Stefano Sannino, the Director-General of Enlargement at the European Commission
The Director-General of Enlargement at the European Commission, Stefano Sannino gave an interview today for the FBiH News Agency FENA.
The interview in its entirety is available below.
1. Which elements are needed for fulfilling the next phases of BiH's integration into EU?
The tasks for BiH to move forward on the EU agenda are well known and unchanged. They have been outlined at the High Level Meeting for the Accession Process by Commissioner Füle to all political leaders and key representatives of the country in Brussels on 27 June. All participants agreed on the following Road Map:
A proposal for making the Constitution of BiH compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("Sejdić/Finci case") must be submitted to the Parliamentary Assembly by 31 August.
BiH should inform the Commission by 31 October about the mechanism it is setting up for the coordination of EU affairs. Replies from BiH to lists of questions on environment and on public procurement are expected by the end of October as well. The replies will help the Commission to analyse BiH's capacity to transpose EU rules and standards in a harmonised and coordinated manner.
Finally, the BiH Constitution needs to be effectively amended by 30 November to make it compliant with the Sejdić-Finci ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. BiH may then submit a credible membership application to Brussels.
All political leaders and representatives of BiH agreed on 27 June on these tasks. Such an offer has never been made to BiH before. This shows the commitment of the EU and all the 27 Member States to help BiH move forward on its European integration path. In return, the EU is expecting concrete results in implementing the Road Map.
2. How much politicians in BiH, in your opinion, genuinely want and actively work on implementation of the 'Sejdić / Finci' judgment?
The European Commission experienced serious engagement and willingness of all participants of the 27 June meeting in Brussels to finally make sure that the BiH Constitution is changed in order to address the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. Subsequent meetings have taken place in BiH in the meantime. Concrete results can be reached.
3. To what extent is the current political situation in BiH affecting the European road of BiH?
The EU has said consistently that changes in the government coalitions are an internal matter in BiH – it is a matter for the political parties, as in any other democratic country. Whoever will be in power, we will require that EU related reforms are at the core of the political programme of the Council of Ministers and of any other government in the country. And the reform process already started needs to be speeded up, if BiH does not want to get the red light of the countries in the region in the EU accession process.
4. Does EU see RS as a state?
The EU fully respects the Dayton Peace Agreement. We have signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Bosnia and Herzegovina, not with the Entities. And only Bosnia and Herzegovina as one single country will be able to join the EU. The facts on this matter are clear. Respect of the Dayton Agreement also means the respect of the competences of the various levels of government in BiH.
And because of the high degree of the decentralised allocation of functions, we have suggested to BiH to agree upon and to set up an effective coordination mechanism on EU matters. This approach will ensure that the Entities can continue to be responsible for issues within their own competences while advancing all together in same speed towards the EU. Several EU Member States are in a more or less comparable situation, which does not hamper their overall good functioning and are able to speak with one voice with the EU.
5. Croatia will became an EU member next year, and it seems that politicians in BiH do not understand or do not want to see the consequences of this process for BiH, and accordingly work very little on preventing these. They are clearly focused on the number of BIP's (border crossing inspection points), but there is no one asking what will BiH export via these BIP. Your comment?
As from 1 July 2013, the same rules that apply today to the 27 EU Member States will also apply to Croatia. Over the last years the EU has repeatedly informed and alerted the BiH Council of Ministers and the Entity Governments including the technical authorities and institutions in charge that the export of almost all BiH agricultural products to Croatia will not be possible anymore, unless BiH aligns its food-safety, veterinary and phytosanitary systems to the EU rules.
The EU Member States require from imported goods that they have been produced and controlled in accordance with the high EU standards. Public health requirements and the avoidance of infections of livestock in the EU27/28 require the fulfilment of these standards. The high quality of agricultural products in the EU shall be preserved.
The European Commission has provided technical assistance, support and advice to BiH since several years to prepare BiH comprehensively for Croatia's accession to the EU. Experts went to BiH to explain in detail how the BiH system has to be adjusted to the EU one. They made concrete recommendations.
The recommendations consist of actions at legislative as well as at technical and administrative level: EU Directives need to be transposed into the law applicable in BiH, from general laws down to very technical rulebooks for each authority according to is mandate, e.g on the protection of eggs from salmonella. The setup of an official horizontal control frame for the feed and food chain in BiH in accordance with the EU rules is necessary. The food establishments (slaughterhouses, food producers, chicken farms, etc.) have to be upgraded so that they can be accredited for the exports of goods to the EU (including to Croatia).
Let me give you some examples: BiH has been informed about the need of a central database, a reliable laboratory strategy, the training of inspectors and veterinarians and an audit plan. The European Commission has been financing projects for BiH, above all targeted experts missions, to implement such actions. We will even reinforce our work on such projects in the next months.
Until today, the competences of the Food Safety Agency and the State Veterinary Office in BiH have not been sufficiently clarified. And the coordination with other authorities including those at Entity level, such as laboratories, is not effective and efficient enough.
The Commission recommended to BiH to concentrate its efforts for the short-term on the most important goods, i.e. those with the highest trade or trade potential with Croatia. They are milk, dairy products, poultry meat, table eggs and honey.
Border Inspection Posts can only serve their purpose, if and when products have been recognised for the export of the EU. The planning of Border Inspection Points and their possible number is therefore conditional to the fulfilment by BiH of the food-safety, veterinary and phytosanitary conditions.
Intensive technical work will continue over the next months, so that the time span within which BiH products cannot be exported to Croatia is limited to the extent possible. Commissioner Füle himself and my Services had recommended many times to the representatives of the BiH institutions to speed up the implementation of the EU recommendations in order to protect the economic interest of BiH agricultural exporters.
6. To what extent will Croatia's accession to the EU have real positive / negative impact on BiH, and from the aspect of continuing unfavourable political situation in BiH?
It is up to the BiH institutions what the impact will be like. Croatia's accession to the EU is a major opportunity for BiH as it constitutes an obvious incentive to bring many areas in BiH up to the EU level. What better reason to implement reforms than the necessity of trading with Croatia – and eventually other countries in the region as they move towards EU membership?
Croatia's approaching accession should be a big push for everyone in BiH – politicians, ministers, civil servants – to combine their efforts and to produce results which the country would have to produce sooner or later in any case for the accession to the EU.
BiH decision makers often state that EU integration is something on which everyone in BiH agrees. We need to see the practical outcome of that theoretic rhetoric.
Let me also mention that through the BiH-EU legal 'contract', the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), there are many duty free rules already in place between the EU and BiH. Following Croatia's accession to the EU the SAA will be adapted to maintain those privileges for BiH. Bilateral discussions with BiH have started.
7. At the recent high level meeting held in Brussels, BiH has received the Road Map, but it seems that in this case too, the EU "bent its own rules" (was flexible). How will BiH justify the trust of Brussels if it is clear that politicians will not be able to adequately comply with deadlines in the case of implementation of the 'Sejdic and Finci' judgment?
I would like to point out that it was not BiH which "received" the Road Map. The Road Map was agreed between the political leaders and representatives of your country and the EU during that meeting.
Let me repeat what I have stated earlier: now is the time for BiH to act upon a number of issues, such as the implementation of the judgement in the case of Sejdić and Finci, in order not to be left behind the other countries of the region in their EU integration path. If BiH fulfils the target dates and objectives of the Road Map, it can submit a credible EU membership. I very much hope that this will happen. BiH belongs to the European family.