Interview with Ambassador Sorensen for daily Oslobodjenje

The new approach towards the BiH is being announced for some time now by the EU. Can we know something more specific now about what kind of approach that is, are new meetings between the local politicians and the EU representatives in plan and are there going to be new conditions?

A number of new initiatives in key areas have been launched in the past few months. They are all summarised in the Conclusions of the EU Foreign Affairs Council published on Monday (14th April). Clearly there is a broadening of the EU agenda and engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. First and foremost we need to see progress on the economy. Lack of economic growth is one of the reasons behind the justified protests we have seen over recent months. That is why we will support a forum and a dialogue on the economy which will help to identify the key areas for urgent action to spur the creation of jobs. The European Commission will take forward initiatives to improve economic governance, strengthen competitiveness and stimulate economic growth.
We have already launched the joint working group on implementing all EU funds from IPA 2007 – 2013. This has already made some good progress. In addition a broadening of the Structured Dialogue on Justice is expected so that it will cover other rule of law issues in addition to justice, including anti-corruption. Taken together, this is a significant widening of EU engagement.

All that said, the essential conditions for BiH to move closer to the EU will not change. As the Conclusions said, the ‘Sejdic and Finci’ judgment needs to be implemented and an efficient EU co-ordination mechanism to enable BiH to speak to the EU with one voice remains of high importance.
How can and how much can the elections in May affect the future relationship between the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina?

2014 will see new faces in all the EU institutions, especially in the top positions. Indeed there may be changes in the composition of the European Parliament – we shall have to see.
However I am more than one hundred per cent certain that there will be no weakening of the strong commitment that the EU has for BiH to become a member state in the future. All 28 states are committed, they repeated it last Monday and I expect that to remain the guiding principle of our approach. BiH is a European country and it belongs in the European Union.

Recently you have stated that without political stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina it is not possible to implement foreign investments. Can political stability in the country be ensured in the pre-election period now?

It has to be. With or without elections, life in BiH goes on and citizens expect the country and its institutions at all levels to function. We expect the same in all EU member states – life does not grind to halt because of elections.
Of course political debates and competing visions for the country must be aired in the pre-election period. That’s normal. But it is not acceptable for institutions to be blocked or just left idle. I expect to continue to engage with the BiH institutions throughout 2014, I expect equally substantive engagement from them.
As you indicate, such an approach from the BiH side would be a signal that BiH is a promising place to come and invest.
How realistic is that BiH citizens can expect better tomorrow after the October general elections and what should the new government’s priority be in order to improve the life of its citizens?

I remain an optimist for Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think the recent protests have sent a very clear message to the political class that there are urgent issues that require attention. Employment. The economy. More fairness in social welfare. I could list more. I have the impression that politicians are beginning to wake up to these issues and understand that the socio-economic issues need to be at the top of the agenda, not time-wasting nationalism and partisanship.

However I do think that the best way people can maximise the chances of a better tomorrow is to go out and vote in October. And in doing so, to vote for whoever they think has the ability to improve the situation. Voters should judge what has been done since 2010 and draw their own conclusions.

Domestic dairy did not meet the requirements to get their products exported to the EU. Were those conditions too strict? Was there enough time to fulfill those conditions? Who is to blame for such a failure and what dairymen can learn from that?

It’s not an issue of ‘too strict’ or ‘enough time’. The EU requirements are well known and are the same for all countries wanting to trade with us. The EU food standards are set and have to be met. We have been communicating with the BiH authorities on this issue for years. We have also provided millions of euros in funding to help BiH get there. The EU’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) experts have made their recommendations known to the relevant BiH authorities on many occasions over the last few years. This is nothing new! And the fact that Croatia was going to join the EU in 2013 was hardly a secret.

Now, the accession of Croatia to the EU and the current loss of the Croatian market for BiH products (particularly products of animal origin) has clearly underlined the need for BiH to transpose relevant EU rules to the BiH system. The state and entity authorities and the Brcko District all have to get to grips with this.

It is worth noting that the EU’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) conducted a mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the last two weeks of January this year. The mission assessed and evaluated the controls carried out by the competent authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina over the production chain and processing of dairy products intended for export to the EU. It was a wide-ranging exercise; the FVO auditors evaluated the organisation of competent authorities undertaking official controls; whether the dairy establishments meet the relevant EU hygiene standards and the quality control of raw milk.

A draft report has already been sent to the competent BiH authorities by the FVO. The process is not yet complete and the report is not final – the BiH authorities are invited to provide their comments – so I can’t comment in any more detail. However the final report is expected in the next month or so and we will see what more BiH needs to do.

The FBiH government for the second time established a set of anticorruption laws and forwarded them to the FBiH Parliament. Is there now an EU compliance for these suggestions and do you expect them to be adopted when they come on the FBiH Parliament agenda?

The EU is fully supportive of efforts from all sides to fight corruption. We are equally committed to laws in BiH that respect separation of powers and competences, meet EU standards and can be properly implemented.
We welcome the constructive spirit shown by all stakeholders during the consultations on the FBiH set of anti-corruption laws. Such a broad consultation was necessary as that method was agreed in the Structured Dialogue on Justice. It is not a matter of screening or handing out endorsements.

Our role is to provide advice in the legislative process, which we have done and will continue to do. In particular we do not want to prejudge any debate in Parliament. At this stage I would say that the EU concerns have been addressed as the parties are closer together.

The representatives of the Delegation of the EU and a number of ambassadors visited several BiH cities with the “EU at Your Door” project. What are your experiences from those visits?

It’s a great experience for all involved. I always enjoy and learn something new from direct encounters with citizens, especially when I have the chance to talk with the young, talented people of this country. Obviously the aim is to discuss with citizens and students what the country’s EU perspective means for their lives and answer their questions. We are having a lot of fun too – I can promise you that the final of the talent competition, which will be on TV, will reveal some great new BiH talents!

We’ve been to 6 places so far including Ugljevik, Bileca, Kladanj and Sanski Most. We are looking forward to visiting 9 more including Bugojno, Srebrenik, Prozor and Teslic. The finish line is in Posusje in early June!

On a serious note, it is very clear to me that there is a great demand for more information about the EU in BiH. We spend two hours in a high school on one day and on the next the students come back with more questions. I can assure you that the EU office here will make every effort with our resources, but we need to see more politicians, institutions, civil society activists and media representatives also taking responsibility for informing people throughout the country about what the EU means for BiH.