in the context of the Council of Europe. I hope that the other member States, particularly those that share our concerns, will act in a similar fashion.

Another important question affecting our society is terrorism. Bosnia and Herzegovina supports the Council of Europe’s action plan to combat radicalism and terrorism, as well as the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, which concerns foreign terrorist fighters. The Chair of the Committee of Ministers and the Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina has already informed you that through the Council of Europe chairmanship held by Bosnia and Herzegovina, and following intense consultations with other member States, we have managed to reach a consensus and have pinpointed a date for the signing of the protocol. It will take place on 22 October 2015 in Riga, Latvia, and I take this opportunity to invite all member States to attend the signing ceremony, which will be a very important one.

In parallel with the authorisation of legal instruments, the Council of Europe should step up its very effective efforts to combat hate, intolerance and radicalisation. The main message that we should convey is that a society predicated on the rule of law, the equality of rights and the acceptance of human rights and diversity can be a prosperous and healthy one. As well as the alliance of parliamentarians against hate speech, there is the work carried out on discrimination in Europe, radicalisation, terrorism, cybercrime and the refugee crisis, which are all things that we need to act on in good time. I congratulate you all for your work on that.

Finally, I praise the decision that has been taken to create a partnership for democracy with our neighbouring countries. That is a very important factor not only in consolidating democratic societies, but in stepping up activities on questions that are in our common interest and that are about choosing the right models and mechanisms to resolve the problems that we all face. Thank you for your attention and patience, ladies and gentlemen.


Thank you, Mr Zvizdić. I will now open the floor to the representatives of the political groups. I call Ms Durrieu on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Ms DURRIEU (France) (interpretation)

I remind you in passing that I was a rapporteur on the Dayton Accords for this Assembly. You have just reminded us of the importance of 20 years of peace and stability in the Balkans which, in turn, is vital for peace in Europe. You, President, have worked very hard on that. A number of us were in Sarajevo a short while ago and the political process does not yet appear to have gained new dynamism. Is not there need to amend the constitution, and is the High Representative not an obstacle to the engagement of people, particularly young people?

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Shall we group the questions or would you like to answer immediately, Mr Zvizdić? Okay, you have the floor.

Mr Zvizdić, President of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Thank you for your question and for stating that the processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina are running in a positive direction. That is very important for us, because we want to implement our three key priorities: the European path, the development of the economy and the rule of law.

Your question is closely linked to the Office of the High Representative and to the fulfilment of clear requirements by the Peace Implementation Council. Colloquially, we refer to those requirements as “5+2”. When those requirements have been fully met and when Bosnia and Herzegovina is fully capable of taking over all the responsibilities that currently rest with the High Representative, there will be no need for the High Representative to be in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because through our institutions – parliament and other bodies – we will be able to make decisions that currently, as part of the Bonn powers and other powers that the High Representative has, rest with the Office of the High Representative. Over the past 10 years, Bosnia and Herzegovina has made significant progress on institutional strengthening. We have been working towards the implementation of those 5+2 requirements and once they are fully implemented, Bosnia and Herzegovina will have full powers to manage all the processes at the executive and legislative level of authority.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania)

As you know, Chairman, many problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina are related to education, language, culture and heritage matters, and, at a State level, the country has no ministry of education or ministry of culture. What is your opinion on that? Perhaps it is necessary to change these things quickly.

Mr Zvizdić, President of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Any change in Bosnia and Herzegovina that would lead to changing constitutions at all levels of government would require serious preparation, serious analysis and long procedures. You are right that there is no ministry of education or ministry of culture at a State level, but there is a ministry that is inter alia responsible for these areas in a co-ordinating role. In the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the responsibilities for education and culture rest with cantons. In the Republika Srpska, the government of the Republika Sprksa is responsible for those areas.

In future, the education and culture sectors need to be based on modern priniciples, prevailing in the European Union, which have to be based on the transfer of knowledge and experience, gaining skills, enabling young people to use skills, the compatibility of professions in the labour market and further improvement of the Bologna Process, as well as the respect of fundamental human rights—ethnic, national, cultural and linguistic characteristics and rights that any citizen of the country is entitled to. Of course, such ministries being established in Bosnia and Herzegovina requires a number of procedures to be taken. Some are related to constitutional amendments, and as you know, constitutional amendments in Bosnia and Herzegovina require a lot of time and patience, as well as consensus and readiness to achieve an internal dialogue on such matters. I am sure that the time will come for us to raise these issues and to implement reform in those two important sectors in a serious manner. In the mean time, we will try to improve the existing systems as much as we can, just as we have over the past six or seven years. I have to say that we have seen progress in developing the sectors of culture, sport and education in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Aside from maintaining technical divisions, Dayton is keeping alive an economically unsustainable administrative system. Moreover, it sometimes seems that politicians in your country worry more about political protest than about how to reactivate your economy and make it more effective. Do you have any specific plans to reduce your public expenses and to favour the private sector, to try to give more opportunities to new generations?

