Interview with Ambassador Peter Sørensen for EWB

European Western Balkans continues with series of interviews with key people from Western Balkans countries which are involved in European integration process of their countries. H.E. Peter M. Sørensen is Head of the European Union Delegation to BiH  and the European Union Special Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mr. Sørensen has a BA degree (1991) and Master of Law degree (1993) from Aarhus University.

He has been a lawyer in Denmark and Officer in the Danish Army. Internationally he has been political/legal advisor to the United Nations Special Envoy to the Balkans; head of Political Affairs, OSCE Mission to Croatia and legal Advisor to the High Representative, Sarajevo, Bosnia and  Herzegovina, Carl Bildt and European Community Monitor Mission, Sarajevo.

He has served as adviser to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General as well as to the Deputy SRSG and Head of UNMIK EU Pillar IV, Kosovo. From 2002 to 2006 Sørensen serverd as Deputy Head of UNMIK EU Pillar IV and Director of the European Office.From 2009 to 2011 he was the EU High Representative’s Personal Representative in Belgrade. Sørensen was appointed European Union Special Representative and Head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina in September 2011 after previously having served as Head of the EU Delegation in Skopje.

European Western Balkans: What is your personal opinion about the European Union and about importance of integration of the Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region of WB in the EU?

H.E. Peter Sørensen: I believe that Bosnia and Herzegovina and the other Western Balkans countries, who have a clear membership perspective, belong in the European Union. There is a chair waiting for BiH in Brussels along with the right to speak up as a member of the EU family.

EU integration is a game changer in the region. It has proved its economic benefits such as boosting trade, it helps countries to transform and build closer regional ties as they introduce similar economic and judicial reforms in order to qualify for EU’s membership.

I believe that through the reforms that make up the path to the EU, Bosnia and Herzegovina can see a real improvement in its economy, in citizens’ standard of living and in its justice system to name a few areas.
EU leaders have expressed their full commitment. It has been often repeated both from Brussels and Member State capitals that work on the EU project will not be finished until the Western Balkans countries join. It was also reiterated last April in the latest Council conclusions.

Most important of course is the opinion of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We know from surveys that the overwhelming majority of the citizens of this country want BiH in the European Union. BiH citizens want to join the Union because they want jobs, prosperity and security.

EWB: The role of the EU Delegation to BiH it is not the same as any other Delegation in, for example, Skopje or Podgorica. Can you explain us role of EU Delegation in Bosnia?

PS: Having worked in the Western Balkans region for some years – I have worked in Zagreb, Belgrade, Pristina and Skopje – it is possible to see some similarities and some differences.

Obviously, some of the problems we deal with are the same everywhere – high unemployment especially among youth and de-industrialization, the need for a robust fight against corruption, transposition of EU standards into domestic law and implementation of IPA funds for example. Like Delegations in other countries we too monitor and assess the accession process and operate the related structures – such as sectoral committees – together with the BiH authorities. Working in Bosnia and Herzegovina does differ though.

Firstly the Delegation manages the implementation of IPA funds, this is not yet handed over to the country. Currently there are 210 million Euro of projects on-going and there are almost 150 million Euro of projects which are yet to start, which are not yet contracted or programmed.

Secondly, because of the EU’s deep interest in seeing BiH move forward, I am also mandated as EU Special Representative in the country, with a mission to provide the guidance of the EU in the political process. This is especially needed as Bosnia and Herzegovina has a complex governance structure, with various levels of authority being in charge of different issues. This requires an extra engagement on the side of the EU as we interact with all the parliaments, ministries and agencies. We engage on a wide variety of topics ranging from constitutional reform to public security issues, economic governance to judicial reform. It is important that honest discussion on these leads the political leadership of this country to a shared future vision. A vision which will be anchored in the EU’s accession process and which will lead to modernization of the country and to a competitive and free market economy.

Now following the recent floods and the massive involvement of the EU in the rescue phase, we are deeply engaged in the recovery phase. We are co-ordinating the Recovery Needs Assessment work and we will be providing substantial financial assistance in the months and years to come.

EWB: How does institutional cooperation between EU Delegation to BiH and OHR looks like? And how with institutions of the entities of BiH?

PS: As I mentioned above, we engage with authorities at all levels depending on their competences in EU integration matters. Where a BiH institution – such as an Entity – has a role to play we engage with them.  In particular we are working consistently with State and Entities to help establish a Coordination Mechanism on EU related matters and assistance. This will help BiH to speak with one voice to the EU. Coordination of EU affairs is one of the greatest challenges for any country aspiring to join the EU. For Bosnia and Herzegovina this challenge is even bigger due to its complex institutional architecture.

