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Transcript of the Press Conference held by HR/VP Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn in Sarajevo

Sarajevo, 5 December, 2014

HR/VP Mogherini: Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here together with Commissioner Hahn. We came to Sarajevo for our first joint visit – not the last one, the next joint visit is in a couple of days. So, this is telling you something about the new way in which the new Commission started to work: hand in hand, close cooperation and coordinated approach. The reason for us to be here today is that the discussion with the Foreign Ministers of the European Union at the first Foreign Affairs Council that I had a pleasure to chair in my new capacity in November was about the way in which we could profit from the post-electoral period in Bosnia and Herzegovina and new start in Brussels that we have with a new Commission. We wanted to see if this could be a chance and occasion for this country and for the European Union to get closer not only in words but in practise, in reality. And to come and see if there is a will, not only in the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also in the political leadership and institutions to start a new phase, a new process to move things.

We’ve had meetings, together with Commissioner Hahn, with civil society, with the Presidency, with the leaders of political parties in the House of Representatives. We’ve met the outgoing Chairman of Council of Ministers and the Foreign Minister. I would say that our overall impression was, first of all, that the civil society – the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina – are more than ready to have the country moving forward towards the European Union and that there is a relevant and significant political will that we have had a possibility to see today in the institutions and the political leadership to meet these expectations and start working on a new basis. From our side this would mean not lowering the bar and changing the EU conditionality – that is not something that is on the agenda – but it might mean that we can look at how the sequence can be changed or  can be better addressed to make sure that there are some concrete deliverables in terms of reforms, starting from the economic and social reforms and getting also to the functionality of the state.

This is something that we will report to the Foreign Ministers of the European Union in a little bit more than a week, on December 15th. We will report about the meetings we have had today and the assessment of the existing political will that we have found today to move forward on this way. And we will have the discussion with the Ministers about the engagement of the EU in this process given the political will that we find in the country, as I said, not only, but firstly in a population, but also in the institutions and in the political leadership.

We know that this is not going to be just about signing something. It is about starting a process of delivering to the people, and I think, we think, it is a good opportunity for the country, for the institutions, for the political leadership of this country to move forward. We have an opportunity to close with the divisions or the problems of the past and have a fresh look at the way in which Bosnia and Herzegovina can fulfil its being part of the EU family. We always say that all countries of the Western Balkans have a future in the EU and we have to make it real now, together, with the sense of ownership, here in Sarajevo and all parts of the country and with a sense of responsibility and being ready to cooperate from the European Union side.

Let me also say that we know that we have to engage also and very strongly with civil society and that is something we are willing to do ourselves – a meeting today was extremely good with the civil society organisations.

We have the possibility to announce today a competition for journalists throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina with nine awards to be made to advance the discussion in the public opinion about the social economic reforms and this is possible thanks to the kind support also of the Royal Norwegian  Embassy. We will work with media to have a deep discussion in the public opinion on how reforms can be turned into reality. I am sure that if you want more information, you can find it in the Delegation here. Thank you very much.

EUD/EUSR, Andy McGuffie: Thank you. Commissioner, the floor is yours.

Commissioner Hahn: Thank you very much. See, we have already stared to offer something in a particular respect to you and hopefully you will contribute a lot. As we indeed could see today, in our different meetings, it was already said by the HR/VP, we had, I think, also from my point of view, a very interesting and promising meeting with representatives of the civil society. One could, nevertheless, see the scope of opinions and approaches to certain issues. But following what the HR/VP has said: it’s about supporting each country in the Western Balkans and therefore also Bosnia and Herzegovina to come closer, to become member of the EU. But, for that certain conditions have to be fulfilled and that’s why we are here. We are trying to use this new impetus given by some of our member states initially and finally backed by all of them. They have asked us to go together here and we are here and we will report very positively back.

But it is not only that we are here once and then never. We will be here, I can’t promise always together, but I think I can promise that both of us will be here again and again to monitor to accompany this process. Because I have to be frank: it’s not to agree about headlines and principles. It’s about very concrete results, tangible results implementation. This is what Bosnia and Herzegovina’s people would like to see. I mean, it’s the country in Europe with the highest support rate to the European Union by citizens, something what in other member states of the Union politicians would dream about and therefore there is a huge expectation. This huge expectation has to be met.

We would like to contribute but it is about the political elite but also the society. It is a societal process finally to move into the European Union, to deliver, to build on a strong state. We face, and I think this is something very positive, initiatives of close cooperation at the Western Balkans, for instance, in the area of connectivity, transport, railways, roads, but also energy supply and for that you need a strong state which is able to represent your interest in these discussions and we need an internal mechanism to meet all these requirements related to cooperation with the Union.

And to give you an example, in the past, the budget from the European Union to Bosnia and Herzegovina was around 80 million euro and we were only able to spend half of it because the politicians and the ethnicities couldn’t agree how the money should be spent. Therefore, we have decided to half the budget, but we are ready to increase once the conditions are met, once the political will is there. Then we are ready to increase the budget in particular to contribute to the Compact for Growth and Jobs. It’s about the necessary reforms. It’s about economic perspectives- it’s about job perspectives. It’s about increase of welfare level and it’s about a perspective in particular for younger people. Today we have heard a lot about brain-drain and we would like to contribute to change brain drain into brain circulation. But what is necessary is ownership of the responsible people here in the country. What we can provide is our support, our readiness to be there, to assist, to help. We have a lot of experienced people there, but it’s up to the political decision makers to take the decisions.

