What are the prerequisites for a successful European integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina? – Sarajevo Time

The third consecutive public debate “Right to Justice” organized today in Sarajevo by the European Union in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement (DG NEAR) of the European Commission, brought together a number of large number of representatives from the judiciary, public institutions, local authorities, the media and civil society to discuss strengthening the integrity of public institutions and the fight against corruption as prerequisites for a successful European integration of Bosnia -Herzegovina. The public debate has focused particularly on the role of citizens monitoring the implementation of reforms and ensuring that public and judicial office holders, elected and appointed representatives work for the greater good, constructively supporting BiH on its path to the EU .

In his opening speech, the Acting Director General of DG NEAR Maciej Popowski reaffirmed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European perspective. “Bosnia and Herzegovina’s decision-makers must take responsibility for their actions because the EU needs constructive dialogue and political will from all sides to move forward on the EU path. The rule of law is central to the fundamentals of the EU. A society based on the rule of law guarantees freedom and prosperity to its citizens. It is a prerequisite for a rich economy that attracts investment. On the contrary, the continued obstruction of reforms aimed at strengthening the integrity of public office holders, including in the judiciary, undermines the rights of citizens and the effective fight against corruption”.said acting general manager Popowski.

Ambassador John SattlerHead of the EU Delegation to BiH and EU Special Representative to BiH, stressed that time is running out as the amount of work to be done by the country to strengthen the rule of law and regain the trust of citizens in the justice system continues to grow. “It gives me no pleasure to say that no priority EU rule of law reform has been completed in recent years. In December 2019, the EU published a report by independent expert Reinhard Priebe on the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This report lists a number of very concrete recommendations and actions to be undertaken so that the country confirms its undeniable commitment to the path of EU integration. 81% of BiH citizens in a recent survey we conducted say there has been no improvement in the justice system over the past five years. The authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina must show greater urgency to strengthen the rule of law,” said Ambassador Sattler.

The Ambassador of the United States of America to Bosnia and Herzegovina, HE Michael J. Murphy reaffirmed the support of the international community for the future of BiH within the Euro-Atlantic community of nations. Ambassador Murphy said “We are here today because we all care about the future of BiH. We want to see efficient and effective institutions at the state, entity, township and municipal levels that serve the public. And we want to see a strong, private sector-driven economy that brings prosperity to the talented people of this country. All of this is impossible without the rule of law. However, today we must once again see that respect for the rule of law is not embedded in the fabric of society in this country, not sufficiently promoted by the governments of this country and not respected by the ruling elite of the country,” he added.

M/s. Alma Zadic, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Austria, called on the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina to actively participate in the reform process. She underlined how essential public debates are to encourage and strengthen public engagement and therefore vibrant democracies. “What I want to convey is: Believe in your power to build a better future for you and your children. Be an active part of the reform process, claim your rights and shape the country for better change!said Minister Zadić.

Institutional responsibility was also underlined by Darja Softic-Kadenic, Minister of Justice and Administration of the Canton of Sarajevo. She stressed the importance of the value of integrity and ethics in the public service and among public office holders, recalling the key role of independent institutional bodies in charge of monitoring the integrity of public services. Also, Damir Arnaut, Chairman of the Interim Investigative Committee of the House of Representatives to investigate the judiciary of Bosnia and Herzegovina, underlined the importance of parliamentary control over the work of publicly funded bodies, including the judiciary .

The third debate places particular emphasis on the essential role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in impartially monitoring the activities of public officials, including in the judicial system, and in objectively communicating the results. According Ivana Korajlic, Director of Transparency International, Bosnia and Herzegovina has traditionally performed poorly in preventing and combating corruption. Therefore, an important outcome of this debate is the general agreement that CSOs need to work together more actively to promote change and reform for the benefit of citizens.

In this context, investigative journalism has been touted as one of the main drivers of efforts to make the justice system and public institutions work in the public interest. Investigative journalism work is important not only to detect cases of corruption, so that they are then prosecuted and punished, but also to create a social environment that encourages greater transparency and integrity in the work of public institutions. and increased accountability of judicial office holders and civil servants, as highlighted by Denis Džidic, executive director and editor of BIRN BiH, Leila Bicakcic executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN), and Sinisa Vukelicowner of the Capital portal.

To complete the picture, Mr Prosecutor Pavo Rados of the District Prosecutor’s Office of Brčko in Bosnia and Herzegovina recalled that integrity is one of the fundamental commitments to be observed in the exercise of the function of judge or prosecutor and further described the successful prosecution of fraud election in the Brčko district as a good example of maintaining the judicial system as one of the central tenets of democracy.Constructive cooperation of the public prosecutor’s office with representatives of civil societycan ultimately restore citizens’ trust in the justice system,” Rados said. His colleague Džermin Pasicof the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, commented on the difficulties faced by some justice officials in carrying out their work in a dysfunctional system under political influence, which partly explains why the judiciary is not perceived as independent in the fight against corruption, but rather perceived as corrupt by most citizens.

In his closing remarks, Vassilis Maragos, The Head of Unit D.4 (BiH, Kosovo), Directorate General for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), underlined that „Integration into the EU is a merit-based process. RoL standards are non-negotiable”. He further noted that 2022 being an election year, it provides opportunities, pointing out that “the current elected representatives and those who will succeed them after October 2 are not responsible to Brussels but to the citizens of BiH”. He also affirmed the EU’s support for professionals, citizens, civil society and investigative journalists in monitoring reforms. “Strengthening the rule of law in BiH will bring positive results for its people and move the country further along the path to the EU. This responsibility will be appreciated not only by today’s citizens but also by future generations. The EU and the European Commission will support you in these efforts.”concluded Maragos.

About Michael G. Walter

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