This interview was originally published in the daily Glas Srpske on 10 October 2015.
The reforms that need to be implemented do not imply centralization or transfer of competencies to the level of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These reforms imply creating jobs, stimulating investments, improving the rule of law and public administration reform. Head of Delegation and EU Special Representative in BiH Lars-Gunnar Wigemark pointed this out in an interview with “Glas Srpske”.
Are you satisfied with the pace of reforms after the adoption of the Reform Agenda?
It is important that all the main political parties agreed to work towards achieving a common goal, and that is membership of BiH in the EU. An important part of this commitment is the development of the Reform Agenda, in cooperation with EU and international financial institutions. I think there is an agreement that we all have to cooperate more regardless of our role, or whether we are dealing with state, entity, cantonal or municipal level. No one will benefit from blocking each other. The main objective is the best interest of the citizens.
When it comes to the reform processes, most of the work should be done by the entities. Does the Council of Ministers BiH follow what is agreed between entity governments?
So far, I am satisfied with the implementation of measures envisaged under the Reform Agenda. Both entities are working very well, as well as the institutions at the State level, primarily the Council of Ministers BiH. They are all taking this process seriously. Although I am reluctant to comment on individuals, I have to say that the Prime Ministers of the RS and F BiH, Ms. Željka Cvijanović and Mr. Fadil Novalić, and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers BiH, Mr. Denis Zvizdić, with their associates are doing their job right, together with representatives of international financial institutions and the EU. We have all supported the reforms and this is not a competition between the two entities and the level of Bosnia and Herzegovina or any other competition. It is clear to everyone who is doing what. Reforms are needed in order to improve the socio-economic conditions. The Reform Agenda should be perceived in entirety and cannot be broken into individual parts. If the separation or denial of certain elements starts, it would undermine the whole process.
Do the reforms on the European path require centralization and strengthening of BiH institutions at the expense of the entities through the transfer of their jurisdiction, as is the case recently?
No, absolutely not! The reforms do not imply centralization or the transfer of authority, but creating jobs, encouraging foreign and domestic investment, improving the rule of law and public administration reform. We are not trying to revise the Dayton Agreement through the back door using the Reform Agenda. Joining the EU, or integration into the EU, does not mean more centralized BiH. There are many Member States that have decentralized systems and decentralized structure. When BiH becomes an EU member state, as a country it will have pooled its sovereignty with the sovereignty of other countries. Then the sum is greater than the individual parts. I am referring to trade policy. All EU Member States work together and are strong as a whole. Many questions that are now subject of debate between the entities and the state will not be relevant in the context of the EU.
We are still waiting for the adoption of a mechanism of coordination of different levels of government on EU matters, although it was practically agreed upon?
The EU has a clear position that it is necessary to improve coordination on all issues concerning relations between the EU and BiH, especially at this time when Bosnia and Herzegovina has in effect Stabilisation and Association Process. I think that this way we would work better and cooperate more effectively with everyone in this country. If BiH makes progress on its EU path, it will have the opportunity to use various types of assistance which are currently not accessible. In addition to the pre-accession funds, it will have available much more interesting regional, structural and solidarity funds. The real money is there. When passing through the winding roads in BiH, I always think – when you join the EU, you will have a direction. A coordination mechanism is a matter for domestic authorities to agree on the appropriate procedure. Organization of BiH is complicated and my advice is that the authorities try to find the most efficient solution. I welcome the ambition to agree on joint procedures, not to use the term mechanism, because it immediately seems like creating new institutions, and you already have too many.
Judicial reform is one of the largest and longest-running problems. Is it possible to make progress and compromise on outstanding issues?
You cannot have different laws in different parts of the country. We all agree that we need the reform of justice sector. I think it’s not just because of the judiciary at the state level, but also at the entity and cantonal levels. The agreed Strategy for Reforming of Justice Sector has been adopted and it is directly aimed at reforming the justice sector. It is not necessarily dealing with issues that are at the same time perhaps behind the proposal to hold a referendum in the RS, because these are broader issues. RS Minister of Justice, Anton Kasipović, made a significant contribution to the meetings in Brussels and Sarajevo, and he is someone who is looking for solutions, not problems. Much needs to be done, especially when it comes to jurisdiction in criminal cases. The general criteria to be applied are clarity in the jurisdiction in order to know which court has jurisdiction to process the case. There are even four criminal codes in BiH, so it’s complicated to resolve the issue of jurisdiction in terms of the laws.
Can BiH advance towards the EU with the High Representative?
I cannot imagine that BiH can become an EU member and still have the presence of the High Representative or a peacekeeping mission. Probably, the EU will no longer have the presence in BiH as it has right now. The EU has the largest mission in BiH, but this is because of the problems that Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing. It needs additional resources and experts of every kind in order to work effectively. The role of the OHR is an issue before the Peace Implementation Council. However, as long as there is a debate in connection with Dayton in BiH, the role of the High Representative and the OHR remains important.