Interview with Ambassador Sorensen for Dnevni Avaz

How much did the Forum for Prosperity and Jobs help define reforms, which are unavoidable and necessary?

During the two day gathering we went a lot deeper into the essence than I expected. At the beginning of the Forum I stressed ten challenges we are now facing. At the end I listed six areas, which should be worked on a lot. The Forum helped me get the picture how necessary thorough reforms for this country are. Now, one has to work on it and define how to implement all that.

What does the Forum mean for the authorities? A set of recommendations what to do?

Exactly that. Sets of recommendations for each area will be done, define some of the problems and give recommendations how to solve them. They are all connected to each other and must be solved simultaneously.

But one could hear requests during the Forum that challenges related to floods have to be addressed directly and immediately.

Those discussions showed how widely and thoroughly we envisaged the conference. Neither the people who requested concrete answers and aid expected too much, neither have we made a mistake when we designed the gathering in this way. We clearly stressed that the floods have caused huge damages and it will be felt in years to come. In the same time we clearly said we have demonstrated solidarity and will continue to demonstrate it. You saw it, towards the end of the Forum, the European Commission said it allocated 65 million Euros of aid for Serbia and BiH. It is not only generous but quick too. That money will be spent soon. However the floods only enhanced the knowledge that BiH has to be able to deal with consequences of these floods, and successfully deal with other challenges.

And this is not the last flood…

Yes. When Commissioner Georgieva was here, she said exactly the same thing. We had one in 2010, now another one. The climate changes, which Commissioner Georgieva warned about, are taking their toll. Our reaction was to foremost provide the first aid. And it arrived very quickly. Now is the time for further aid, and it is also the time to make sure some of these things never repeat again.

What will you do that they do not happen again?

Our reaction to the crisis was swift and we even sent more than it was requested from us. We gave our maximum to help. Some 660 people worked day and night, 21 countries were involved, we had helicopters flying, rescue boats…Now we need the damage assessment and our experts are here and are working quickly. Together with the World Bank, UN institutions, we are assessing the damages and on basis of it there will be decisions what sort of aid and in which amount BiH will be helped. Our damage assessment teams will be on the ground until end of this week and will assess all kinds of damages – from infrastructure to destroyed houses and destroyed arable lands and farms. We will cooperate closely with the BiH authorities on this job. However, we have experts that have already worked in these situations. They will rely on the information from the ground provided by the local as well as the BiH authorities. At the end, we will provide the assessments and foreign donors will conform to it.

How will the EU help BiH?

You have these 65 million Euros. They come from the IPA funds that have not been used or spent until now. We will look for other funds when the damage assessment is done.

Of those 65, how many million is for BiH?

At least 30 million will go for BiH. At least.

What other funds are at disposal of BiH? We cannot access the solidarity fund, but there are other, even bigger funds than that.

It is correct. There are other funds. But do not have me talk details now. I can only cite some of them. There are funds for close-border cooperation, for regional cooperation, for stability and peace…All these are funds BiH can get money from. And I have already requested certain money from these sources to resolve the problem of unexploded mines. Our people here at the Delegation, people in Brussels…they all work on this problem with full intensity, they are thinking what funds can be allocated and for what needs. Maybe there will be sources from other funds, I did not list all of them that exist in the EU. But we first need a detailed damage assessment. I have already mentioned the funds for cross-border cooperation. I believe, although I am not the one who decides about such matters, but there are projects on which many states can get involved.

For example, putting the Sava (river) into order, where three states would be involved…

Exactly that. It is one of possibilities. But first we have to assess the situation. While we are talking, it is happening.

How much money are we talking about?

It is too early. I think we should not hastily go out with assessments. It is dangerous to go out with numbers without getting a report on the situation on the ground.

This is an election year. How much will the campaign affect, even disturb the reconstruction activities? Also, how do you view that the RS and Serbia are making joint projects, which they will apply for donors’ aid?

How much the parties will use the floods, it is down to them to decide. Same it is down to the voters to decide on it. This urgent phase went without influence of the election campaign. As far as the aid is concerned, it only goes through the states. Therefore, BiH will receive the money and Serbia will receive the money. There is no other way. Of course, Croatia will get the aid too.

So the EU Delegation will be there from the start to the end?

Absolutely. Be sure about it. We will work on this problem for years.

And how long will you be here to watch it?

My term will expire next year. So I will be here.

How much are you afraid that the money BiH will receive as aid will be abused, even stolen?

I can guarantee you that the money the EU gives, where we are one of contract parties, will not be abused.

How will the BiH authorities, which have proved on many occasions to be an incapable and unreliable partner, can cope with these problems in responsible and competent manner?

We will have to wait and see. People here can make a lot better assessment than me. The BiH authorities have used the EU’s system for urgent situations, drew the necessary help, even more than it should. There is a limit how many helicopters can fly and that option was used to the maximum here. The BiH authorities received the aid they requested. Now the second phase is coming, which is a lot more comprehensive, more expensive, it requires coordination…if the BiH authorities show the same competence and vigor, then I am cautiously optimistic that everything will go well. But we will have to wait and see. We are here, our people are on the ground, we are talking about some of best experts in the world. We will do the damage assessment and they will get our strongest and best support to go abroad and look for help that is needed in the required quantities.