Interview with Deputy Head of EU Delegation, Dr Renzo Daviddi, for news magazine Start

Forum for Prosperity and Jobs in BiH took place in Sarajevo. How do you see results of the gathering now it is over?

We tried to gather different stakeholders at one place and talk about economic issues. Even before these disasters and floods, which hit BiH, the situation in the country was very fragile and there were many economic problems: high degree of unemployment that particularly strikes young people, highly problematic conditions for opening of new companies, big public spending, a lot of money allocated for social transfers that do not give results and which are inefficient…What is surprising is that these issues that are really important are not particularly present in the political discourse in the country and we thought it is really necessary to promote the debate and discussion on these issues and that was one of the goals – to gather different stakeholders who can sit at the same table and talk about these issues, so they could be included in the political discussion in the country and that we can influence the issues in the pre-election campaign in this way.

Can one already talk about results of the Forum because the public received the idea very well, and the call to the citizens of BiH to forward you their ideas was seen by the people as final change of the EU’s course in BiH and focusing on ordinary people?

Little time passed, but I think that we can say we have started a process that will last next several months. We hope we will be able to influence the political debate prior to the elections, and we already have some results because ideas are coming in, we have whole groups who submit their proposals how to start activities and how to utilize comparative advantages of BiH, foremost in agriculture and food production, but we expect more such proposals. Practical result that we already have is that we identified during the Forum several different but very concrete issues and on basis of them we have defined conclusions that are available on our web-page. An analysis of the problems has been done too, on basis of which we identified six areas that need to be especially worked on, but clear solutions are emerging now how to deal with the problems.

Since you have invited people to give their ideas, does that space for ideas still exist and is there a possibility that the EU supports some of the ideas?

Absolutely! Part of the process before the Forum itself was the engagement via social networks and we had open groups of the Facebook and Twitter where users could comment on the Forum. We had a considerable number of visits during the Forum and after, and it will remain one of ways of communication in the following days.

How do you interpret that Finance Ministers did not show up at this important gathering?

We invited a big number of collocutors and the entity Prime Ministers and the Mayor of Brcko District, but they were unable to attend and they announced it. It was down to them to decide who will represent them and I cannot comment their decisions about it. The idea and the approach we applied during the organization is to avoid having formal discussion only with representatives of institutions, instead we wanted to have a discussion that is as open as possible, which also includes the civic society, different organizations, experts from different areas and we managed to gather them at this Forum. You had, for example, a speaker from an institution and with a formal address, which is followed by a workshop during which all participants comment it, and people who did not have direct connections with the subject could join in.

So is that the new EU approach in BiH, which politicians talk about lately?

Perhaps there are some elements of the new approach, but I think it is events and changes that came to be after the February events, which showed new requests of the people. Namely, it is obvious there is part of the citizenry that is asking for new actions from their creators of policies and this was one of the possibilities.

There are assessments that the EU has not managed to cope best in BiH, that it has not been united and determined, that it has insisted on the ruling in the case Sejdic and Finci instead on economy and improving quality of life. Is there a possibility that the Sejdic-Finci ruling stops being a pre-requisite for BiH to apply for status of candidate, and that economy and employment become the pre-requisites?

Formally speaking, conditions are conditions and they must be respected. At this moment I doubt we will see any changes to the conditions BiH got for further progress on the road to the EU. In other words – I think there are no shortcuts that BiH could use, there will be no specific conditions that will be adapted to BiH. The process of joining and accession is in the biggest part a technical process and BiH will have to, just like other countries, go through it. The way priorities are determined or the way we deal with certain issues is something that can go through certain adjustments, but principles remain the same, and those are the enlargement principles that have been the same for 50 or 60 years.

But there were adjustments in the case of Romania, Bulgaria…even Turkey…later on it turned out those were political decisions. Is it possible in the case of BiH?

Absolutely, because the general approach has evolved, on basis of lessons learnt from earlier examples of enlargement. It is examples of Romania and Bulgaria – after their accession there was a change in order of opening of chapters in the process of negotiations, so after them it was the rule of law and public administration that became the first chapters. Those are the principles that need to be applied like that and they are applied to Montenegro and Serbia. One of the reasons is because chapters 23 and 24 require more time than other chapters and the logic was: the sooner they are open, there will be more time to do the adjustments in these areas that are crucial for the EU.

The issue of shortcuts is not disputable for BiH, it is the change of priorities, so the priority is not the Sejdic-Finci but rather the employment, not to establish an institution but something else?

Those issues were the starting point and the foundation for the Forum and those are the issues we focused our attention to because we think they deserve to be the priority and we hope they will get the attention.

Are you afraid that political issues will again attract more attention than the issues from the Forum, which were connected to the fundamental issues of life?

It is not the fear or some similar feeling. The accession process simply includes some issues and it cannot take place without stakeholders from the institutions and the politics, and ultimately, they all have a role to play, and the institutions act within the mechanism.  

What is today’s assessment of the latest round of accessions: crisis in Slovenia, Orban in Hungary…?

I personally believe the enlargement process is the best instrument of the foreign policy and the best instrument of the EU that makes sure the EU’s values are transferred onto the countries that were separated from the community for decades before that. It is the process that has brought peace and stability to the continent, not only in the last decade, but from the end of the World War II, and in the same time it created prosperities that were not recorded before. For example, the country I was born in was traditionally a country that exported people for centuries, created emigrants, especially during the 20th century, prior to the World War II. People were going to America and elsewhere because of the poverty and other problems, but the economic developments that is largely connected to Italy’s membership in the Community and the Union has resulted in us becoming at one moment the fifth largest industrial force in Europe. Similar goes for Greece, Spain, countries from central and east Europe that joined in 2004. The truth is that we had a crisis and that some institutional policies will change, but the wealth that you have in the countries now cannot be compared to the poverty that existed before and it would not exist if it were not for the EU.

