Transcript of the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn’s interview for FTV

FTV (Duska Jurisic):
Thank you for being here with us today.

Commissioner Hahn: Good evening.

FTV (Duska Jurisic): How was the meeting at the BiH Presidency? Have the Presidency finally decided for this country to speak with one voice having in mind that only Mr. Bakir Izetbegovic met with you while other two members of the BiH Presidency were – one at the session of the Party’s presidency in Kupres and the other is on his way to Moscow?

Commissioner Hahn:  I don’t have any problems if there is only one representative. I mean, this is already a good development of the country that one representative of the Presidency is able to speak on behalf of the others and I think it was a good meeting.

FTV (Duska Jurisic): Does this means that we can really very soon have the coordination mechanism established so that this country starts speaking with one voice?

Commissioner Hahn:  What we need indeed is the coordination mechanism in order to implement all the different projects and activities we would like to do together with BiH in order to move the country further to the EU. There is a clear common aim to have the future membership of BiH in the EU – and for that we need the most streamlined procedures inside the country. But it is now up to the country to make the necessary proposals as to how such coordination mechanism could look like.

FTV (Duska Jurisic): How is it possible to establish the coordination mechanism, fulfil the demands by the EC in a country that has such a set-up? The jurisdictions of the state are almost lower than the ones of the Entities. The state has in its mandate foreign policy and the armed forces while Entities and cantons have everything else, from education, health to economy. How to establish one voice?

Commissioner Hahn: This is a question for the responsible politicians in the country. We can assist them but the decisions have to be taken by them and it is exactly about the further development. There is a written commitment and everybody in the country having a political office has committed to this further development. This is one of the pre-conditions for having, if you like, one voice, one interlocutor for our discussions when it comes to implement necessary activities. But I have understood that the spirit in the country has started to change over the past couple of weeks and months. We had recently a meeting in Brussels when BiH attended with the all Foreign Ministers of the EU and there was a very, very positive atmosphere towards BiH. But, of course, one has to say that there is now a lot of expectation that things will move ahead.

FTV (Duska Jurisic): What are the expectations of the European Commission?

Commissioner Hahn: Maybe that the country is able to make the necessary progress, the necessary changes in order to allow it to cooperate more closely with EU and its institutions, in order to improve the situation in the country. It’s about growth and jobs, it’s about having the necessary connections and access to the EU. One example was already two weeks ago, when we had a meeting in Brussels on the level of Prime Ministers where we agreed about the transport networks in the rest of the Balkans, BiH is a part of it, we’ll have very soon a list of priorities of which highways, which railroads should be built in order to reconnect the Western Balkans with those of the European Union. This is one of the examples which demonstrates that BiH has recognised  how necessary and serious it is to play an important role and to participate in the decisions being taken here in the Western Balkans and in Europe in general.

FTV (Duska Jurisic):
Connecting countries in the region through transport corridors and investments in the energy sector are your top priorities. That plan is known as the Connectivity Plan. When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, construction of the Corridor Vc has started long time ago. Local politicians have said that funds for that will not be available until 2017. Will your plan improve the situation regarding continuation of the works on construction of this highway?

Commissioner Hahn: The agreements we found in Brussels two weeks ago aimed to decide about realistic, feasible projects which can be implemented and completed by 2030 at the latest. The European Union will provide up to one billion Euro in order to provide seed financing, because it is necessary to have financing, which will also be provided by International Financial Institutions, but of course countries have also to pay their contributions. It is now important to identify very concrete projects and to make a list of priorities and then to make necessary financial arrangements. But, now we have the basic decision and I am very confident that by the Vienna summit, on 27 August, we will have this list – based on that we shall go into implementation. Once again, the EU has decided to support this initiative with up to one billion Euro in the next couple of years.

