In an exclusive interview for The Srpska Times Andy McGuffie, EU Delegation/EUSR Head of Communication and Spokesperson, talks about the importance of the written commitment signed by BiH politicians, the need for a new spirit to effectively deal with reforms and the importance of joint work on the European future of BiH. McGuffie also touches on the the new Law on public order and peace and the EU’s expectations regarding the new restrictions on the use of the Internet and social media.
1. It took some time for BiH politicians to form their joint statement on EU commitments; BiH now has only a few more days to adopt the statement, why do you think this process is taking so long? Why is it so hard for BiH politicians to jointly commit to the fulfillment of their obligations on the road to the EU?
Let me start by clarifying that the speculation about a February 12 deadline – indeed any deadline – was not accurate. The European Union did not put a deadline to the completion of the procedure for the written commitment. The European Union would like to see this to be completed as a matter of urgency, but it is for the institutional and political actors of BiH to determine the best date for completion of the process set out in the Council Conclusions of December 2014. We welcome the various expressions of support for the statement already made by political and institutional leaders.
The EU’s requirements are clearly stated in the council conclusions from December 2014: once the political leaders have signed and the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina has then endorsed the written commitment, the EU would take a decision on the entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Endorsements of the written commitment by entity parliaments are not part of the EU’s requirements. Obviously there are procedures on the EU side too, with regard to taking a decision on the SAA, that will only start after an endorsement from the BiH Parliament.
The usual rigorous process will have to be followed for the submission of a credible application for EU membership by BiH and for eventual consideration of candidate country status. The experience of other countries in the region that now have candidate status can serve as a general guide to how the process works, and we particularly underline the importance of performance on the initial reform agenda that will be worked out between BiH and the EU.
As for your question about joint commitment of BiH leaders to fulfillment of obligations on the road to the EU – that is something to which they should respond!
2. Do you believe the new initiative will succeed in moving BiH from a standstill and towards the EU?
I certainly hope so. We want Bosnia and Herzegovina to join the European Union as a member state. For the renewed approach and reform agenda to succeed, the entire institutional and political leadership of BiH at all levels will need to jointly work on the European future of this country for the benefit of all its people. The EU expects all of them to provide the commitment and actions necessary to reinvigorate the EU integration process and in particular to address the fragility of the socio-economic situation by starting to implement the Compact for Growth and Jobs.
3. Why is the joint statement, the collective share in responsibility, so important?
It’s not a question of collective responsibility, it’s about clarity in direction and accountability for all. That’s why the Conclusions of the Council from December outlined that the European Union would like to see an irrevocable written commitment agreed by the Presidency, signed by political leaders and endorsed by the BiH Parliament to undertake necessary reforms in the framework of EU accession.
A new spirit is now needed to effectively deal with reforms, which are the key not only for the EU path of the country, but most importantly for meaningful improvements in people’s lives. Economic reform needs to be got on the road. Rule of law has to be strengthened. A feeling of safety and security is a key element for economic and social development.
Every survey shows that citizens want a better life – they want jobs, better salaries and pensions, good education and health system, a strong fight against corruption. So everyone working in politics and institutions has a responsibility to take forward social and economic reform that will open up more jobs, use public funds more wisely and make it easier to do business. That is, we believe, the way to build more prosperity for all the citizens of BiH.
4. What are your thoughts on the new Law on public order and peace which was recently adopted in Republica Srpska? Do you believe social media and the internet qualify as a public space which can and should be regulated by law?
We will be closely monitoring developments with regard to this Law. As you know, freedom of expression and media freedom are regularly monitored within the Copenhagen political criteria and assessed in the annual Progress report published by the European Commission. Any regulation must be necessary, clearly defined and prescribed by the respective legislation. We believe that the definitions in the RS law on public order remain vague and leave too much room for arbitrary implementation. Having this in mind we call upon the responsible authorities to ensure clarity and proportionality in legislation and its implementation.
written by: Maja G. Đurđević