First press conference of the new Head of European Union Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina and EUSR, Ambassador Peter Sorensen

Andy McGuffie: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming and welcome to the EU House here in Sarajevo for the first press conference of the new Head of European Union Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina and EUSR, Ambassador Peter Sorensen. My name is Andy McGuffie and I am the new Head of Communications and Spokesperson for the joint Office. I am sure that you appreciate that, as we announced last weekend, due to diplomatic protocol certain formalities had to be completed before the Ambassador could meet you. As you all know, the credentials have now been presented to the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, so we can go ahead. The Ambassador will open with his remarks and we will then have time for couple of questions. Therefore, I am pleased to hand the floor to HE Ambassador Sorensen.

HE Ambassador Peter Sorensen: Andy, thank you very much and very welcome to you here. I had today the honour to present my credentials, as Head of the EU Delegation and EU Special Representative, to the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, H.E Mr Željko Komšiæ. As I said earlier in my meetings today, the EU is strongly committed to the eventual goal of the EU integration of a sovereign and united Bosnia and Herzegovina. The commitment is what has driven the EU’s willingness to enhance and focus its presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The fact that we are here today presenting you with the enhanced EU presence is an underlining of this commitment. Let me from the outset underline that there is a leading role for all of you – citizens, authorities, media et cetera – in achieving this goal. A common effort by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s authorities and all other levels – and the commitment of its citizens – is simply essential for a real EU perspective. 

For the EU’s part – our main aim in the years ahead is to continue and intensify our work in partnership with all authorities and stakeholders. We – the authorities as well as the EU Delegation here in Bosnia and Herzegovina – collectively have our work plan laid down in the Council Conclusions on Bosnia and Herzegovina from 21 March 2011. I suggest to all of you that you go through those conclusions if you have not done it already, as they are very clear on the roadmap and the plan that we will be following. In the Council Conclusions you have answers to all your questions about the division of labour between the OHR and us here. We – me and the team who is running the place here – are about the EU.  In the short term, we will focus on facilitating the authorities’ efforts in doing the necessary homework to get Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement to enter into force. We believe that this is very important. The Council has mandated us to do so. We believe that there is the commitment amongst the authorities to do it. We are fully aware that there are some tough edges in getting there but we will help all we can to get around them. To get the SAA to enter into force, it requires overall a proper implementation of the Interim Agreement, which already is in force and which is part of the SAA and in particular it means adopting an EU-compatible State Aid Law; and it means seeing credible efforts regarding following up the ruling on the Sejdic-Finci case.

Fulfilling these obligations and a satisfactory track record are essential in order for BiH’s eventual application for EU membership i.e. it is important for such an application to be considered credible. We are ready to assist with the population census at the state level. This is a crucial piece of legislation for BiH’s socio-economic development and for the country to be able to respond to questions on its accession path.

We also want to help ensure that key sectors – the judiciary, administration, economy – and key infrastructure are ready for the high demands of eventual EU membership. These sorts of assistance are the reason for us being here and for the enhanced presence. We do so because BiH has something that is very precious in this regard. It has the unified position of all EU 27 Member States and that is that we believe that BiH’s citizens should have an improved quality of life. We believe we offer that with the accession process. Being part of the single market can deliver this and that is why our technical assistance will focus on many of these very technical things.

How are we going about doing this?

All of this will be done in partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s institutions. And I am very happy that the Chairman of the Presidency underlined this in his speech to me that the institutions are fully aware of their obligations in getting the EU process to move forward. The EU does not intend, and by ‘EU’ we also mean the EU Delegation here, to substitute for the proper role of the country’s own leaders. I repeat that EU integration, for all EU member states and prospective members, is always a matter of the will of the people and their leaders. We believe the will is here. We are here to help bring it out in the open.

The EU has now reinforced its presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to further assist and help accelerate progress towards the EU, and work for an improved economic and social outlook. This re-organisation is a sign of the EU’s commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am looking very much forward to meeting and getting down to real work with leaders and representatives at state, entity and local level. I will today and in coming weeks begin my introductory tour to the institutions as well as the country. I hope to see you all again when I have worked my way through all of these initial diplomatic obligations. In the meantime do not hesitate to contact Andy McGuffie and the EU Communication Team, particularly Zora Staniæ and Jamila Miloviæ-Haliloviæ, for any questions and queries.

Thank you very much for coming.

Andy McGuffie: We have time for some questions now.

Slađana Jašarević, BN TV: Mr Sorensen, there is a lot of confusion as to what your real function is, besides the ones that you mentioned of helping BiH citizens and leaders to accelerate their EU path. All of us here are interested in knowing what your role and powers as the EUSR are. Does your mandate include use of repressive measures? I am asking this especially with regard to what you said recently, and what we could read, that Dayton is the thing of the past although half of the country, at least, deem it the most important thing.

