Bosnia signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union (EU) yesterday, taking its first step to join the 27-nation bloc.
Bosnia’s Prime Minister Nikola Spiric, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia Dimitrij Rupel, in presence of the Bosnian President Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Alkalaj and the EU Foreign Policy Chief, Javier Solana, signed yesterday the SAA between Bosnia and the EU.
A member of the Bosnian State Presidency Zeljko Komsic stated that yesterdayâ€™s signing of the SAA represents a great achievement for Bosnia.
The Bosnian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Alkalaj said that the signing of the between Bosnia and the EU is certainly one of the most important dates in the history of Bosnia.
“The SAA will contribute to credibility and international image of Bosnia, rating of our country among foreign investors and total economic and political stabilityâ€, stated Minister Alkalaj.
â€However, there are new challenges before us and we have to respond adequately and start with efficient implementation of taken responsibilities,â€ he said.
“This is an important day for Bosnia, a real milestone,” the International Community’s High Representative and EU Special Representative in Bosnia Miroslav LajÄÃ¡k , told reporters.
“It’s certainly a day to remember the same country only 13 years back and also the day to celebrate,” he said referring to the effects of the 1992-1995 Serbian,Montenegrin and Croatian aggressions against Bosnia.
“The European Union has just offered Bosnia its EU perspective. We have entered the process but it’s up to Bosnia how long the process will take and when Bosnia will be able to be rewarded with membership in the European Union.”
Lajcak stressed that huge challenges remained to be overcome, principally the country’s complex constitutional structure and a recent history of playing the nationalist card as a route to electoral victory.
Recent polls showed support for future EU membership among Bosnian citizens was extremely high, LajÄÃ¡k said.
The signing ceremony was held on the sidelines of a monthly gathering of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg yesterday.
The EU “looked forward to intensifying cooperation with Bosnia through the comprehensive framework offered by these agreements and the other mechanisms of the stabilization and association process,” the EU foreign ministers said in a conclusion.
“Today,we signed the first important institutional agreement that opens the door for deeper relationship between the European Union and Bosnia,” the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said at the signing ceremony.
â€œThis relations are not for today they are forever,â€ Solana said.
The EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn called on Bosnian authorities to keep up the momentum and work towards consensus in the country. He also stressed that the agreement is a â€œmilestone that marks a new stage in our relations and it is also the gateway to eventual candidacy of the EU.â€
â€œMuch work lies ahead to implement the agreement; laws must be passed and institutions strengthened,â€ Rehn said.
â€œThere is no time to rest because it is important to keep up the momentum and build general consensus on EU related reforms,â€ he added.
Bosnia was the last of the six southeastern European countries to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, after similar steps by Croatia, Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro and the gebocidal Serbia.
The SAA is designed to boost trade and economic ties between the 27-nation bloc and the southeastern European countries and put them on path towards full EU membership.
The EU began negotiating the SAA with Bosnia in November 2005 and the two sides initialed the deal in December 2007.
But the EU governments had insisted that Bosnia must conclude a controversial police reform aimed at creating a single, multi-ethnic national force before the SAA could be signed.
EU foreign ministers decided in April that Bosnia had made the necessary progress in meeting the conditions set by the EU and agreed to sign the SAA with Bosnia as soon as possible.
Analysts said although signing SAA was a big step for Bosnia to attain EU membership, it could be a long journey for the country to be finally accepted, which may take a decade.
Spiric said Bosnia would work to meet all the conditions laid down by the SAA for final EU membership.
“We are going to work for the better life of all Bosnian citizens and raising their living standards,” Spiric said.
“We are going to achieve a safer investment (environment) for all those who wish to invest in Bosnia. The visa regime is going to change,” he added.
The EU is in the meantime conducting talks on visa liberalisation for Bosnian citizens, but progress will depend on Bosnia’s ability to introduce biometric passports and meet other EU – criteria.
The EU has poured â‚¬2.5bn ($3.8bn, Â£2bn) into Bosnia over the past 15 years.
The SAA regulates relations between Bosnia and the EU in all three pillars of the Union (European community, economic policy and joint market, as well as joint foreign and security policy, judiciary and internal affairs).
The SAA is comprised of 10 chapters including general principles, political dialogue, regional cooperation, free movement of goods, movement of workers, business plans, services, capital, acquis communautaire, rules and regulations of market competitiveness, judiciary and internal affairs, financial cooperation and institutional and final provisions.
The task before Bosnia is to implement agreed provisions and to continue towards the fulfillment of criteria for a full EU membership.