Mr Zvizdić, President of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina (interpretation)

Thank you for your question. As I mentioned, a few months ago we adopted a very important document, the economic reform agenda, which defines a number of measures and activities aimed at improving the business environment, taking advantage of our natural resources, developing SMEs and reforming the entire public sector, with a special focus on job creation for young people so that they remain in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We look to rationalise public spending. In the public sector we have imposed a ban on employment and a wages freeze, and all other funds and budgets in the sector are funnelled towards providing favourable loans and enabling young people to start their own businesses, particularly SMEs, thus creating a better business environment and increasing employment in the country.

All that, of course, requires an improved business environment and amendments to labour legislation. We have already started that process. A new labour act has been adopted in one of the entities, namely the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and will soon be adopted in the other, the Republika Srpska. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, we have already improved the parameters that measure the quality of business, and some indicators show that the entrepreneurship and economic potential of the country is increasing, especially among young people, who are opening up businesses and therefore leaving the country in reduced numbers.

Mr BINLEY (United Kingdom)

Mr Chairman, you mentioned your country’s strategies for eradicating corruption. Could you tell me what specific steps your country is taking to eradicate corruption in relation to employment opportunities in public services, thus bringing to an end the practice of bribery in respect of such employment, which is so harmful, especially to young people?

Mr Zvizdić, President of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina (interpretation)

We in Bosnia and Herzegovina are aware of all the negative consequences of corruption. There is no difference whatsoever between Bosnia and Herzegovina and any other country in the region, in the European Union or elsewhere in the world in that regard. Corruption is a negative phenomenon which has a devastating effect on countries, and for that reason Bosnia and Herzegovina has been focused on effectively combating it. At entity level we have established the anti-corruption agency, and after sharing the experience and skills of our colleagues from Europe we established procedures to report corruption and to provide constant monitoring in our institutions. Three months ago, we adopted a strategy and action plan to combat corruption from 2015 to 2020. The strategy will be cascaded down to lower levels of government, so that through synergy between State-level, entity-level, canton-level and municipal-level institutions we can act in unison and prevent corruption in public institutions. The further reform of public administration will contribute to that process, as will administrative capacity-building and training civil servants to better respond to the needs of institutions and citizens within legally specified time limits and procedures without any corrupt acts.

Of course, we are affected by corruption in just the same way as the rest of the region or indeed the rest of the world, but let me assure you that we are working very hard to fight corruption and to prosecute all reported cases. We also try to cut off corruption at its source by preventing corrupt acts by those who are asked to do their jobs in an effective and professional manner. We will continue our efforts, which have already produced positive results. Our activities will increase, and you will see that the administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina is working more effectively, with higher professionalism and more respect for the law.


We will now take the last question because unfortunately we do not have time to call every speaker on the list. I call Mr Kox on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

Thank you for your news from your beautiful country, including the fact that you now have a functioning government and a constructive political atmosphere. However, when we observed your elections last year, we mentioned in our statement that we had noticed the public’s growing mistrust in the functioning of democratic institutions. We even stated that that might, in the long run, threaten the stability of the country because without public trust in your institutions the country cannot function. Could you tell us how you think the Government and the political class could restore that much-needed public trust?

Mr Zvizdić, President of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina (interpretation)

I think we can regain public trust in the way that the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently doing: by consistent, persistent and credible implementation of a reform plan for European integration, economic development and the rule of law, and by more clearly demonstrating the existence of positive political will that will enable internal agreements and consensus on the most important priorities for the European and economic development of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The fact that the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina has approved more than 800 documents unanimously over the past five months demonstrates the existence of sufficient political will to agree on issues important to Bosnia and Herzegovina without encroaching on the responsibilities of other entities or levels of government.

This approach will restore public trust in the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am certain that we will implement all the reforms and strategies that I have mentioned and show seriousness, consistency and persistence in our work. When real-life effects are shown in a strengthened economy, more competitive products or job creation, I am sure that citizens will trust the government more than before. We have shown several examples already. We have managed to adopt the economic agenda along with other levels of government; we have ensured the export of agricultural produce from Bosnia and Herzegovina, increasing those exports by 220%; over the past eight months, 7 000 new jobs have been created in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The economic effects are already visible.

We have also speeded up European integration activities. We are fulfilling our obligations in a credible manner, and we expect that by the end of this year or early next year, we will be able to apply for membership. We expect the activation of a membership action plan with NATO as one of the next steps toward NATO membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina. All these developments speak to stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the rule of law and a business environment that will definitely attract domestic and, especially importantly, foreign investors.


Thank you, Mr Zvizdić, for answering these questions. I wish you good luck for the rest of your presidency. We now have the pleasure of going to an exhibition of the Ars Aevi project. I invite all colleagues to follow us to the inauguration. I thank the interpreters for allowing us to go beyond our usual schedule.