For many, Bosnia is a reminder of Europe’s most protracted and deadliest conflict since the end of World War II. For the U.S. and European Union nations, however, Bosnia must be much more than that despite the persistent challenges of governance that continue to exist.
With an unemployment rate reaching more than 40%, the health of the economy is central to improving cooperation in a very complex political environment in which institutional corruption must also be dealt with swiftly.
Regional stability rests on the international community appreciating the real potential for success in Bosnia and the consequences of decline. [pullquote]
American engagement in Bosnia is critical in this post-Dayton era, now more than ever. With Russian investment and influence in the region increasing, the United States should continue to recognize the strategic importance of playing an active role in the future of our country. Indeed, while not debating the overall efficacy of current U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia, it is clear from the Serbian-Russian trade partnership that there are regional beneficiaries of the trade prohibitions.
Today, the majority of foreign investment in Bosnia is coming from the East and Middle East, while capital from the U.S. and Europe is declining. More capital from the U.S. and E.U. is needed to counter the influence of nations that may not be aligned ideologically with the West.
Recent events in Ukraine while troubling, present the U.S. and E.U. nations and investors with an even greater opportunity. If the U.S. has an interest, for instance, in countering Russia’s recent moves in the region, a reexamination of a policy that has seen the framers of the Dayton agreement move slowly away from Bosnia in recent years is surely needed.
This isn’t just about aid. Foreign aid and technical assistance are of course beneficial. However, what is needed to grow the now stagnant Bosnian economy, create jobs and forge gains in civil society, is private investment capital.
Admittedly, becoming more attractive for U.S. and European companies requires action on our part to address chronic issues that lead to instability and chase away investment.
In recent years, we have instituted a range of incentives for foreign investment and while we have more work to do to streamline the process of doing business in Bosnia, I continue to support reforms that make this country more attractive for investors.
Ensuring that our extensive natural resources can be leveraged smartly to buttress the Bosnian economy as well as our position with the E.U. and other allies is a prime goal. Our coal, iron, bauxite, manganese, timber, copper, and hydro-power among others are all areas that can produce a thriving economy and represent fertile ground for private international partnership.
Bosnia is one country made up of many cultures, people and resources. Certainly, a Bosnia-Herzegovina that works as one unit will improve the investment climate by reducing regulation, simplifying laws, reducing corruption and increasing transparency.
Continuing efforts to improve political stability, reconciliation and cooperation are paramount during this time so as a nation we can push forward with accession with the European Union and ultimately NATO. Though the process has unfortunately been stilted, the time is now to redouble our commitment to advancing our application for membership.
I am confident that we can and will meet the Copenhagen criteria that will realize full European integration.
I applauded the EU ruling that requires us to amend the Dayton accord to ensure that all ethnicities represented in our nation have free and fair access to the democratic process and the ability to participate in government. I will continue to work for the amendment and see the larger potential for growth by codifying our commitment to true democracy. This can often be a lonely position.
Mother Theresa said, “loves begins in our homes.” We must continue to pursue reform internally. But the United States and EU cannot be impatient as we seek to achieve the great success I know is possible for Bosnia and our great people. They must harness the opportunity that exists for a prosperous Bosnia.
It took more than two-hundred years for the United States to achieve many of the goals set out in its founding documents. I believe that working together with the European Union, multi-national organizations, and as part of the global free market, we will form a more perfect union.
Anything less cannot be an option for the great citizens of Bosnia, the U.S. and E.U. nations.
Zivko Budimir is the President of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina