Sweden and Bosnia and Herzegovina have strong relations that we owe to the Bosnian diaspora in Sweden, foreign minister Tobias Billstrom said addressing a press conference during his visit to Sarajevo.
Billstrom also reaffirmed Sweden's commitment to continuation of excellent relations and cooperation with BiH.
During a meeting with his Bosnian counterpart Elmedin Konakovic, Billstrom talked about the situation in Europe, the Western Balkans and BiH.
“Sweden took over the EU Presidency on January 1 at a historic moment which laid numerous challenges ahead of the EU due to Russia's aggression on Ukraine,” said Billstrom, emphasising the need for even closer cooperation.
“The Western Balkan countries are an essentially important partner and only together can we develop a stable Europe based on common values. Due to the new security situation in Europe, the importance of the countries of the Western Balkans has only increased further. Only together can we build a better Europe for everyone,” he said.
The minister also pointed out that due to the security situation, Sweden certainly welcomes the European Council's decision to grant BiH candidate status.
“This is a great opportunity for your country and we hope you will make the most of it. The candidate status also comes with increased expectations regarding reforms and harmonization with the EU's common foreign and security policy, which includes restrictions towards Russia,” said Billstrom.
However, he also expressed concerns over developments in Bosnia's Republika Srpska entity.
“Unfortunately, despite the positive signals at the state level, the signals from Republika Srpska contradict this. The EU is deeply concerned about the recent steps taken to criminalise defamation and NGO law. If these laws are adopted, it will represent a step backwards on Bosnia and Herzegovina's European path. Repeated threats of secession are also unfounded and only contribute to mistrust and tensions, at a time of crisis in Europe when stability and cooperation are needed,” he underlined.
At the end, Billstrom said that Bosnia and Herzegovina belongs to the European Union.
“There is no alternative to that. However, for this to become a reality, you must make progress on fourteen key priorities, and Sweden and the EU will continue to stand by you and provide you with support,” he concluded.
Konakovic emphasised this was the third time he is meeting his Swedish counterparti in a very short period of time.
He thanked Sweden for the strong support they provide to Bosnia and Herzegovina's European path.
“Of course, we thank you for the support we received from Sweden for candidate status, which is significant for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our two countries do not have difficult and open issues. We talked about our chances and opportunities. Bosnia and Herzegovina has significantly increased the volume of trade with Sweden in the last year. Exports grew by around 23 percent, imports by around 29 percent, compared to 2021, these are serious and significant numbers,” said Konakovic.
However, he believes that there is still a lot of room for improvement.
“They proposed and I think we will go towards an agreement on a memorandum on cooperation in the field of tourism. I remind you that a large number of Bosnians and Herzegovinans, our diaspora, live in Sweden. These are people who often come back to their homes, friends, relatives. We know that Bosnia and Herzegovina as an attractive tourist destination is certainly interesting to other Swedish citizens as well,” explained Konakovic.
They also discussed current issues concerning the countries of the Western Balkans, the stability of the region.
“It is very important for us to send a message of support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina from this place, so that there is no room for any other politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the moment. I use the opportunity to once again call on all my colleagues to focus on what our obligations are, to return our attention to the 14 priorities that are a condition for our membership in the EU. On our side, there are obligations that must be fulfilled and tasks that we must complete in order for our European partners to take us even more seriously,” said Konakovic.