We disagree with that because what we had in Greece one cannot call a moment. Many questions have been asked and we got the finale in the elections for the European Parliament – those who voted disagree with what you said. Can you comment the results?

The elections are the moment when people go out to vote and I would not agree that the citizens are disagreeing, and you have different events in different countries. I would say that to a large extent the European elections are European only by their name because majority of elections and events are characterized by national issues in certain countries so, because of certain events or results achieved by certain parties, you have winners of the elections, parties that are critics of the European road, and you have opposite situations. One of them is my country. The thing that we often neglect is voter turnout, in other words how many people went out and voted.

Like in BiH.

You can notice that the countries in which we had stronger appearance of pro-European votes, were the countries that had bigger turnout so it gives bigger legitimacy to my view.

Do you have an assessment what kind of changes one can expect after the change of the structure in the European Parliament, in light of crises in Spain, Greece, Portugal and elsewhere? Somewhere problems are the economy, somewhere it is the human rights, somewhere something else…

The composition of the European Parliament is such that it is still dominated by a large majority of pro-European forces, and the presence of Euro-skeptics is still marginal, although more considerable than before, but negligible in political sense. But I do not want to be arrogant and inconsiderate, one must not completely neglect that a number of citizens in different EU countries, who develop a highly critical attitude towards the work and functioning of the EU. One has to take that into consideration and adapt the cycle of work or the parliament and the institutions in the next five year tenure.

Will it be difficult to respond to these crises with such a structure because there may be more of them in the future?

We shall see and the time to tell, because you still have the majority that exists and one should wait for the election of the President of the European Council, the European Commission and new High Representative for Foreign Policy. What is important is that we have positive forces and consensus about important issues and that there is enough political strength to expect an evolution, not a revolution.

The fact is that we were really scared by Umberto Rossi and Lega Nord at the beginning of this century – we thought that BiH is being repeated again, but nothing happened. Now in Hungary we have Orban, Le Pen in France, Wilders in The Netherlands, the New Democracy in Sweden got seven per cent, radicals won in Serbia and we have the results of the elections in Europe…

In any country a good politician is the one that finds a way to persuade citizens about rightness of his/her messages, to find a way to get his/her values closer to the citizens so they can start recognize them as their own and all those people you speak about have found the way. Sometimes, in periods of crises in general, populist messages have the easier way and are more acceptable than some other coherent, concise messages. It is exactly because of it that the membership in the EU and existence of the legal heritage are a good defense mechanism against these strikes and you have countries that have given up on a part of their sovereignty and transferred it on the institutions of the EU because of the legal heritage, especially in areas of trade and competition laws, and you have an example of constitutional changes in the context of the legal heritage. In Hungary, for example, a process has been initiated, which criticizes the way the constitution is being changed in the country.

What about accession of Turkey? How long will the process last because on one side the EU both says it should and it should not, Turkey would and would not, and it all lasts very long although Turkey has those 80 million people that the European funds need?

Turkey has opened certain chapters, there is a certain number of criteria that condition opening of other chapters for negotiations defined by the EU, and the speed of implementation of reforms is down to the authorities in Turkey. How the process will develop, it depends on the local authorities. I think the situation is a lot similar to the situation in BiH – you have conditions you must meet and your further progress depends on it.

But now they are not eager to join the EU?

It is the matter for a political decision and choice of each country. For instance, Iceland clearly said that at this moment it halts the process of accession negotiations, at least for time being, and that is something that is decided by authorities of each country.

The floods hit BiH so hard that some say this is an opportunity to completely reset the situation and change the direction. The EU is considerably involved through different forms of aid and recently EUR 65 million were approved, which are not connected to the IPA or the Humanitarian Fund, but that is the joint aid for BiH and Serbia. How will it be divided between the countries and how will it be distributed?

Our aid will be a lot bigger than that. What we are doing right now is, in cooperation with the World Bank and the UN, assessing the damages, and the next step is to define resources, not only of the EU but all others who could help with the recovery. I think it is unnecessary to deal with the issues which instruments will be used and how the aid will be divided because I want to stress that BiH will get an opportunity at the end of this process to repair the damages. The fact is that BiH and Serbia and Croatia cannot use the same funds and means, in other words BiH cannot use the Solidarity Fund because there is no legal possibility for it.

But Mister Vjekoslav Bevanda said that the Commissioner of the European Commission for crisis situations said it will be able to?

Maybe it was a misunderstanding about it, but there were no talks about it and there is no technical possibility or legal standing for BiH to draw the money.

Can the EU help BiH avoid corruption and abuses in terms of distribution of humanitarian aid and donations because now, when food parcels are being handed out, we see there are irregularities, and soon bigger money will come, infrastructural projects…

The aid that is coming from the EU will be under the same management as it has been the case until now and the contracting body for all those funds is in our building, and we have our procedures, standards, control of expenditures and supervision, which guarantees that our aid will be delivered in best possible way.

How do you comment behavior of authorities until now regarding collection and distribution of donations? One have centralized the whole process, other have left it too broad, there are many dissatisfied victims of floods on all sides?

The coordination, in my opinion, did not function as good, but I saw it personally that the coordination between the Coordination Centre of the Ministry of Security, different levels of civil protection in the whole country and teams on the ground really existed.

You have been in BiH for a long time and one gets an impression you love this country, but what is your personal opinion: has the EU always been up to the task in BiH or has there been ignorance, failure to cope…? You do not have to answer, but…

There is always room for improvement.