HE Ambassador Sorensen: Thank you very much. It is a very good question and it gives me an opportunity to hammer to the ground something that has been circulating in the press in the previous days. First of all, I would like to see the one who reported that that is what I have said! I come from Denmark. It is Hans Christian Andersen – the feather becomes the five hens – but the problem here is that there was not any feather. I have not given any statements while I was the Head of Delegation in Skoplje because, diplomatically, you cannot do that nor have I given any statements whatsoever before coming here. This is my first one and I have not done so because I am coming here as an Ambassador and there is a protocol according to Vienna Convention that you do not say anything about the country where you come to before you have handed in your credentials. That happened at 11 o’clock so therefore, this is the first thing I’ve said. I deliberately did not comment on reports of reports of what happened in the AFET meeting in Brussels. I thought, if someone starts constructing a lie, let them suffer it. I have not said these things.

What I said in the AFET was said in a closed meeting and what I pointed out in the AFET meeting was that the role of the EUSR was exactly what I started out with, namely to bring the EU agenda into the political discussion  here. What I said in the beginning – encouraging you to read the Conclusions from the Council in March – I meant it because in there you have a very clear division of labour – what we are about. There is paragraph 3 that underlines the commitment to the EU. Then, there is paragraph 4 that clearly underlines the main role of what we are doing here, namely using the very powerful tool of EU programmes, EU money and EU assistance to further the EU accession process. Then, there is paragraph 5, which is – if you read it you would know that I could have never said the things that you have reported – namely that we are and the Council remain fully determined to support the Dayton-Paris Peace Agreement and in that they list the measures that we have as EU, the so-called “restrictive measures”. On the same day the Council made the Conclusions I was referring to, there was a regulation enacted, which clearly empowered the EU tools, of which I am one, to use these restrictive measures. There is a clear line about when you can use them and how you are using them. If we come to a situation of a threat to constitutional order or threat to stability, there is a possibility for the EU to suggest to the Council and to the Member States to put these things into place.

But, I suggest you to go back and take a look at these regulations – they are very clear in what can be done and then focus on the real tool we have here – it is the aim of the EU process. This is not an ‘OHR Two’ exercise. We are not OHR. OHR is down the street. We are working very, very closely but we have, as the High Representative (EN: Inzko) said himself, clear mandates: he is looking at Dayton and I am looking at the EU. Thank you.

Dženana Karabegović, Radio Free Europe: In the beginning of your speech, you stated that you will cooperate with government representatives on all levels but the fact is that 11 months after the general elections, there is no executive government, i.e. the Council of Ministers. In your opinion, what do citizens and the country itself lose due to the lack of executive government?

HE Ambassador Sorensen: The formation of the government or the Council of Ministers is of course of immense importance for the constitutional system of BiH to be fully functional the way it is laid down in the Constitution. And the evaluation of what has been lost because of the lack of government in the last 11 months I would leave to people who have been here in those 11 months. What I see and what I come into is a state where there are things we need to focus on very quickly in support of coordination on many levels. I see that on the issue of our programming, we need to make sure that the State and Entity levels are coordinating. We need that in order for us to assist the way that the EU system is set up. The formation of the government is clearly the responsibility of political leaders and it sits with them. I understand the temptation to ask me what I think about it. But I can only have the same answer any other citizen of this country would have, namely there should be a government, you have voted for people to make the government and you can now expect from them to do so and I am sure they will. Because I think they also understand that having a situation where you have a fully functional parliament but you still need the Council of Ministers, that is not the way that people expected from them. So, I look forward for them to make a decision in this regard. 

Dejana Dobranoviæ Šarenac, RTRS: You have partially answered the question but what we are all interested in is your mediation and negotiation with political leaders in light of EU making efforts to assist in forming the Council of Minister almost a year after the elections. Will you be involved in this process?

HE Ambassador Sorensen: I will for sure have conversations and go and see everybody. I am quite convinced that in these conversations this issue will come up. I am quite convinced that I will hear all sides of the story, why we are where we are at the moment. But actually, it is not our role to mediate – it is the responsibility of political leaders. I am quite encouraged that they do understand and know that that is the case. I've also read the news these days that I have been here and I see that there are some movements. So, I will leave it to the political leaders to carry out their responsibility. Doing that, I will also explain the necessity for us to have a partner that we can interact with. It is very, very clear. So, if you call that mediation, that is mediation. What I call it is more working in partnership with whoever becomes the authority and that is the way we would like to do it.