As for the OHR, obviously we have our separate mandates and hence our specific issues to focus on. The High Representative is the final authority for civilian part of the Dayton Peace Accord and OHR works on so-called Dayton issues. The EU is concerned with the EU integration issues. Of course, we meet regularly to consult on various topics.

I would also like to underline the strong involvement of the embassies of the EU Member States in Bosnia and Herzegovina. All of them are keen to see BiH advancing on its European path, and although they are running their own commercial and cultural activities, we stand as one when encouraging and assisting reforms in BiH at all levels We visit Entities, Cantons and municipalities often in order to learn from local businessmen, authorities, the citizens and youth about their day-to-day problems.

EWB: Bosnia has no or slowest progress towards the EU. We all know the problems that are on the way. Can you tell us, is there any progress in negotiations led by Commissioner Füle? Except the Sejdic-Finci judgment and Election law is there something else which stands in the way of a better future for citizens of BiH?

PS: Commissioner Füle facilitated talks of political parties’ leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to help them to reach an agreement on implementing the Sejdic-Finci judgement. During these talks a common ground has been found on a number of questions raised, but some of issues remained.It is clear that we want the judgment implemented and the discrimination to end.

But the EU’s engagement with Bosnia and Herzegovina was not halted. The European Commission is putting a focus on better economic governance in all countries in the region. Bosnia and Herzegovina should
be one of the first countries to benefit from this new approach. The European Commission will assist Bosnia and Herzegovina to prepare a National Economic Reform Programme. It will push forward reforms and actions to tackle dysfunctional labour market, get better co-ordination on economic and fiscal policies and create a better environment for business. We will also propose a Competitiveness and Growth Programme to push forward the sectoral reforms – in, for example transport, telecoms and energy – that will enhance BiH’s competitiveness, unlock investments, growth – and employment, which has a very special role in this new approach.

In light of that, we organised last month a Forum for Prosperity and Jobs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Participants reached consensus that the high unemployment rates, especially among youth, low rates of investment and growth, a complicated and non-transparent business climate, and a low level of social support for the less-well-off in society are the key issues to be addressed by a coherent and comprehensive reform agenda. All of this now has to become part of the agenda of the incoming governments and parliaments after October’s elections. The EU and international financial organisations like World Bank, IMF, EBRD and others will be ready to support implementation of reforms.

EWB: How is the adoption of European standards, regardless of the integration of BiH into the EU, important for the citizens of BiH? Although BiH has no progress in talks, do institutions of the country together with EU Delegation work on laws and implementation of EU standards?

PS: Bosnia and Herzegovina has signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union, but it is not fully in force yet. Nonetheless, transposition of EU law and standards has begun. It is a massive task
which influences and regulates almost all aspects of industrial production, agriculture, trade, business. Various projects have been designed and financed through IPA in order to help Bosnia and Herzegovina to adopt EU standards.

It is vital to adopt and implement EU standards because this will allow products “Made in BiH” to reach consumers in the EU. More trade means profits for local firms, more investments and more new jobs in BiH. On the other hand, adoption of EU-related laws will help you become part of the Single Market and introduce some best regulatory practice from the EU’s experience. It some cases, it will involve change of competencies between State and
Entities, within Entities, but this is normal. In fact, the very nature of the EU is the transfer and pooling of certain competences at the EU level, which saves taxpayers’ money and introduces fair and equal treatment across the borders of the member states.

One very specific example of how we help continuously with reforms: in 2011 we launched the Structured Dialogue on Justice between EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Through its technical and plenary meetings, it aims to help strengthen the rule of law in potential candidate countries, even prior to the entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The Structured Dialogue assists Bosnia and Herzegovina to consolidate an independent, effective, efficient and professional judicial system. Hence it helps the country to move further along its path towards the EU.

EWB: What do you consider to be especially important for further integration of the Bosnia and Herzegovina in the EU?

PS: The various authorities involved in EU integration in BiH need to acknowledge that they are getting left behind while other countries in the region move forward and intensify their efforts for reforms. Firstly, it is BiH institutions and leaders who have the leading role and the main responsibility.  They need to put the EU reforms above daily politics and make the agreements to get the legislation passed, the funds implemented and the conditions fulfilled for BiH to become an EU candidate country.

The voice of civil society needs to be heard much more loudly. The business community must make its influence felt, because the EU’s single market is a huge opportunity for them. And citizens need to hold their elected representatives accountable. All of this is needed for the country to move forward.

EWB: Thank you Y.E. for your time. European Western Balkans wishes you very best in very best in your future activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.