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EU's Ashton Tells Bosnians To Vote For Europe

Catherine Ashton (left), High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs in Sarajevo with Nikola Spiric, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina
SARAJEVO (Reuters) -- EU foreign affairs and security chief Catherine Ashton urged Bosnians today to vote for their "future in Europe" when they go to the polls to choose presidents and parliaments in October.

Bosnia has been politically deadlocked for more than a year by bickering among its rival Serb, Muslim, and Croat leaders and is facing a serious economic crisis and social unrest.

The country, divided into two autonomous Serb and Muslim-Croat regions, is lagging its neighbors in its attempts to join the European Union but the West believes progress can be made if new leaders with a European agenda are voted in.

"As you go into your elections, I hope the future in Europe will be a big part of the election campaign," Ashton said in Sarajevo, the first stop on her two-day visit to the Balkans.

"I hope that in the election campaign people will ask questions about the direction of travel and get from politicians answers about how ... much progress has been made on the path towards Europe," she said.

Since the war ended in 1995, elections in Bosnia have been dominated by nationalist parties which relied on populism more than on political and economic programs.

Ashton has said she is paying her first visit to the region to demonstrate that European integration of former Yugoslav countries devastated by war in the 1990s will be among her top priorities. She will also visit Belgrade and Pristina.

She said Bosnia will have to change its constitution to meet European Convention on Human Rights and break with a discriminatory practice of preventing minorities from running for high office in elections.