Interview with Ambassador Wigemark for the daily Glas Sprske


This interview was originally published in the daily Glas Srpske on 27 May 2015


Do you think enough is being done on implementation of commitments taken by signing the joint statement on reforms and priorities on BiH’s path towards the EU?

There is true readiness for implementation of socioeconomic reforms needed to get BiH closer to the EU, and in a way stated in the written statement. All officials are certainly committed to making progress.

What is BiH going to get with entering into force of Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, and are the statements of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdic, according to which BiH will submit a membership application by the end of this or at the beginning of next year, a bit optimistic?

The fact that the SAA is entering into force after seven years of suspension is a positive thing. It stipulates contractual relations, in other words a framework for BiH’s accession to the EU. The Agreement elaborates in great details certain matters, and it gives BiH a framework for harmonization of legislation, policies, strategies and standards with the EU acquis. More resources coming from the EU will be available, but it is even more important that this sends an important signal to everyone that BiH is a true partner of the EU. As far as the Chairman’s statement is concerned, it all depends on what is going to be done, and what kind of results BiH will achieve in months to come. Important things need to be implemented, not just declarative ones. We need concrete activities and progress concerning life, such as improvement of agricultural production. One of the examples is export of milk and dairy products, where BiH got closer to fulfilment of standards. This is not just because of trade with Croatia; it also opens the market of the entire EU. And it is important for foreign investors as well that BiH has an SAA which has fully entered force.

How important is adoption of coordination mechanism for BiH, and does EU accession mean centralization of the country?

I do not think that coordination means centralization, but it means different interests, competences and authorities. The EU cannot establish relations with two entities and ten cantons, in other words with 14 different levels of authority. There has to be harmonization of legislation and you cannot have two or three completely different legal systems within the country. We look at BiH as a single country, and when we meet with domestic officials they have to speak in one voice, but with understanding for the fact that you have harmonization of various interests. I avoid talking about coordination mechanism and focus more on coordination, and it requires political will on all sides. However, those who speak on behalf of this country have to be aware that there are different interests and that is normal in most countries. The role of political leaders and institutions’ representatives is to recognize different interests and advocate them with approval. Coordination in BiH in no way foresees giving up from or taking away competences guaranteed by the Constitution. This issue should not be blown out of proportion, instead it should be approached in a practical manner and resolved as soon as possible.

Is BiH spending too much money on administration and public spending?

It is obvious that BiH needs to consolidate and reconstruct public spending, and at all levels as well. Funds should be allocated to education, healthcare, pension system… BiH needs thorough reform of public administration that will encompass all expenses, including salaries and compensations. Simply put, too much money is being spent while in the same time private sector is being smothered. The public sector is too large, and the private sector is too small. It will not happen overnight, but this imbalance needs to be changed.

Do you think BiH is fighting the ever-growing terrorism threat in an adequate manner?

I have spent four years in Pakistan, before that I was in Afghanistan and I think I know something about extremism and terrorism. So far the situation here is quite OK, but we are all concerned because of potential threat and risk from extremism and terrorism. That is why mutual cooperation between intelligence agencies and all law enforcement agencies is important. What has happened in Zvornik is an example why BiH needs more, not less coordination. Here in BiH you have to deal with the issue of people going to foreign battlefields as well. I would not comment on events in Zvornik, because the investigation is still ongoing, but it seems that there are serious indications that young man was under the influence of people who spent some time on battlefields in Middle East, Syria and Iraq. Terrorism is a problem in the EU as well, especially after the attack in Paris. One should not think that religious affiliation will lead into extremism or terrorism.

Just like security agencies, the work of judiciary is being criticized on a daily basis as well.

Reform in sector of judiciary is necessary because you need the rule of law that envisages an efficient judiciary. Currently, there is high number of unresolved cases, including those related to utilities. BiH needs a system in which citizens will trust.

When are you going to talk to RS officials?

My meeting with President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the RS National Assembly is planned to take place on Monday. I am going to those meetings to assure them that getting closer to the EU, joint strategies and mutual coordination will in no way reduce the competences of the RS – that this is not a game in which something is taken away from someone, without anyone getting anything. This is an issue where everybody wins, not loses.