FTV (Duska Jurisic): You have developed very detailed plan for construction of corridors, support to railways and airports etc. However, I have not recognised in the plan that the Adriatic-Ionian road goes through Bosnia and Herzegovina. I know it is a detail, and please correct me if I am wrong, the Adriatic-Ionian road going through Bosnia and Herzegovina will make the Corridor Vc more utilised. Is the information that the Adriatic-Ionian road will not go through my country correct?

Commissioner Hahn: My understanding is that the final decision about the exact areas where the high-way should be built has not been taken yet. There is clearly an access of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Mediterranean and therefore we are talking about the ‘Blue High-Way’, as it is called, and I assume it will also cross Bosnia and Herzegovina.

FTV (Duska Jurisic):You also speak about investment priorities in the energy sector. Are the EU countries interested in investing in the energy sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Is there a concrete interest?

Commissioner Hahn: There is a concrete interest of the European Union to reduce the dependency of Europe when it comes to energy import to the Union. This is primarily in the area of gas and oil, but also there are other areas where we need to import. So, our interest is: first – to diversify our suppliers, second – to diversify sources of energy generation. And certainly linked to that to work on energy efficiency, but also to offer opportunities to produce our own energy. The Western Balkans is very rich in water. Renewable energy, green technology – to invest in this area is certainly something that is very interesting, not only for Bosnia and Herzegovina but certainly also for international investors.

FTV (Duska Jurisic):
How do you assess the security situation in the Balkans? Is the Western Balkans for you still “a barrel of gun powder”, as it used to be called? For example, there are large protests ongoing in Macedonia. Dialogue in Serbia with Kosovo is currently at the stalemate. Yesterday you met with the Prime Minister Vucic. When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, recently we had a terrorist attack in Zvornik. You probably are aware that people are being arrested in the Republika Srpska due to claims of terrorism. How do you assess the security situation here?

Commissioner Hahn:
You have mentioned different events. Caused or triggered by different situations. In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia there is an internal scandal. We are talking about wire tapping. These are very serious allegations. This is something which has to be followed up on the political level, but also and very importantly on the judicial level. It is about independence of the judiciary. It is about the capacity to investigate and to have a clear picture about what has happened and finally to take steps to consequences. People in the country became more and more impatient with the situation and this has triggered these demonstrations. The attack from a few days ago in the Republika Srpska is a human tragedy and is something which has to be and is condemned by everybody, but I also urge everybody to take care of human rights and that sound criminal procedures are followed up. It’s important that criminal experts can work to clarify everything.  I would also like to use the opportunity here in public to express my condolences to the family and friends of the victim but once again it is important that this event is clarified by those who are in charge and afterwards, if it is necessary, we have to see the necessary consequences. Once again, the whole Europe is apparently target of terrorists and we have to cooperate with all countries to address this issue and we do it.

FTV (Duska Jurisic):
Would you involve other countries of Western Balkans in your projects and plans of fighting against terrorism although they are not the members of European Union?

Commissioner Hahn:  Absolutely, I mean here there are no borders between EU member state and non EU member state and I know that police people are working already since several years here at the Western Balkans very closely together and I know it from my previous responsibility as Commissioner for the Regional Policy we have this /unclear/ statute of the Danube, one of the priorities for security and in this area the cooperation was much more advanced than in many other areas.

FTV (Duska Jurisic): The fear of political instability projected through Dayton Peace agreement created 20 years ago is always present in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosniaks and Bosniak politicians want a stronger state, Republika Srpska wants bigger independence and the Croat politicians insist on the third entity. What is your vision of the future of this country?

Commissioner Hahn: Well, each country has to decide about its own future and it’s not the country, it’s about the people living in the country. And the thing that is important, for instance, is to strengthen the civil society, the civil society organisations in the country and we are doing this here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When I was here first time last year I met a lot of them, but I also told them that it is important to get involved in the political debate in the country but also in the decision making process within the country. So I think the decision about the future of the country has to be taken by the country and its people. It’s not the task of the European Union, to say, to demand something or to ask for something. How I understand it is to be here to support the country in its development, to assist but not to preach and not to teach.

