Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob underlined his choice of Bosnia-Herzegovina for his first official visit abroad by announcing in Sarajevo on 13 March that Slovenia wanted to be Bosnia’s strongest ally. Golob pledged extensive technical support in Bosnia’s EU membership efforts, speaking of a historic opportunity in the face of a changed attitude to enlargement.
The visit came in the wake of a January trip to Bosnia by Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon and after the country was granted EU candidate status last December in a decision which Slovenia lobbied for extensively.
Golob, who described the step as one of the most important geostrategic and political decisions recently taken by the EU, hailed the development, speaking of a significant change in the atmosphere in Brussels when it comes to the enlargement of the bloc to the Western Balkans in the face of the war in Ukraine.
“The change is historic. For twenty years, the enlargement process was in fact stalled by so-called technical-administrative issues. Today, EU enlargement has become a political issue, and this moment must be seized”, he stressed after meeting his host, the chair of Bosnia’a Council of Ministers Borjana Krišto.
Golob stressed Slovenia wanted to be not only a friendly country but Bosnia’s “strongest ally, and we will offer all possible help to take advantage of this historic opportunity, from experts to financial resources”. “There is no small print, we are driven by the desire to see the whole region advance,” he added.
There is a strategic discussion within the EU on how best to connect the EU with its neighbours. One possible scenario, also supported by Slovenia, is that of a phased enlargement, which entails the country in question already benefiting concretely during the European integration process, even before EU accession, especially in the areas of education, the young and economic development, he said.
According to Golob, an important change has also taken place in Slovenian foreign policy, which now strictly follows the principle of solidarity between nations in order to achieve political stability in the world. “Only if we have political stability will we be able to talk about economic development and prosperity for all people,” he said.
The prime minister remarked in a recent interview with Al Jazeera Balkans that advancing up the European path could be “a real catalyst for tackling many of the problems that Bosnia and Herzegovina has been facing over the last 20 years”.
Golob announced that the government had earmarked EUR 1 million for technical assistance to Bosnia. “These funds will support the first activities in the field of national statistics and prosecution of international crime. The Slovenian police have excellent relations with the Bosnian police and we would like to take this cooperation to a level involving the harmonising of legislation”, he said.
Meanwhile, Krišto thanked Slovenia for its support in obtaining EU membership candidate status, a step which she said had sent an important message that Bosnia belonged in the EU.
She announced that the two countries intend to sign an agreement on providing expert and technical assistance to Bosnia on its European path, pointing out that the Bosnian Council of Ministers has already implemented some reforms, ranging from internal administration to structural projects.
Golob and Krišto also discussed possibilities for closer economic cooperation. Bosnia is the single largest beneficiary of Slovenia’s development aid and a important economic partner of Slovenia.
Bilateral trade has topped EUR 1.5 billion, and Slovenia is one of the top five investors in Bosnia. More than 100 Slovenian majority-owned companies employ more than 15,000 Bosnian citizens.
After Monday’s talks, Golob singled out opportunities involving renewable energy. “Bosnia has an extraordinary potential in the renewable energy sources, in which we and our Slovenian investors want to invest substantially in the future,” said the former energy exec, who also met the three members of the country’s presidency and the representatives of both chambers of parliament.