EUD/EUSR, Andy McGuffie
: Thank you very much Commissioner, we have the first question from BN TV.

Slađana Jašarević, BN TV
: A question for Ms. Mogherini: How serious do these promises by leaders seem to you? I do not know if you had a chance to meet with them, but we have heard, and other European officials as well them giving too many promises and nothing has been done. And for you Mr. Hahn: Today we have received the information that you have met with Mr. Dodik, the President of the Republic of Srpska in a separate visit. Is this true, and if it is, what was the subject of the conversation, and if not…?

HR/VP Mogherini: “Yes, I’ve had the chance of meeting in my previous capacity political leaders and mainly institutional figures just a few months ago. I was here visiting at the beginning of the Italian Presidency when I was the Foreign Minister of Italy and apart from that, the recent history of this country is very well known for both of us and I would say for all our colleagues in Europe and that’s why I referred to the fact that in this case neither from our side nor from the Bosnia and Hercegovina side it’s time for promises. I would never use this word. I would use the word commitment and engagement.

The people here  want jobs, want the European perspective, rule of law, and I think it’s a common objective of the European Union and of the institutions of this country to deliver on this and the reason why I don’t mention and I would not mention the word promise, but commitment and engagement, is exactly this. It’s an opportunity to answer to the expectations of the Bosnian citizens and of the citizens of the country, no matter where they live, no matter what part of the country they live in. It’s your country looking at the European Union perspective. It’s as far as I understand an expectation of all of the country and what we are here for is finding ways of making that possible and real. So that’s why I referred not to just signing, but also committing.

Obviously, you have to start somewhere and what we have discussed today with the civil society, institutions and leaders is a way to make our commitments concrete. So it is a starting point. Let’s say if we had an engine that we have to start, but just checking if we have the key. Now we obviously have to use the key and to start the engine and start running. This is the first step- checking if we have the key- and I think we might have the key. There were no separate meetings. We were meeting all together, in the Parliament, and let me stress: we were meeting in the Parliament. I know that we know that in a couple of days, the Parliament would be starting and we have met all the representatives of parties that have the seats in the Parliament. It is also a way of focusing on the institutions and on the role that the institutions have in this country.

Sabina Niksic, AP:  Is there any consideration in the EU that Russia might use its not insignificant influence here to disrupt the situation and then use that as leverage in its current disagreement with the EU? Because we have had some recent developments that indicated a possibility of that. Do you at all consider this and do you have ways to counter it and is this initiative maybe one of the ways to counter it?

HR/VP Mogherini
: I met yesterday in Basel with Foreign Minister Lavrov and we had a good and serious discussion about many issues. Obviously it started from Ukraine going all the way to the regional and global crises we have to face and we can face together. Obviously between the European Union and the Russian Federation at the moment we have some tensions. But I think it is a common interest of both the European Union and of the Russian Federation to find and develop ways of cooperation and not confrontation. This is in the interest of all the Europeans and I think also of all the Russians and for sure it would be a good idea to keep the Western Balkans out of this kind of dynamics or thinking. And I would expect everybody in the Russian leadership to consider it in the same way.

Sead Numanovic, Dnevni avaz: A question for both. Madam Mogherini, what is your impression after the meetings with the politicians? Commissioner Hahn, you said for the implementation, for the results – the EU and Bosnia need a strong state. Could you elaborate on that?

Commissioner Hahn: First of all, it’s a strong conviction – it’s a principle of the European Union that it is about sovereignty of each state to decide about its own structure, about its own future etc. This is also one of the reasons why we are so tough on some issues related to events in the East. So it’s up to the country, and also Bosnia, to decide on its future. But it must be clear – to interact with us means that there is one voice. However, you agree on this one voice, but we expect one voice. We expect the capacity to negotiate with us on certain issues. And on the other hand we have to be reassured that these negotiations are later on translated, transferred into concrete decisions in the country itself. So however you organise yourself it’s up to you, but for us, in order to make progress in our mutual move towards each other, we need a decision making structure in the country which allows to take the necessary decisions and to make the necessary progress.

HR/VP Mogherini
: The impressions I had, and we share that opinion, we commented on that after the meeting, were positive ones in terms of response to our proposal. And that is the relevant answer that we can give. It is not up to us to enter into any kind of political debate inside the country. What is relevant to us is to see if there are the conditions for working together in a positive direction, for the people of the country, for the people of the European Union. I would say the meeting was very clear in that sense. From all political leaders we have had a positive response on their political will to commit seriously to a new phase that now obviously we have to make concrete and substantial. So the work of the future weeks – not months or years but weeks – is defining together the steps to implement and make real this political will that today we have shared. It is something that we shall follow up closely. As I said, on the 15th we shall have a meeting with the Ministers of the European Union and then in the coming weeks we shall make concrete steps and proposals with a process that is going to be led here, by the institutions of the country, but shared with us. And we shall hopefully work hand in hand on very concrete steps with the very concrete timeline, not a long one, but I would expect something quite in the immediate terms.