FTV (Duska Jurisic): Mr. Hahn, the request of the European Commission is functional state. Obviously, BiH is not functional. Does it mean that the European Commission stands for the constitutional changes that could lead to a more functional state?

Commissioner Hahn:  We have now made, together with some of our member states, a new attempt and this new attempt has led to this written commitment that all the political key players in the country have to trust. Not only the word but also the signature of these key players is there and for the time being we don’t have any doubts that things have started to change. I think we should be and stay optimistic and have a closer relationship. I have met, for instance, the foreign minister this week already twice, once in Brussels and today here. There is now definitely a different spirit in the country and I hope and I am, for the time being, pretty sure it will remain. And then, many things are possible. But once again it depends on the decisions internally in the country. We have never hide that certain changes within the country are necessary in order to have a proper relationship with us when it comes to make necessary to follow up the implementation of certain things, to make certain changes, for instance to fight against the corruption, all these areas where the decisions makers in the country have to be clear that also internally some changes are necessary. That’s why we are asking for this coordination mechanism but we are, at the moment, at a stage that we are waiting for proposals how this mechanism could look like.

FTV (Duska Jurisic):
We are waiting for this to happen for 5 years. And we haven’t seen this yet because the state is not functional. When you say that you will support the will of people, does that mean that you would support it too in the case there is referendum for the RS separation?

Commissioner Hahn: The international donors provide a lot of money every year to the country. And I think a certain change in the mind set of these international donors has started to link the provision of more money to necessary reforms. Because we are talking more and more and thinking and acting in the way to see this money not giving as a kind of donor but should be seen as an investment. And with investment, one could expect to get something in return. And in return means not only to pay a loan back, but to have, for instance, increased local level of satisfaction of people in the country. So it is not always in terms of money but in terms of better living conditions for people.

Therefore we have the Compact for growth and jobs which clearly aims to improve the situation in the country. It is not only a phenomena here in Bosnia and Herzegovina but in other countries of the region too. You are still facing the brain drain. Young people are leaving the country. In particular, the best of them. And our aim must be to keep the people in the country but to create a kind of brain circulation and therefore it is necessary to have an attractive economic environment. You have skilled people and you have to have a perspective to stay in the country, and to have an economic but also personal perspective. And this is what we are working for and all the other internal issues I would keep it where they are. I trust and rely on the written commitment, once again, which was signed by the all key political players in the country. And I think we have to start to have the confidence to accept that now we have this written commitment and ok, it has to be fulfilled and for the time being I have no doubts and I am still and I am more than ever optimistic about it.

FTV (Duska Jurisic):
You did not at all give me the direct answer to my question! If tomorrow there is separation of the country, will European Commission support the decision of one people to leave this country? That was my question. There is declaration which was adopted on independence of RS, and if tomorrow this becomes an agenda what the RS President mentions often lately through referendum issue, will the EU support something like this since you were talking about the will of people?

Commissioner Hahn: Look it may be nice for journalist to speculate but politicians are not well advised to participate in this kind of speculation. I rely on what has been agreed by the political key players. And I do not listen to every voice which is raised today or the other day. I think we now have to focus ourselves on what has been agreed and we have to ask and support the key players to deliver. And I understand that everybody in the country has understood that they have to pull on one direction  and I think people expect it in the country in all parts of the country.

FTV (Duska Jurisic):
What do you think is at the moment the biggest problem for the BiH citizens, in particular because the question on which I was insisting is provoking big political instability and insecurity of citizens in this country? What do you think is the biggest problem? 

Commissioner Hahn: If I remember right, there were demonstrations in the beginning of last year and they were mainly related to the economic situation in the country and the lack of respect. And this is exactly what we have to address, try to address, to push and to support the economy. I think this is really what people concerns, to have job, to have perspective for everybody but in particular for the family for the children. And we should focus as politicians on this. And I can only urge everybody in the country. Really to work on this to create jobs, to give people perspective, to give people the reassurance that it is worth to stay in the country and to work in the country.

