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Launch of the Council of Europe Action Plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina 2015-2017

Sarajevo , 

I am delighted to be here in Sarajevo less than 48 hours after Bosnia and Herzegovina formally took over the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers for the first time.

The official handover from the previous Belgian Chairs took place in Brussels, on Tuesday.

Ministers for Foreign Affairs from across Europe were meeting to discuss many of our shared challenges.

Specifically, we were agreeing joint action by Council of Europe member states to deal with the growing threat of violent extremism and radicalisation and, by the way, I should point out that Bosnia and Herzegovina has already taken some of the key steps that were adopted by the Organisation – not least taking steps to criminalise travelling abroad for the purpose of terrorism.

As we discussed new initiatives to tackle the xenophobia, mistrust, social exclusion and intolerance now visible in so many of our societies it struck me that few countries understand the consequences of these forces as well as yours.

This, I believe, can be a gift in your Chairmanship: an asset in the increasingly fragmented times in which we live.

It is true of course, that within Bosnia and Herzegovina there are still many bridges to build.

But many walls have also been brought down.

And in so many of the priorities for your Chairmanship that Minister Crnadak has outlined:

  • Whether advancing gender equality and tackling violence against women through the Istanbul Convention, which you were among the first countries to ratify;
  • Whether getting behind the neighbourhood policy in order to spread Europe’s shared legal space beyond our borders;
  • Whether working to deepen intercultural dialogue;
  • Or using the coincidence of Serbia’s Chairmanship of the OSCE to find areas for closer co-operation in all of these ambitions, a recurring theme stands out:

Inclusion.

Collaboration.

The desire to move forward together.

I want to commend the government for beginning in this spirit.

I ask you to stick to it – and to lead by example: the best Chairs always do.

Six months may seem short, but it is long enough to leave a lasting impression.

And I believe one of the best ways to show this leadership will be through the wholehearted implementation of the Action Plan we are launching today.

This Plan – which we have put together, together is filled with concrete actions and programmes that will support your continuing efforts to build the inclusive, trusted and dynamic institutions and practices on which Bosnia and Herzegovina’s lasting stability and prosperity will depend.

It will help confront corruption and money-laundering in line with the standards of GRECO and MONEYVAL, of which we have heard so much in the past few weeks so that Bosnia and Herzegovina can better attract investment and create jobs.

It will help strengthen judicial independence and efficiency, so as to bring justice close to every citizen.

It will build on our previous efforts, which have successfully strengthened self-regulation by the media in order to continue tackling hate speech.

This Plan will help drive out remaining ethnic segregation in your schools improving inclusivity in education and boosting the quality and competitiveness of your higher education sector.

It will continue to support improved human rights protection in the law enforcement professions and within prisons and other places of detention.

Together, we will create more effective safeguards against discrimination as the Council of Europe assists – in co-operation with our partners – in improving anti-discrimination legislation and its enforcement across the country.

And, on the issue of anti-discrimination, let me repeat that the Council of Europe stands ready to help with the long overdue constitutional and electoral reforms needed to address discrimination in the electoral system as have been highlighted by the Sejdic & Finci and Zornic judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

We, of course, still expect, Bosnia and Herzegovina to execute these judgments.

Your Chairmanship brings with it many opportunities – but renewed responsibilities too.

So let us press ahead.

I know that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union comes into force at the start of June.

That is the next step on your journey to becoming a member of the European Union.

Think of this as a down-payment towards that end:

A statement of your intent and evidence of your firm commitment to fully meeting European standards in the protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

I would like to thank Norway and the European Union for their ongoing and past support, as well as other current partners, notably: the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

I also want to thank the member and observer states who have – and will – pledge voluntary contributions for the implementation of this Action Plan – which will cost around 16.5m euros.

It is in the interests of all European states to have good neighbours.

That includes a Bosnia and Herzegovina that is strong, stable and inclusive where all people are guaranteed equal opportunities and fundamental liberties – regardless of background and birth.

These are not Council of Europe ambitions.

They are the ambitions expressed by people up and down this country.

They are the things that all people, everywhere want.

And it gives me enormous pleasure to be here to reaffirm our help in making them real.

Thank you.