Interview: Valentin Inzko, EU Special Representative and High Representative in BiH: “EU test is passed by cooperation with neighbors”

I hope that not only Serbia but all Western Balkans countries, including BiH, will use the opportunity given to them.



From our correspondent: Davor Kovačević


Serbia has intensive contacts with EU member countries in its neighborhood, which is good, of course, because regional cooperation and good neighborly relations are an essential part of the process of Serbia’s movement towards the EU, which stands at the position that a stable and prosperous Serbia, fully integrated in the European family, is of great importance for the stability of the whole region. Concerning visa liberalization, a very important issue for the citizens of the Western Balkans, Serbia has a reason to be optimistic. This is corroborated by the statements of the EU Enlargement Commissioner Ollie Rehn, said the High Representative and EU Special Representative to BiH Valentin Inzko in an interview to “Politika”.  He also announced that he would visit Belgrade soon, a city which he says “was his first diplomatic destination for Austria, and one’s first job and first love are never forgotten”. 


How do you assess the current political circumstances in Serbia and in your opinion, do Serbian officials, in the true sense of the word, lead their country to Europe?


I would like to hear what their reflections are about where Serbia is now when it comes to European integration. As someone who has been connected with this area here by way of work  – I carefully follow the situation, not only in BiH where I am now High Representative and EU Special Representative, but in other Western Balkans countries, too, including Serbia and Croatia. 


Looking generally, the Western Balkans countries made progress in the last year, albeit uneven, in the implementation of reforms and set conditions and criteria. Serbia took an  active part in regional initiatives, including transition from the Stability Pact to more regionally focused Process of Cooperation in South Eastern Europe and Regional Cooperation Council. Of course, one should not forget Serbia’s efficient implementation of CEFTA, and its intensive contacts with EU members in its neighborhood.


There are no exceptions among the countries which wish to become members of the European family, and for all of them Brussels has set the same conditions, including visa liberalization and cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. What is Serbia’s position in this sense?


Exactly, if someone wants to become an EU member, then they have to meet certain conditions which are equal for all. In case of visa liberalization, Serbia has a reason to be optimistic, which is corroborated by the statements of the EU Enlargement Commissioner Ollie Rehn, whose office should give recommendations before the end of the mandate of the Czech Republic at the post of the EU Presidency, which is before June 30. However, it is the Council of the EU that makes the final decision. 


Full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal continues to be an obligation for Serbia, and arresting Ratko Mladić is the main condition to lift the blockage on the ratification of the parliamentary agreement with Serbia. The chief prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal, Serge Brammertz confirmed progress in cooperation of Serbia with the Hague, but he did not characterize it as full, insisting that the Serbian authorities must arrest the two remaining fugitives Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić. 


The International Community suggests that 2009 is the year of the Western Balkans and this chance must not be missed. Is Serbia going to use it and is it, to a certain extent, at an advantage in relation to BiH?


I sincerely hope that not only Serbia but all Western Balkans countries, including BiH, will use this opportunity. Serbia is ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina in certain segments, but this lag can be made up only by a serious approach and dedicated work. I expect BiH politicians to make an all-out effort and do what more than 80 percent citizens expect of them, not waste time on useless rhetoric.


Agreement on Special Parallel Relations between Serbia and Republika Srpska, which, as is the official assessment, functions well, is not supported by one part of BiH. What is your view?


This kind of cooperation is made possible by the Dayton Agreement, and if it is in accordance with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of BiH, then I do not see anything bad in it. Regional cooperation, in my opinion, is a key to success for relatively small countries such as BiH. Cooperating with your neighbors you show in a way how capable you will be to cooperate with the other 27 EU members. It is a test of a kind for each country, where they can, through dialogue and cooperation with their neighbors, see their own advantages or things, perhaps, on which they need to work more intensively in order to improve them. Cooperation, in any case, is welcome, in particular if we have in mind a common objective which these countries share, and this is EU membership.  Common needs on the European road call for faster development of mutual relations, and it is very commendable that Croatia has ceded to Croatia translations of the necessary European documents, and these translations cost about one million euros.


Diplomatic relations between BiH and Serbia are at the charge d’affaires level, because BiH has not had an ambassador to Belgrade for two years now. Are good diplomatic relations between the two countries possible in this situation?


They are possible because Serbia has an ambassador to Sarajevo. However, I think it is not good that BiH does not have an ambassador to Belgrade. But, you should put this question to the BiH institutions to think about it.


Belgrade friends


You are going to visit Belgrade soon in which you lived for a while. You say you have friends in this city. Are you going to meet any of them?


Yes, I have many fond memories of Belgrade and many friends there. Those were happy years between “Madeira”, “France” and the embassy. Belgrade was my first diplomatic destination, and one’s first job and first love are never forgotten. If my obligations permit, I will surely meet some of my friends. They are mainly artists, because I was a cultural attaché between 1982 and 1986. In any case, I intend to visit Boris Tadić’s father, a well-known dissident, professor and friend who always greets me with a warm welcome, and I also plan to visit the Orthodox Theological Faculty, whose benefactor I have been since 1986.