Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

Reforms, Results, Rewards

9 Mar 2015

(c) pictur-ealliance/dpa/DW

(c) picture-alliance/dpa/DW


The process of obtaining full political support for the ‘BiH Written Commitment to EU Integration’ is finished: all political parties have signed up to the document, the centre piece of EU’s recent initiative. On Monday, 23 February, the BiH parliament has endorsed it in the presence of EU High Representative Federica Mogherini. She called it an ‘historical day’ for Bosnia.


Now that politicians and parliamentarians have formally confirmed their support, the next step is implementation of the many challenging tasks that they have committed themselves to.

In the coming weeks, an action plan for the realization of the top priorities in socio-economic reform will be worked out between the EU and BiH. Experts from the international financial institutions (IFI’s) will actively participate in the drafting of this initial reform agenda and so will representatives of Bosnia’s civil society.


Clearly, it is too early to predict what the chances are for the Agenda for Reform to succeed.

At this phase, at least, a positive sign is that the drafting, approving and endorsing of the text of the written commitments went rather well. I did not hear any fundamental objections to the purpose or intent of the commitments.

That is encouraging, as it shows that, finally, all politicians and parliamentarians seem to understand that there is no other way than to go forward: in the next four of five years, the authorities of BiH at all levels have to face some very serious challenges. All friends of BiH believe that the reforms needed for EU integration can also help to do something about these statistics that are as familiar as they are depressing:

  • The country has the highest rate of youth unemployment in Europe (over 60 percent of the active population aged 15-24);
  • the second-highest rate of overall unemployment in Europe (28 percent of the labour force);
  • the lowest ranking of European countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business indicators and one of the lowest rankings of European countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Addressing the real problems the citizens of BiH have to deal with on a daily basis, particularly unemployment and poverty, cannot be postponed again. The success and speed of confronting the priorities on this agenda will depend entirely on the political and institutional leadership of the country. Therefore, the real test of their commitment is in the implementation.


I am convinced that the EU – the member states, the Commission and the other EU institutions – plan to do whatever is necessary to encourage BiH to move forward on its way to accession. The responsibilities of the EU in this respect can be found in the conclusions of the European Council of 14 December of last year.

The plan is that the IFI’s for their part will coordinate their approach and action as closely as possible with those of the EU.

Obviously, I cannot speak for them, but I expect that other important donors and friends of BiH, like the US, Norway, Japan, Turkey and Switzerland, intend to follow developments in the framework of the EU Initiative with great interest. Given their impressive track-records as supporters of this country, I am sure they plan to actively back the EU effort, where possible and useful.

But all of this is to no avail, if the Bosnian political leaders and institutional authorities are not sincere in the solemn promises to stick to the ‘irrevocable, written commitment’ they have made. Their only plan for 2015 should be – must be – to tackle the reform priorities of the Compact for Growth head on and without delay.

Without delay, because, by now, they ought to realize that time is running out:

  • this is the fourth (4th!) attempt by the international community in a row to help BiH make progress.
  • The problems of this country are no longer a top priority on the agenda of world leaders.
  • After almost 20 years of non-stop support, many donor countries expect to see some positive results; I know the Netherlands is one donor who would like to see some return on investment.

After all, my country is in the Top Five of bilateral donors; in 20 years we have supported BiH to the tune of 580 Million EURO and counting. Therefore, I am mortified each time I see Bosnia’s ranking on various other lists, of Transparency International and the Wall Street Journal, for instance: in many respects, this potential member state of the EU is on par with certified basket cases from the Third World. That is utterly unnecessary, given the potential of this country and of its people. And may I add: given the amount of support received so far.

We know: no reform process is easy. But one of the costs of not reforming is that young people will have no future in their own country. So, I hope that this time nobody will want to hide behind ‘the Bosnian Exception’ (“Dayton”, “The War, “our difficult history”) again. In many respects, Bosnia is n o t unique. Quite a few other European countries have had to turn-around a disfunctioning economy, while overcoming a difficult past or a complicated set-up of their societies. Just ask the Poles or the Latvians, and there are quite a few others.

By this time, it must be blindingly obvious to every politician, official or administrator in this country what needs to be done. So, their plan for 2015 should be a simple: ‘Let’s get on with it.’


As was to be expected, after 7 or 8 years of playacting and broken promises by their political leaders, Bosnians reacted with cynicism to the EU Initiative: 72% gives this attempt no chance to succeed, because they feel that the political will – again – is just not there.

However, I am convinced that ordinary citizens can help by forcing the responsible authorities ‘to get on with it’.

For I hope, that Bosnians will remember that the Compact for Growth, on which the initial reform agenda is based, was the EU’s answer to the protests of February 2014. A year ago, citizens, from all walks of life and from all over the country, made it clear what it was that they wanted above all: jobs, better government services, and an end to the ruthless egoism of the political class.

Also, I hope that everybody will remember whom he or she voted for during the last elections. The assignment of the men and women the people of Bosnia voted into office on 12 October is clear: their to-do-list’ for 2015 and beyond spelled out in the irrevocable commitments they have promised last Monday to uphold.

Ordinary people can help the international community – and most of all themselves – by insisting that the ministers and members of parliament they voted for stick to their commitment. Holding them accountable is the best way to ensure that the chance for positive change this ‘non repeatable offer’ holds is not wasted. On Tuesday, 23 February 2016, ask them to show the results they have achieved so far.

Finally, ordinary citizens can contribute by bravely facing the fact that implementing some of the six reforms needed in the socio-economic field to revitalise the economy and spur investment and jobs will hit them directly and will hit them hard. But the Netherlands, and all other member states, all institutions of European Union and the IFI’s are fully committed to help with the implementation of the reforms and to provide financial assistance to alleviate their short-term effects.

The truth is and, as I said, the experience of other countries bears this out: there is no recovery without reform. Ignoring this simple truth is irresponsible and will make matters even worse.

Reforms do work and they give rewards.

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  • 9 Mar 2015, 8:00
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About the author

Jurriaan Kraak
Written by Jurriaan Kraak

Dutch ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina

Jurriaan Kraak was born on 24 August 1951 in Jakarta (Indonesia). He started his diplomatic career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1978. After postings to Mexico and Canada, he worked for twelve years in Brussels at the Netherlands Permanent Representations to the European Union and to NATO. Between 1991 and 1995 he was seconded to the Royal Household as Private Secretary of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix and HRH Prince Claus of The Netherlands and of HRH the Prince of Orange. Prior to his posting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Latvia. He is married and has two children.