FTV (Duska Jurisic): Have BiH politicians that you met today shown readiness for those social and economic reforms? Have they told you that trade unions are strongly against certain changes of the law? 

Commissioner Hahn: Well, you know, in a transition period, there is always one or the other painful measures necessary. It is up to the responsible persons in the government to take the necessary decisions.  The life of a politician is not an easy life -you have to take decisions, decisions which are not always shared by everybody, but if you are serious politician you have to take a decision, you have to communicate, you have to convince, you have to find majorities, but the main objective should and must be to serve people and to improve the living conditions and it’s also to attract foreign investors to build confidence so that foreign investors are willing to come into the country and to invest. Therefore the Rule of Law, independence of the judiciary are an absolute must. This is not something which is only a value in itself; it is also something which is important as a precondition to attract foreign investors. There are a lot of companies having interest to come to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to create jobs and this is exactly what we should aim at and what we should be focused at. The aim is to deliver, to practice, to demonstrate there is a new spirit that by the end of the year we have the first results of results of the decline of the unemployment rate.

FTV (Duska Jurisic): For a long time we have been listening to what you have been speaking about, about the atmosphere that should be created. We are happy that you recognized that the atmosphere has changed in the last month. I have to ask you, having in mind the stalemate that BiH was in due to the Sejdic-Finci ruling in the last five years, what has changed the priorities towards BiH when it comes to the European Commission: protests, eventually the strengthening of the influence of Russia in BiH or the appearance of extremist groups on the Western Balkans? What was that that made the European Commission interested to focus more attention to BiH lately?

Commissioner Hahn: Because, we had seen in the past that with the conditions in place at that time – there was no focus, and we have to see how we can improve the situation and that is why we have, if you like, changed a little bit the methodology by being much more focused on very concrete projects while demonstrating that by implementing projects which are in the interest of the people the situation can be improved.

Tomorrow, we will commemorate 65 years of the Schuman Declaration and the founding idea of the European Union was, and it is still valid, to guarantee peace and stability in Europe by strengthening economic ties, by creating a positive kind of independency which avoids any armed or violent conflict in the future and it and it has turned out as a successful concept. We have been awarded with the Nobel Prize for Peace three years ago and this is exactly what we also try now to bring here into the region, making a lot of very concrete projects, demonstrating what is possible. We have, since two weeks, a decision about road and railway connections in the region, something which was not imaginable already couple of years ago, so, things are progressing well, I think we are moving in the right direction. This is a lesson we have learned from the past – to be, on the one hand, patient, but on the other hand, ambitious, firm, bold and direct.

FTV (Duska Jurisic): Last question – Europe Day is nearing. You have just mentioned that very clearly through a different example, but when speaking about the lessons that Europe has learned – has it really learned having in mind the increase of Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-immigrant politics and the support that was given in certain countries and even the strengthening of some neo-fascist organizations in Greece, Hungary and some other member states. Has Europe learned the lessons from the past?

Commissioner Hahn: The whole life is work in progress, it is life-long learning. Things are always changing, what was a challenge only last year or a couple of years ago is over. Today, we have other challenges around Europe, in the southern neighbourhood and in the eastern neighbourhood we have altogether 20 million refugees or internally displaced people. This was not the case only a couple of years ago. We have currently around 60 million refugees around the world, the highest number since the end of World War II, so things have changed and we have to react and address these challenges. We are facing a huge unemployment situation over the past five to six years and here by having [inaudible] we hope to improve the situation. Today, terrorism and migration are the new challenges for Europe and this has to be addressed in an adequate manner and it can only be addressed if the international community is working together. In that respect we cannot make differences between those who are members of the European Union and those who are not yet members. We can and therefore we will address those issues.

FTV (Duska Jurisic): Thank you.

Commissioner Hahn: Thank you.